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05/09/08 3:15 AM ET

New strategy doesn't stop drought

Mariners lineup limited to four hits in loss to Rangers

SEATTLE -- The batting cage behind the first-base dugout at Safeco Field was off-limits prior to the Mariners' series finale against the Rangers on Thursday night.

"Guys have been working hard, and we decided to back off a bit," Seattle manager John McLaren said. "It gives them a different look. It might be small, it might be big. We just thought it was a good idea."

Nice try, but the scoring drought that has haunted the Mariners for the better part of five weeks was extended another nine innings in a 5-0 loss to the Rangers in front of 22,922.

It's first time since last July 21-22 that the Mariners have been shut out in back-to-back games. The Blue Jays handed Seattle 1-0 and 8-0 losses in Toronto. But that was more of an anomaly, as the Mariners were blanked only seven times the entire 2007 season.

They have been whitewashed three times this season and held to one run five times.

"It's no secret that we haven't scored any runs for a while," said first baseman Richie Sexson, who was ejected in the fourth inning after ducking a high pitch and charging the mound to set off a bench-clearing incident. "It's no secret that we haven't been living up to our potential.

He said, "No" when asked if he has ever seen a team struggle like this offensively.

"This team offensively, on paper, is way better than this."

The Mariners, who dropped another game deeper into the American League West basement, have not scored a run in their past 22 innings and have scored 14 runs this month -- seven of them on Monday in the series opener against the Rangers.

Seattle (14-22) has lost eight of its last nine games.

After being held to two hits in a shutout loss Wednesday, the Mariners managed four hits in Thursday night's series finale.

The Rangers put the Mariners in an early hole, scoring two runs in the first inning and two more in the second off right-hander Felix Hernandez.

Hernandez, trying to snap a two-game skid, retired the first batter he faced, but then he loaded the bases on a single and two walks. A fly ball to left field presented Texas with its first run, and Brandon Boggs delivered a run-scoring single.

The second inning began with Hernandez hitting Rangers catcher Gerald Laird with a pitch, and one out later, Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler drove a fastball over the fence in left field for a home run. It was Kinsler's third and the fourth Hernandez has allowed this season.

"The first hitter of the game, he was throwing 96 [mph] and it looked like it was going to happen," McLaren said, "but it just didn't happen. He hung in there for five innings, but it wasn't a real good outing for him.

"The first two innings put him a difficult situation with the pitch count. It was hard for him to get into the game. He got behind hitters, but he hung in there for five innings, but Felix is a lot better than that."

Hernandez, who lost his third straight, was not available after the game.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.