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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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July 11, 2008 9:21 PM

M's hitters AWOL again

Posted by Geoff Baker

royyals0711 039.jpg

The new video scoreboard here says it all.

Another one of those nights for the Mariners, turning mediocre Royals starter Luke Hochevar into a Cy Young Award contender. Hochevar went seven innings, allowing just a run on five hits. That's what Erik Bedard needs to do for the M's. Anyhow, a 3-1 loss by Seattle. Felix Hernandez gave up three runs in his five innings, but had no shot of winning this game with an offense behind him that's barely done anything the past week.

Seattle led the Royals 6-4 in hits, but stranded five men on base.

"In Oakland, we weren't finishing off some rallies,'' Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "Here, we just really didn't rally at all. But you know, that's the nature of it. I'll take it. Just keep pitching good and playing good defense. The hits are going to come and the runs are going to come.''

I understand where Riggleman's coming from. Hitting is a cyclical thing. But this team's hitting has been catastrophic. It's not like last year, when the M's would go on a two-week rampage to offset a two-week slump. I mean, the last Mariners guy to hit a home run was Richie Sexson. What does that tell you. Hernandez himself has more home runs the past four weeks than the guy who started tonight's game at DH, Jose Vidro, or the one playing first base, Miguel Cairo.

royyals0711 037.jpg

This offense, even if it starts hitting, lacks the power to push runs across. And that's a serious long-term problem. It demoralizes pitchers. Makes them feel they have to throw a perfect game every time to have a shot at winning. Want to keep Hernandez here beyond the next few years? Start working at getting this problem fixed now. Even if it means a wholesale rearrangement of its core.

"I felt comfortable,'' Hernandez said. "I felt like my mechanics were there. I was commanding my fastball. I don't know how I was doing it, but I was.''

At least somebody on the M's is commanding something.

Riggleman was right in that this team is pitching better and playing defense better. And it's lost five of the last six games.

Hernandez didn't want to come out of the game. But Riggleman made the right call. Hernandez hadn't pitched in weeks, had just thrown 30-plus pitches in the fifth and -- as the manager noted -- some of his breaking balls in that final inning weren't their sharpest. Especially in the at-bat to David DeJesus, who fouled off four straight strike-two pitches before lining a two-run double over Ichiro's head.

"Earlier in the game, he was throwing some sliders to lefties that they were swinging over the top of,'' Mariners catcher Jeff Clement said. "And that's the one (pitch) DeJesus hit for the double. Maybe that one wasn't quite as sharp as those other ones earlier in the game. But it's been a while since he’s taken the ball.''

Clement said Hernandez was otherwise as good as he'd looked before the ankle injury.

He wasn't the problem tonight. The problem, as it's been all trip and for most of the year, has been with the bats. And from the looks of things, it isn't about to change anytime soon.

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