SEATTLE — After enduring the indignity of two losses to the Houston Astros, the Mariners had the right man for a revival on Thursday as they faced the other, more formidable, Texas-based divisional rival.
But not even Felix Hernandez, on the second “Supreme Court” night, could jolt the Mariners out of their early-season reverie. With more than twice as many fans — 22,917 — on hand than the previous two all-time low crowds at Safeco Field, the Mariners fell 4-3 to the Rangers.
On the same day Michael Saunders went on the disabled list, they lost another outfielder. Michael Morse suffered a small non-displaced fracture of his right pinkie on a foul ball off his hand in the seventh inning.
Morse — the American League leader with six home runs — won’t go on the DL, but manager Eric Wedge said he could be out three to seven days. Morse vows to be back sooner.
“I’m hoping by Sunday,” he said. “I want to get in there. We’ve already got Saunders missing quite a while. I’ll try to rehab this as best I can real quick. I might have to play through some pain.”
The Mariners had the potential tying run thrown out at the plate in the eighth on a suicide squeeze attempt by Brendan Ryan. He bunted the ball back to pitcher Robbie Ross, who flipped to catcher A.J. Pierzynski for the tag on pinch-runner Endy Chavez, an extremely close play.
“Ryno got the bunt down good, but right back at the pitcher is really their only shot to make a play, and they did,” Wedge said of the Rangers. “It looked like he caught his foot on the catcher’s foot or shin guard, and that’s how they got him.”
Hernandez absorbed his second straight loss in search of his 100th career victory, but he did rack up his 1,500th career strikeout by ringing up David Murphy to end the first. That was one of five K’s for Hernandez as his yellow-shirted minions waved their K cards on each two-strike count. Among the fans was Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and teammates Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
In 6-2/3 innings, Hernandez gave up 10 hits — including a solo home run by Pierzynski in the second — and all Texas four runs. One was unearned as the result of a Raul Ibanez error in left field when Mitch Moreland’s liner glanced off his glove.
“I had pretty good stuff, but just made a couple of mistakes,” Hernandez said. “It wasn’t a struggle. I just missed a little bit. I’m 100 percent. I’m just missing my spots a little bit. It’s a long season.”
The story of the game, as it has been in many of the Mariners’ defeats — and they’ve now lost seven of nine after a 2-0 start — was Seattle’s failure in the clutch. They were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and are 3 for 41 (.073) in their losses.
“We just have to loosen stuff up offensively,” Wedge said. “We’ve got to be more consistent offensively and do a better job making adjustments in-game. I think what we’ve seen, there have been certain trends against us at certain points in time, and we haven’t made the adjustments. Until we do, they’re not going to. We need to do a better job with that.”
The most damaging failure with runners in scoring position occurred in the seventh, when the Mariners loaded the bases after two outs on a single by Kyle Seager (ending his 0-for-18 skid), a walk by Kendrys Morales, and a hit-by-pitch from Morse. Morse was plunked on the shoulder by Tanner Scheppers on the next pitch after he had painfully taken a 95 mph-fastball off his right hand on a swing resulting in a foul ball.
Morse was examined by trainer Rick Griffin but stayed in the game. After reaching base, however, he was removed for a pinch-runner
“It went numb right away,” Morse said. “I got to first and tried to take my glove off, and it wouldn’t come off. I finally got it off, and it looked all mangled. I feel fine. I’ve had a lot worse things than this. It’s one of those freakish things. It’s my pinkie. I’m not too worried about it.”
Lefty Robbie Ross was brought in to face the left-handed hitting Ibanez, who struck out to strand all three. Wedge elected not to use a right-handed pinch-hitter, just as he had done in Chicago, when Ibanez struck out against lefty Donny Veal in a key situation. Ibanez hit just .197 against lefties last year with the Yankees.
“Raul has been a clutch hitter his entire career, and he’s faced left-handers his entire career,” Wedge said. “Early in the season, he deserves that opportunity to go up there. We’ve seen him obviously get clutch hits time and time again. We feel good when he’s up there.”
Said Ibanez: “Of course, it’s frustrating. I’d like to come up with a line drive, come up with a hit. I chased a couple of pitches up out of the zone. He has a sneaky fastball. Then he made a pitch on a slider down. I tipped it into the catcher’s mitt. I didn’t get it done.”
Of Wedge’s decision to let Ibanez hit twice against lefties, he said, “I don’t think about it too much. I’m ready for whatever. I’m sure Wedgie’s going to do what he’s got to do, and I’m perfectly OK with that. Whatever’s best for the team. I came up short there, didn’t get it done. We’ll keep on fighting. We battled the whole time.”
In the eighth, a single by Justin Smoak and a double by Jesus Montero put runners on second and third with no outs. Robert Andino’s RBI ground out cut Texas’s lead to 4-3, but the failed squeeze thwarted the Mariner rally. Franklin Gutierrez struck out to end the inning.
The Mariners had also left two in scoring position in the third. With runners on second and third and one out, Smoak struck out and Montero flied out.