Mariners manager John McLaren says he's seen glimpses this past week of the resurrection of Kenji Johjima's bat: the aggressiveness in practice...
Mariners manager John McLaren says he’s seen glimpses this past week of the resurrection of Kenji Johjima’s bat: the aggressiveness in practice, and the time put in working with hitting coach Jeff Pentland.
On Saturday against Oakland, more proof came when it counted.
Johjima jacked a two-run home run over the left-field wall in the bottom of the second inning, tying the score at 3 and swinging the momentum back in Seattle’s favor mere moments after the A’s had scored three runs in their at-bat.
That — along with a fifth-inning solo shot by Yuniesky Betancourt, just enough outs from starter Horacio Ramirez and a strong bullpen effort — led to Seattle’s second straight win over the A’s, 4-3 at Safeco Field.
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The victory, in front of 41,260, pushed the Mariners (56-46) 10 games over .500 and kept them four games back of AL West-leading Los Angeles, which beat Detroit on Saturday. The Mariners gained ground on Cleveland in the wild-card race.
Johjima hasn’t had a multihit game since June 20. He described the stretch since then, during which his average has plummeted from .316 to .269, as the “worst slump that I’ve been through in my baseball career.”
“Baseball and hitting is very tough,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I was feeling a lot better a couple days ago, although the hits weren’t there. But it’s gradually coming.”
Johjima, who went 1 for 3, might not even have had the chance to play hero Saturday if it wasn’t for backup catcher Jamie Burke being out with a sore neck. Johjima, who caught on Friday, normally sits out day games that follow night games.
“I’m ready for every game,” he said. “I want to play 162 games.”
McLaren, a former catcher, said he met with Johjima before the homestand and had a productive talk.
“It’s not so much about his struggles at his plate, I just wanted to make sure everything was OK with him,” McLaren said. “He’s a very proud man. He’s aggressive, he’s a warrior, and he’s not happy the way’s he been hitting.”
On the mound, Ramirez squeezed out of more tough jams than Harry Potter at Hogwarts, walking five, giving up six hits and allowing at least one Oakland base runner in each of the first five innings.
Yet double plays in the first and third innings aided his escapes, and the only damage came during a laborious, 31-pitch second, when A’s No. 8 hitter Donnie Murphy cleared the bases with a double.
In the fourth, Ramirez walked the bases loaded, but conjured up an inning-ending ground out by Mark Kotsay.
Ramirez (6-3) had his best stuff in the sixth, when he struck out two. He improved to 6-0 at Safeco Field and rebounded from his last start, a disastrous outing at Texas when he surrendered a career-high 11 hits and eight runs.
“I just went out there and I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t have my best control today,’ ” Ramirez said. “But I was battling and [I said], ‘Just keep the team in the ball game.’ At the end of the day, I was able to do that.”
McLaren ended the game with methodical bullpen matchups, calling on Chris Reitsma, Sean Green, George Sherrill, Mark Lowe (in his season debut after an elbow injury last year) and finally J.J. Putz through the last three innings.
Putz was making his first appearance since blowing his 29-game save streak at Texas. He showed no ill effects, blowing 98 mph fastballs right by pinch-hitter Jack Cust for a strikeout to end the eighth.
In the ninth, Putz stamped his return to dominance, striking out three more for his 30th save. Putz said the electricity in the crowd helped him reach back for a little extra.
Adrian Beltre, at cleanup for the second straight game, opened the scoring for Seattle, continuing his hot streak with a leadoff double in the second. He advanced to third on a fly out and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ben Broussard. Then came Johjima’s big hit.
Beltre has six doubles and eight RBI in his last four games.
Chad Gaudin (8-6) took the complete-game loss for Oakland. He came in with control issues, having walked six batters in each of his last two starts. Against Seattle, he threw just 88 pitches, walked one and struck out seven.
Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or firstname.lastname@example.org