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06/09/10 8:27 PM ET

Mariners' rotation could learn a lot from Lee

ARLINGTON -- Cliff Lee could write a book on the art of pitching.

The Mariners' left-hander -- at least for the time being -- has been so locked into the strike zone during his past two outings, that of his last 219 pitches, 164 have been strikes.

"A lot of guys start 'pitching' before they have to," Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair said, "and Cliff doesn't do that. He executes."

Adair explained that "tempo and trusting what you do are critical" and until hitters start adjusting to his style, there is no reason to change.

Lee, who pitched a complete-game win over the Rangers on Monday night, threw first-pitch strikes to 28 of the 35 batters he faced, and went to a three-ball count only once in the entire game.

He was almost perfect when ahead in the count 1-2 against the Rangers, retiring 20 of the 21 batters he faced on that count.

On the following night, ace right-hander Felix Hernandez threw first-pitch strikes on 17 of the 31 batters he faced in a 7-1 loss.

So why can't other Mariners starters do the same thing as Lee?

"We have talked a lot about gaining confidence and it's simply accomplishing small tasks daily," Adair said. "When you get to where you are doing that, and believing in your preparation, it takes over in a game."

Lee's confidence and preparation are so good that he has walked four batters in 61 2/3 innings this season while striking out 57, 21 of them on called third strikes.

His performance, which includes a 4-2 record and 2.77 ERA, surely will make him the most sought-after pitcher by a contending team if the Mariners decide to put him on the trading block heading into the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

The 31-year-old is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.

Lopez returning to form

ARLINGTON -- Third baseman Jose Lopez, who led the team with 96 RBIs and hit a career-high 25 home runs last season, says he's finally back to normal.

"Right now I feel like the same guy as last year," he said on Wednesday. "The first two months, I tried to do too much and put too much pressure on myself."

Lopez went into Wednesday night's game against the Rangers with a .273 batting average in June, compared to a .226 average in April and .240 in May. He had an 11-game hitting streak from May 23 through June 4, and two of his four home runs this season have been hit in the first eight days of this month.

"Last year I looked for one pitch and I hit it," he said. "I have been doing the same thing over the last few weeks, and I'm more relaxed, more comfortable."

Meanwhile, the position switch from second base to third base has gone smoothly.

"I tell everybody, 'I like playing third base,'" he said. "There is a lot more action there."

His .965 fielding percentage (six errors in 171 total chances) is considerably better than the player he replaced at third.

Adrian Beltre has committed 11 errors in 173 total chances with the Red Sox, a .936 percentage. But Beltre is batting .333 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs.

Only six of the 27 Major League third baseman with at least 40 starts this season have a higher fielding percentage than Lopez.

"I am working hard to become a better third baseman," he said.

Tinsley takes blame for baserunning gaffe

ARLINGTON -- Third-base coach Lee Tinsley took the blame for catcher Rob Johnson not knowing that the hit-and-run sign, given in the third inning, had been removed.

Johnson, on second base with none out in the inning, broke for third on the 2-1 pitch to Chone Figgins. The ball was high and outside for a ball and Johnson was caught in no-man's land, becoming the first out of the inning.

"I went through the signs and tried to let the runners know that nothing was on," Tinsley said on Wednesday. "I have to do a better job of making sure they know it."

It is not unusual for a coach to give signs before any given pitch, and then wipe them off, depending on the situation.

With runners on first and second, nobody out and a left-handed batter up -- the case in Tuesday night's game -- it is unlikely that a hit-and-run play would be used.

Tinsley said he put his palms down to indicate "stay put", but Johnson did not pick it up.

It was the first missed sign gaffe since manager Don Wakamatsu switched coaching duties, having Tinsley move to third base and Mike Brumley move to first base.

Worth noting

The first game of a three-game Interleague series against the Cardinals, on June 14, has been selected as ESPN's Monday Night game. The 4:09 p.m. PT game also will be televised in the Northwest on FSN. ... Shortstop Josh Wilson has hits in 17 of his last 20 games, batting .342 (25-for-73) during the hot streak. ... Ichiro has gone hitless in his last four games against the Rangers, and that's big news. He had at least one hit in 147 of the first 176 games he played against Texas, and his 255 hits off Rangers pitching is the fourth-best by an opponent since 1961, when the organization was in Washington D.C. Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski (333), George Brett (291) and Brooks Robinson (268) are the only players with more hits against the Senators/Rangers. ... Injured shortstop Jack Wilson played five innings for Triple-A Tacoma with no problems, he will play again on Thursday and there's a possibility that he'll rejoin the team in St. Louis next week. ... Wilson's replacement at short, Josh Wilson, has done so well that he was batting fifth on Wednesday night. Designated hitter Mike Sweeney (back inflammation) is improving, but probably will miss the entire road trip.

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