Second baseman goes deep twice as Seattle starter Felix Hernandez allows just one run in seven innings.
BALTIMORE — A grinning Jose Lopez wanted to set the record straight that he actually did show up for early batting practice sessions this week.
His double-play partner, one Yuniesky Betancourt, caused a furor of sorts after word got out that he’d skipped one such session the other day, so the first thing Lopez did when asked about the get-togethers was humorously note his attendance. Lopez had just clubbed two home runs in a 4-1 win by the Mariners on Wednesday night and inquiring minds wanted to know what gets discussed when the hitters gather to figure out how to score more than a couple of runs per game.
As expected, the main topic was situational hitting, something the Mariners did a tad better at in this game than in prior efforts this week.
“Yeah, we talked about that,” Lopez said after his fourth three-hit effort the past two weeks. “We talk about having good concentration in those situations. If there’s a man on third base with less than two outs, if they’re back, I want to hit a ground ball towards shortstop and second. If they’re in, I want to hit a long fly ball to [center fielder] Adam Jones, or [right fielder] Nick Markakis.”
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The Mariners are now 20-8 when they score at least four runs in a game. They are 9-22 when they don’t.
That first statistic is due primarily to an incredible run by the pitching staff, which rode a seven-inning effort by Felix Hernandez to a team-record eighth straight game of three runs or fewer allowed. The message is starting to get through loud and clear: score four runs and this team most likely wins.
It happened again in front of only 12,770 fans at Camden Yards as the Mariners scratched out their four and let the mound staff do the rest.
Lopez had given Seattle a 1-0 lead with a solo homer off Jeremy Guthrie in the second inning, then saw Betancourt — playing after a four-game benching — tap a soft roller up the third-base line to bring a runner home from third in the fourth inning.
Before that, the Mariners had been 1 for 22 with runners in scoring position starting with the Twins series.
Hernandez yielded a run in the fifth, but stranded a pair.
Lopez then padded the lead in the sixth with a two-run homer to practically the same location in left field after sitting on a Guthrie slider.
“I waited and he threw it,” Lopez said. “He threw a lot of sliders the other day [in Seattle]. I struck out in the first at-bat and got a couple of ground balls. But especially with men on second or third base, I wanted to wait for that pitch.”
That’s the kind of pitch selection and situational hitting preached since spring training. The Mariners got some here from Lopez, and Adrian Beltre, who’d doubled to get on before the homer by taking a two-strike pitch the other way.
Spotted the three-run lead, Hernandez, who battled out of some early jams, kicked things into gear the final two frames.
“I don’t relax,” he said. “But it gives me more confidence. It allows me to be more aggressive, throw strikes.”
Hernandez did that most of the night, using his two-seam fastball to escape a first-inning jam in which the Orioles put the first two runners on. Then, in the fifth, he got Aubrey Huff to fly out to right with runners on second and third after a run-scoring Markakis double.
“We’re doing better now,” Hernandez said of the offense, which has cost him a few wins this season. “If we hit a little bit better, we’ll win a lot of games.”
Lopez is hitting .364 in his past 11 games and has joined a surging Beltre to help balance out the offense.
“He has been, over the past month, one of our best hitters,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said of Lopez. “And he is with runners in scoring position. But for him to sit on a slider and hit it out … it was an efficient swing and it was a great at-bat. It was a tough pitch, and he hit it out. And to be able to have a guy that can manufacture things and get some guys in motion, he’s worked extremely hard.”
• Pitcher Brandon Morrow confirmed what’s been known internally within the team for some time: He’s off to Class AAA Tacoma to work on becoming a starting pitcher again as soon as the Mariners can call up pitcher Roy Corcoran from an injury-rehab assignment. Might happen this week.
“It’s going to be the long road this time,” Morrow said. “Last year, it was the month in AAA and everybody knew I was coming back.”
This time, there is no timetable. Morrow also said his concerns about his diabetes were just something he used as an excuse to convince himself he was doing the right thing.
“It was a hasty decision to go to the bullpen,” he said. “The short forearm tightness injury [in spring training], that kind of started the doubts in my mind.”
• Betancourt went in — on his own — to see manager Wakamatsu Wednesday to talk about why he’d been benched for four games. Wakamatsu laid it all out — the part about having to show up to play every day, about joining his teammates for workouts.
“I think what some players are accustomed to might not fit into our coaching philosophy,” Wakamatsu said later. “It’s not a defiant thing, or that we’re trying to ask more of any particular player.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/mariners
For the record
v. AL West: 13-14
vs. L.A.: 7-6
vs. Oakland: 6-3
vs. Texas: 0-5
vs. AL East: 7-4
vs. AL Cent.: 7-11
vs. NL: 2-1
vs. LHP: 10-8
vs. RHP: 19-22
Extra inn.: 4-3