Notes: Balanced attack is key
No 'so-called superstars just professional hitters' in lineup
CHICAGO -- The Mariners don't have anyone quite like Vladimir Guerrero in their lineup, nor can you find a Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz sort of hitter in there.But it's tough to beat the Mariners' top-to-bottom hitters. "One thing we bring to the table every game is a lineup that doesn't have any outs all the way through," hitting coach Jeff Pentland said. "We don't have anyone who really stands out, the way Guerrero does, although Ichiro [Suzuki] is probably the closest to that for us. I like a balanced attack, and that's what we've been seeing." Until Cubs left-hander Sean Marshall cooled it off Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, holding Seattle to seven hits and two runs over eight innings, the Mariners offense had been clicking on all cylinders. It was rare when they didn't get at least 10 hits in a game, or score seven or more runs. Start at the top of the lineup and you'll find Ichiro, author of a club-record, 25-game hitting streak and holder of a .340 batting average going into Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Cubs. With 90 hits already, the MLB record holder for most consecutive 200-hit seasons to begin a career is ahead of pace for his seventh straight. Catcher Kenji Johjima, who usually bats sixth, checks in with a .330 batting average, and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt has a .303 batting average after 61 games and 214 at-bats. Steady left fielder Raul Ibanez and second baseman Jose Lopez were batting .290 as of Thursday, and designated hitter Jose Vidro had a .292 batting average. But Ichiro is the only one of the bunch drawing much attention from the fans casting votes to select the starters for the All-Star Game. "This team reminds me of the one I was with in Kansas City a few years ago," Pentland said. "There weren't many so-called superstars, but just a lot of professional hitters." Miguel Houdini: Right-handed starter Miguel Batista pitches out of the stretch more than most of the Mariners starters, because he seems to get in trouble more often than others. But he also is able to get out of trouble better than most. He surrendered nine hits and five walks during Wednesday night's game against the Cubs, and should have allowed one run instead of three. Two of the runs were unearned because of a two-out throwing error by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.
"Some guys have a way of [getting into trouble]," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Miguel has been around, pitched in a variety of roles, and knows how to get out of jams. He doesn't panic and sticks to his game plan."In 14 appearances this season -- 13 starts -- the 36-year-old has surrendered 96 hits and 30 walks in 77 2/3 innings, which is nearly two runners per inning, and opposing hitters are batting .302 against him. Despite all that, he leads the staff in wins with seven. Thanks a lot: Ichiro must be wondering why they call Wrigley Field "The Friendly Confines." He tried to give fans sitting below the huge scoreboard in center field a souvenir by throwing the ball he caught for the third out of the sixth inning Tuesday night. The fan that got the ball threw it back onto the field. When asked to compare fans at Wrigley and those in Yankee Stadium, Hargrove said, "The fans are a little closer here and they were pretty, uh, vicious, the first night." Not a hit with Grover: The Mariners are entering the final stages of the Interleague Play session of the season when they play in National League cities, and that's just fine with Hargrove. "The ugliest thing in sports is watching a pitcher hit," he said. "Unless it would be watching Wilt Chamberlain shoot free throws. Even pitchers who are supposed to be good hitters don't look good." Hargrove said he refuses to even go out onto the field and watch his own pitchers take batting practice while getting ready for the Interleague games played without the use of the designated-hitter rule. "It's not a real nice thing to see," he said. Nothing to worry about: Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt has made seven throwing errors this season, but Hargrove says he's not worried.
"The more experience he gets, the better he'll get, and he makes that play well anyway," Hargrove said of Betancourt's errant throw Wednesday night that prolonged the fifth inning and led to two unearned runs in a 3-2 Seattle loss. "He threw off the wrong leg and didn't follow through the way he should have. But on 99 percent of those plays, he does really well."This 'n that: Hargrove finds it interesting that for the first three weeks of the season he could not use closer J.J. Putz in a save situation, and now the right-hander is being used several times a week to protect leads. "We were getting him into games just to get him work." Not anymore.
Putz has moved near the top of the American League in saves with 19, and Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez is the only closer with more saves (20). Hargrove said he is OK with using Putz three days in a row, but would be reluctant to call on his game-ender four straight days. ... The Mariners set a club record by starting this road trip with five consecutive last at-bat victories. It also is the most in the Majors since the Blue Jays won five straight games in their final at-bat on May 29-June 2, 1992. The Mariners are now 10-8 in one-run games this season. ... The Mariners have released third baseman Sean Burroughs from his Minor League contract with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. Burroughs, who missed all of Spring Training with a shoulder injury, was 2-for-12 with no home runs or RBIs for the Rainiers.
Did you know? The Mariners have won seven games this season in their last at-bat, but still have no walk-off wins. All seven last at-bat wins have come on the road.On deck: The Mariners' four-city, 10-game road trip continues in Houston on Friday night when they open a three-game Interleague series against the Astros. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-3, 4.41) opposes Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (3-6, 4.52) in the opener at Minute Maid Park.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.