DETROIT – Silence permeated another losing postgame clubhouse as the Mariners slowly mark down the calendar these final two weeks of the season.
Mariners starting pitcher Joe Saunders wanted no part of any interviews after a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers, his dugout actions of heaving water bottles and knocking over a sunflower-seed caddie already speaking volumes. The Mariners struck out 13 times Monday night and stranded eight base runners, once again doing little to capitalize on some strong early at-bats.
Losers of seven of eight, and with a slew of contending teams still to play, the Mariners seem to be facing a tougher foe: themselves.
“It’s never easy losing,’’ Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak said. “We’ve been in some tight ballgames and it’s tough not to get the big hit or the big stop in those situations. But we’ve just got to keep working hard and get something good out of it.’’
The key is the “working hard’’ part because the Mariners simply don’t have the mound or offensive firepower to knock off teams like the Tigers on talent alone. Detroit didn’t play all that great a game in front of 34,063 fans at Comerica Park – grounding into three double plays and managing just one extra-base hit – but it was still enough to win with relative ease.
Abraham Almonte tied the score 1-1 in the third inning with a solo home run off Tigers starter Rick Porcello. The Mariners didn’t score again until they were down 4-1 with two out in the eighth. Raul Ibanez doubled and Smoak drove him home with a single.
The Mariners made Porcello throw 105 pitches over six innings. But they also fanned 10 times against him in scoring a lone run.
“I felt like we put up some good at-bats,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We just didn’t get the big hit to take advantage of it. Again, we made their starter work hard. We’ve been doing that better lately: making them throw pitches and grinding through at-bats.
“But just hitting with runners in scoring position and taking advantage of those opportunities and getting that final hit. That’s what we weren’t able to do.’’
The Tigers took control with a pair of runs in the sixth after a two-out walk issued by Saunders. Three straight singles followed to make it 3-1 and end the night for Saunders at 83 pitches.
Smoak is trying to finish strong after a difficult past month in which he has hit just .149 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .520. He came through with a pair of hits after sitting the past three in St. Louis and said it’s important for the team to keep trying to execute.
“Our goal is to win every ballgame that we play,’’ he said. “You know you’re not going to win them all, but if you’re in them and you’ve got a chance, you’ve got to do something in those situations to get it done.’’
But that latter part has eluded the team all season. The Mariners fell a season-high 18 games under .500 at 66-84 and at this rate could be in danger of approaching their 95-loss total of two years ago.
“This year, we’ve gotten walked-off (against) I don’t know how many times,’’ Smoak said. “One-run ballgames, we haven’t been great at (18-25). It’s just a matter of hopefully, we get something out of it and hopefully we’ll have something to build on right now and for the rest of the offseason.’’
Saunders did a decent job of pitching out of early jams, getting two double-play grounders for a league-best 26. But the three singles in the sixth that ended his night – by Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Omar Infante – gave him the league lead for hits allowed at 226.
“It was just one of those things where we gave up hits where we couldn’t,’’ Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. “We had a couple of walks that came back and hurt us, but it was just one of those things where we made a couple of mistakes with runners on.’’
Saunders retreated to the dugout after being pulled and was captured by television cameras knocking over the sunflower seeds and throwing the water bottles.
Smoak said it’s important teammates not let emotions get to them these final two weeks. He agreed it’s not easy, especially for the younger members of a floundering group averaging three runs per game this month.
“No, it’s not,’’ he said. “I’ll be the first to tell you it’s not. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to keep grinding it out and learn from every at-bat and every pitch and go on from there.’’
• Felix Hernandez threw a bullpen session before Monday’s game, but won’t get another start until at least the weekend in Anaheim. Hernandez told coaches he felt “too strong’’ during the session — after two weeks of not pitching — and they want him to throw another bullpen session first to get a better feel and command of his pitches.