French, Mariners finish out winless road trip
Seattle manages two hits during third blanking in six games
MINNEAPOLIS -- Luke French did all he could Sunday afternoon to end the Mariners' six-game losing streak and get a new month off to a positive start.
But an ill-advised diving catch attempt by Michael Saunders -- and no offensive support at all -- spoiled the left-hander's return to the Major Leagues as the Mariners absorbed a 4-0 loss to the Twins before 40,374 at Target Field.
The setback put the finishing touches on a winless seven-game road trip, just the 11th time in franchise history a Mariners team lost every game on a trek that lasted at least five games.
"This thing has snowballed a little bit," said designated hitter Russell Branyan. "We need to go home, clear our minds, put this road trip behind us and come out Tuesday with clear heads."
Scoring a few runs would help.
The Mariners were shut out by the Twins for the second consecutive game and have been blanked three times in their past six games. They also set a single-season high with 15 strikeouts on Sunday -- four of them by first baseman Casey Kotchman.
"That's the best I have ever seen [Twins starter Francisco Liriano]," Branyan said. "He had a plus fastball and a good breaking pitch. He's throwing the changeup to the righties, and to the lefties he was running a good two-seamer in on us, along with a good four-seamer away.
"It was tough picking up the ball coming out of his hand to know what it was going to do."
At least one Mariners batter struck out in every inning, including three in the second and three more in the fourth after Chone Figgins led off with a double -- Seattle's first hit of the game.
"We have to advance the runner," said an exasperated manager Don Wakamatsu.
Franklin Gutierrez attempted to bunt on the first pitch, and eventually took a called third strike on a backdoor slider.
Branyan and Kotchman each went down swinging.
French, making his first appearance since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma last week, battled Liriano inning-by-inning until the sixth.
Saunders came up short trying to snag a pop fly hit by Delmon Young with one out and one on. The ball bounced past the outfielder, putting runners on second and third base.
Young's hit on a down-and-away pitch pretty much fried French.
"The pitch was right where I wanted it, right were [catcher] Rob [Johnson] wanted it," French said. "But he hit it, and sometimes that happens."
Kubel then followed through on one of French's few mistakes, belting a bases-clearing double high off the right-center-field wall to break the game open.
"I was trying to go [inside] more," French said. "The height was right, but the part of the plate was wrong."
Danny Valencia's ensuing single scored Kubel for the game's final run.
"It was a big part of the game," Kubel said of his game-winning hit, which snapped an 0-for-13 skid. "If we get one run, that's good. But I knocked all the guys in and Danny got another hit after that. That was basically the game right there, that one inning."
Despite that one tough inning, French received high marks.
"I thought he did a great job," said pitching coach Rick Adair. "He was real aggressive and attacked the strike zone. He pitched extremely well, and to me, the confidence level as he progressed throughout the game kept growing."
Adair was pleased that French stuck with the game plan, even when things went awry in the sixth inning.
French, who had an 11-3 record and 2.94 ERA at Tacoma, also had a productive offense at his disposal in the Minor Leagues, getting at least five runs in eight of his wins.
Asked afterwards what he took out of the game, French said, "At the end of the day, I did what I wanted to do. I changed speeds and moved the ball up and down. I made a few mistakes. Some got hit, some didn't. I found out that I can be who I am and get outs."
But the Mariners just can't seem to get runs.
Oh, they came close a few times.
Shortstop Josh Wilson missed hitting a solo home run in the second inning off Liriano by mere inches. The ball hugged the left-field line and then hooked just enough to travel on the wrong side of the foul pole -- an instance confirmed by a replay review.
The Mariners threatened again in the fifth when, with two outs, Saunders tripled to right field and Johnson walked for the second time, but Ichiro Suzuki hit a one-hopper back to the pitcher for the inning-ending out.
Sunday's loss ended a stretch of 18 games in 18 days for the Mariners, who have not had a day off since the All-Star break. They get to rest on Monday before opening a three-game series against the American League West-leading Rangers on Tuesday night.
Left-hander Cliff Lee, traded to Texas on July 9, is not scheduled to pitch in the series.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.