Putz, Mariners struggle in finale
Closer allows four runs in two-thirds of an inning in Seattle loss
SEATTLE -- In a season where little has been consistent for the Mariners, perhaps their most reliable combination turned in an uncharacteristic performance in a tight game to concede a 7-5 victory to the Detroit Tigers and a momentum-killing series loss in front of a crowd of 38,610 at Safeco Field on Sunday afternoon.Heading into the eighth inning with the score tied at 3, Seattle turned to its red-hot relief tandem of Brandon Morrow and J.J. Putz that has spearheaded Seattle in recent victories. Morrow was his usual, dominating self in retiring all three batters -- including Edgar Renteria with a 99 mph fastball on the outside corner for the last out. But Putz couldn't uphold his end of the bargain, surrendering both hard and soft base hits and letting the Tigers score four times in the ninth before departing with two outs. "His velocity is not quite as good as it was last year ... maybe he's still trying to get there," Seattle manager John McLaren said. "I think he hit 95 [mph], and last year he hit 97, 98 at times and I don't think his original injury is bothering him anymore." Location could also be an issue as Putz tries to regain his dominating form from a year ago. "Of course, last year he wasn't hurt or anything and he could dot an "I" and everything else, and he's shown on occasion he's there," McLaren said. "But there's times he's not, and even as good as he is, it's still about location." Putz said that his arm felt fine and rightfully pointed out that Lady Luck wasn't always present during his time on the hill. He spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with inflammation where cartilage attaches to the rib, then dealt with irritation on the index finger of his pitching hand. The damage began with a one-out walk to Brandon Inge, followed by a Curtis Granderson low liner that skipped past Miguel Cairo at first base. A bloop down the right-field line by Placido Polanco plated the first run, and after a groundout, Adrian Beltre couldn't handle Magglio Ordonez's grounder for an infield hit and another run. After Miguel Cabrera's double to left for two more scores, Putz was heading for the locker room with plenty of frustration and a loss to ponder. "What can you do with a blooper down the right-field line?" he said, adding that he threw quality pitches despite the results. Good pitches or not, the ensuing hits gave Seattle a series loss and a 3-3 record during a homestand that showed promise after two straight wins against the Red Sox and a dominating pitching performance Saturday from Felix Hernandez. And one thing that has been consistent for Seattle -- an inability to get runners home during potential, and even likely scoring situations -- reared its head again before the fateful ninth inning ever unfolded. After hustling into second base on a single and an error from Ordonez in right field to open the bottom of the eighth inning with the score tied, Jeremy Reed reached third on a sacrifice bunt. But Yuniesky Betancourt's broken bat went about as far as his soft line drive to Inge at third, and Jose Lopez grounded out harmlessly to Inge following an intentional walk to Ichiro Suzuki. "If you look at us offensively, I think the one thing that works against us is getting runners in with less than two outs," McLaren said. "You can talk about it all you want to -- it's just something we need to do a better job. It's not a talking thing, it's just actually we gotta do it." The largest Mariners outburst came in the bottom of the ninth with the four-run deficit. Raul Ibanez -- who broke out of an extended slump with three hits and three RBIs -- tattooed a Todd Jones pitch off the wall under the Hit It Here Cafe sign in right field. The Mariners even brought the tying run to the plate with one out after a Kenji Johjima walk, but Reed and Cairo were unable to further the threat. Miguel Batista, who gave another serviceable performance with three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, emerged from the game with an injured right groin, although he said it wasn't as bad as the first time he did it in late April. And while the disappointing loss gives the Mariners a bad taste heading into the three-game series against the Angels starting Monday, the homestand has certainly showcased a much more competitive team -- even if that's not an acceptable consolation for the American League West's last-place team. "We're playing better as a team," Batista said. "A lot of people are not noticing that, but we're not losing anymore as we were."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.