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Thursday, June 14, 2012 - Page updated at 11:00 p.m.
New-look Mariners suffer through same old problems
By Geoff Baker
Seattle Times staff reporter
He'd just seen the kind of performance he'd waited all season to see from a young pitcher-and-catcher duo the Mariners hope can be there for them for years to come.
And still, it only took manager Eric Wedge a couple of seconds Wednesday night to divert from his positive postgame monologue and address the proverbial 5,000-pound elephant crushing his ballclub.
Wedge had just seen his Mariners suffer a 1-0 defeat against a San Diego Padres team with the worst record in baseball on another of those nights when Safeco Field seemed to be suiting up for the visiting team.
With just 10 runs scored the first five games of this homestand, Wedge figured he'd tackle the subject of the home ballpark before anyone beat him to it.
"Offensively, we've just really got to figure this out here at home," Wedge said. "I mean, it's no secret. We've shown what we're capable of doing on the road.
"We've just got to work to help these guys get over the hump here at home to where we can go out there and be the offensive team that we've shown to be very capable of being."
That didn't happen once again as the Mariners suffered their fourth consecutive defeat, this one in front of 13,931 in a ballpark quickly becoming synonymous with four-letter swearwords for the hometown faithful. Justin Smoak had a sixth-inning drive die out at the warning track in right-center — the third such outcome he's had on a deeply hit ball in two nights.
Yonder Alonso didn't suffer the same fate on a ball crushed to right-center soon after that in the seventh. That blast landed in the seats for a solo home run off Hector Noesi that proved the difference.
Noesi was otherwise pretty strong over seven innings, working in tandem with an improved-looking Jesus Montero behind the plate. Instead of grooving his 0-2 pitches as he had in previous games, Noesi made sure to bury them in the dirt or outside the strike zone.
"I tried to make my pitches down at 0-2," he said. "Because in my previous starts, I was leaving my pitches a little up at 0-2. So, I was trying to keep my pitches down at 0-2, 2-2, 3-2."
On one occasion, he'd left an 0-2 slider up in the zone and saw it laced for a base hit. Montero was quick to have a word with him.
"He was like 'Throw it down!' you know?" Noesi said with a smile.
Montero himself looked improved behind the plate, both in how he took charge of Noesi as well as throwing out two would-be base-stealers. The rookie catcher also had three singles for a Mariners offense otherwise largely handcuffed by pedestrian right-hander Jason Marquis.
"That's what I was telling him every time," Montero said of Noesi's 0-2 pitches. "Just make sure you put them in the dirt so nobody hits it. And that's what he did. That's what I was telling him every single time."
Montero said he was "ready" for the Padres to try to nab bases with speedsters on first in a tight game.
"It's been coming along well," he said. "I think if you work at it every single day, you're going to find those good moments."
Except on the offensive side. The Mariners managed to load the bases with one out in the seventh on a walk, a single, then a dropped throw by first baseman Alonso.
But Ichiro grounded into a force out at home and then Dustin Ackley took a called third strike against southpaw reliever Joe Thatcher. Montero then singled to launch an eighth-inning rally, but John Jaso struck out against reliever Luke Gregerson with runners at the corners to end the threat.
"It's hard," Montero said of the offense. "Every single time, we try to fight. Maybe the pitchers come in here more ready, or something like that."
The Mariners entered with just a .198 batting average at home compared to .256 on the road.
Wedge said his team can't start to let Safeco Field get into its head. He sees his players pressing just a little too much in key situations instead of doing what they had previously to create scoring chances.
"You can't play it this close," he said. "You can't be perfect, or have to try to be perfect in 1-0 ballgames, or one-run ballgames all the time.
"You have to be able to go out there and do what we've done on the road. Be able to score 10 runs every now and again and break it open and be able to breathe a little bit."
San Diego @ Seattle,
7:10 p.m., ROOT
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