MARINERS: Washburn effort wasted in loss to Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Brandon Morrow passed his final test the day after a final bullpen session, so he will come off the disabled list on Saturday in Minneapolis.

Was there any upside to his time on the DL?

“Well, I guess the best news is that we haven’t had a save opportunity since I went on,” Morrow said. “But that’s not exactly good news, is it?”

No, no it’s not; not for a Seattle Mariners team that has now dropped four games in a row, lost eight of its past 11 and fallen out of first place in the American League West.

In two games against Kansas City, the latest a 3-1 loss Thursday, Seattle managed only two runs in 18 innings.

“If I pitch seven innings and give up two runs, we’re going to win a lot of games this summer,” said Jarrod Washburn, who could have added that only one of those runs was earned. “I go into every game thinking, ‘No runs.’ If I give up one, I start thinking, ‘No more runs.’

“You get a feeling in some games, and you know it’s going to be a tight one.”

First-year manager Don Wakamatsu, presiding over the first slump of his tenure, stayed positive in defeat.“Jarrod gave us exactly what we needed today, and we squandered it and that’s a shame,” he said. “But our approach in the ninth inning, that’s the approach we need to take earlier in the game – focused aggression.“That’s the way to play the game of baseball.”

Some would file that inning under the “too little, too late” heading, but given the way the Mariners had been playing, it was not the usual Seattle rally.

Consider first what preceded the ninth: The Mariners had grounded into four double plays and struck out 11 times. They had failed to bunt, stranded runners and three of their seven hits never left the infield.

Small wonder they hadn’t scored.

And the ninth?

Ken Griffey Jr. started it, working a 3-2 count before singling with two outs. Wladimir Balentien worked the count full and walked, and pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney singled Griffey home and put runners on first and third bases.

Wakamatsu sent up pinch-hitter Yuniesky Betancourt, and the free-swinging shortstop swung at two pitches to fall behind 0-2, then worked the count full and then – for the second time all year – walked.

“Great at-bats by Yuni and Wladimir, working the counts, making the pitcher work,” Wakamatsu said.

That got the game to Ichiro Suzuki, who had three hits already, with the bases loaded. Ichiro grounded out sharply, and the Mariners’ record was down to one game above .500 (15-14).

“We’re struggling, and all teams do at some point,” Griffey said. “It’s not a lack of effort. Everybody here wants to be part of winning. Today, we got the game to one of the best hitters in baseball. We battled to do that, and that’s all you can ask – to get to that situation.

“Ichiro will come through most times in that situation. He didn’t today, we didn’t today. That doesn’t mean we won’t (tomorrow). That’s the beauty of this game; you’re always one day from making something good happen.”

In the meantime, the Mariners can spend a little time licking their wounds. Two games against the Royals – 18 innings – and a total of two runs scored.

No matter what kind of pitching you get, that’s tough to win with.

“I know they may look like they’re struggling, but Sidney (Ponson) and Brian (Bannister) pitched two great games against them,” former Mariners utility man Willie Bloomquist said. “We had to work for our runs today, and we got enough of them.”

The Royals, like the Mariners, started fast and climbed to the top of their division in April. The difference between the two is May, when Kansas City has gone 6-1, Seattle 2-5.

As closer Morrow noted, the Mariners haven’t needed him yet this month. And that’s not good.

The two wins each required eight runs. In the five losses, the Mariners have scored a total of 11 times. Lineup changes haven’t improved the offense, and Seattle has now scored one run or none in eight of its first 29 games.

The bench hasn’t helped.

Reserve catcher Rob Johnson is batting .204 with 15 strikeouts in 17 games. Ronny Cedeño, who filled in at shortstop Thursday – and whose error helped produce an unearned run – is batting .138.

Balentien, on the other hand, has played consistently well. He’s batting .341 in limited playing time, and against the Royals on Thursday doubled and threw a runner out at the plate from left field.

Yes, there are positives, as Wakamatsu said. What the Mariners need most is for one of those positives to be a win.