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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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April 25, 2008 11:43 PM

Hitting woes and ze-ros

Posted by Geoff Baker

Not much to say about this game. Miguel Batista was pitching hurt and throwing all over the map the first inning-plus, putting his team in a hole it never climbed out of. The M's go on to lose, 4-3, to an Oakland A's team it probably should have beaten and now sit four games back in the AL West. The weekend is not lost, but taking the next two games just became pretty important for Seattle. If the M's don't win at least one game this weekend, this early season is going to get old in a hurry.

Oakland did not get a hit after Emil Brown's leadoff double in the third. The A's managed just one baserunner the final six innings of play, that on a ninth-inning walk. When the deficit is only 4-1 after three, a good team has to overcome that when it gets relief of that type. To be honest, these Oakland hitters don't impress me at all. Weren't much different from what we saw last week, other than jumping all over an injured Batista.

It's like we said about Seattle's hitters ganging up on Adam Loewen last night, then reverting to form. How did the M's look tonight? Not much better, huh? Not making the most of gifts they are given, like letting Andrew Brown off-the-hook after he'd loaded the bases on two walks after an error in the eighth, or registering just two sacrifice flies after loading the bases with none out in the sixth. They are simply not getting it done. They are trying, but not executing.

That Jose Lopez bunt attempt in the ninth? Didn't look good the way things ended up, with a foul ball into the first baseman's glove. Ichiro -- the team's best baserunner -- gets a leadoff walk and can't advance past first base until there are already two outs in the inning? There were some questions being asked after this one.

Mariners manager John McLaren said Lopez, riding a four-hit night, had been told to only bunt if A's closer Huston Street used a slide-step, which would have quickened his delivery to the plate and lessened Ichiro's chance of getting a good jump.

That forced Lopez to make a split-second decision as the ball was being pitched. Not easy for any hitter, let alone one as young as Lopez. Especially against a successful closer like Street, who will come up and in on hitters squaring up to bunt.

Ichiro said the bunt call was the right one. The thought of stealing a base had entered his mind once he reached first. But he said it wasn't an automatic decision with Lopez up.

"It's hard to think like that,'' Ichiro said through an interpreter. "Maybe there was a chance to steal. Or maybe later on the chance to steal will arrive. Personally, I thought the bunt was the obvious call to make in that situation.''

Didn't work.

That Betancourt swing with the bases loaded and one out against Brown in the eighth? Let's just say the pitch from Brown would have only been a strike if the plate was four feet wide and Betancourt four feet tall. The result was a 6-4-3 double-play and more lost hope.

"He swung at a bad pitch and that's been our Achilles heel for a long time,'' McLaren said afterwards. "Runners at third base and less than two out, we have to do a better job.''

What else is there to say? This team has just five runs scored over its last 15 innings. Not good enough. The offense went AWOL when it mattered last night and it still was tonight.

Yeah, Cha Seung Baek threw a great six innings. But the time for moral victories is quickly running out on the M's. They need some real ones. It isn't so much that they are four back in the AL West race. It's that they are four back against two teams -- the A's and Angels. Catching one is already a challenge. Let two clubs get too far ahead and it's asking for trouble.

Word on Batista? He felt his groin twinge against the third batter of the night, Mark Ellis. That was right before he yielded the single to Frank Thomas. The rest of the inning was a disaster and when Batista walked Kurt Suzuki to start the second inning, he summoned the dugout and called it a night. He'll be re-evaluated tomorrow and we'll see about his next start.

"He felt like if he kept going on, he could really pull something,'' McLaren said.

If this keeps going on, some of you might as well. Three losses in a row at home, five out of seven overall. This month is not one for the team scrapbook. More like the scrap heap. See you all tomorrow.


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