KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A calendar is part of any manager’s toolbox for setting pitcher schedules, projecting the return of injured players and generally just planning ahead.
But for Mariners manager Eric Wedge, his calendar now doubles as a nagging alarm bell going off inside his brain. One look at it tells him there are four weeks left in a season in which his Mariners, beaten 3-1 on Monday by the Kansas City Royals, look to already be staggering toward the finish line.
Wedge didn’t need a reminder of the date after seeing his team held to just one run over its last 27 innings.
“We’ve got a lot of guys here that have got to continue to learn how to play the game,’’ Wedge said. “And understand what it takes to win a ballgame.’’
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The Mariners have seen steady positives amid the foibles of young players, most notably raw rookies Brad Miller and Nick Franklin.
But Wedge seemed to acknowledge Monday that he’s getting tired of mistakes and nonperformance from other corners. The Mariners have been owned by left-handed starters all season and Monday were again limited by Danny Duffy before his rising pitch count forced him out by the fourth inning.
Then, the Mariners did nothing off reliever Will Smith, a left-handed, sometimes-spot-starter who retired 13 of 14 batters and struck out eight, delighting the 20,063 fans at Kauffman Stadium. The only hit Seattle managed off Smith was a Kyle Seager fly ball that center fielder Jarrod Dyson lost in the sun and allowed to drop in for a double.
For Wedge, on a day the Mariners had Felix Hernandez on the mound, that lack of offensive support won’t cut it. He knows several of his rookies could hit the proverbial wall this month – their Class AAA season would be over by now – and needs the younger players who have been here a while to not pack it in.
Wedge suggested it was time for Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Seager and Michael Saunders to shed their “kid”’ labels and show the consistency needed for the team to make it through September. The Mariners have dropped eight of 11 and likely would have lost two or three more in Houston had they been playing anybody but the terrible Astros.
“I know we’ve got some young kids out there, but still, the Smoaks, the Ackleys, the Saunders and the Seagers, those guys have been around here for a little bit,’’ Wedge said. “They need to be doing better.’’
Seager had three of the six Seattle hits and has done well on the trip. But Ackley is 0 for 16 since his four-hit game Thursday, Smoak is 1 for 12 on the trip and Saunders 2 for 11.
“I’ve grouped them all together because they all came up at about the same time,’’ Wedge said. “And some of them are doing better than others but we need to see a little bit more progress out of them.’’
Wedge could have added Kendrys Morales to that list as well, since he hasn’t gone deep in a month, is batting just .165 the past three weeks and is 2 for 15 on the trip.
Royals starter Duffy walked four batters in his 32
3 innings to go along with five hits allowed. But the Mariners managed just one run.
That came when Abraham Almonte doubled with two out in the fourth – snapping a steak of 22 innings without an extra-base hit by the Mariners – and Miller tripled past diving right fielder David Lough.
“I just wanted to come through and get on the board and hopefully get things going,’’ Miller said, adding he’d hoped the hits would ignite something bigger.
But the Mariners failed to add more and the Astros tied it with three straight singles off Hernandez in the bottom of the frame. Then, in the fifth, the ultrafast Dyson beat a lunging Hernandez in a footrace to first base, took third on an Alcides Escobar single and scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-1.
Escobar took third on the wild pitch and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Emilio Bonifacio.
Hernandez then felt a spasm in his side during an at-bat by Alex Gordon in the seventh and had to leave the game.
“It’s just a cramp, I think, but it will be OK,’’ Hernandez said, adding it’s the first time he’s experienced one in that particular area.
Hernandez has now lost four straight starts in which he’s failed to get through seven innings. He dazzled early on, but also gave the 1-0 lead right back and has just one September victory since the 2010 season. Hernandez said the final month “is always important for us. We’re trying to win some games. It’s important to finish strong.’’
Miller said he’s aware of how deep into a season he’s going for the first time and that it’s important to stay focused.
“Luckily I got a chance to play a lot of games last year because we were in the (AA) playoffs,’’ he said. “But you’re right, it’s a whole other animal. So, I think it’s good just making sure we get on our rest and stay on our weights and everything … we’ve got to finish this thing out.’’