Mariners swept as Hernandez struggles

Mariners swept by Halos

SEATTLE -- A three-game series the Mariners were really looking forward to playing ended the way it started -- with a loss to the Angels -- on Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field.

And as frustrating and demoralizing as the series went, Seattle remains confident that it still has a shot at becoming the American League West champions.

"It was a tough series, but we're not out of anything by any means," closer J.J. Putz said. "There's still a lot of baseball to be played, but we are going to have to play a lot better than this."

Right-hander Felix Hernandez, given the task of salvaging the series finale and ending the club's four-game losing streak, wobbled on Wednesday, surrendering a career-high 13 hits over seven-plus innings as the Mariners dropped an 8-2 decision to the Angels in front of a sellout crowd of 46,047.

"We just couldn't get anything going," manager John McLaren said. "The expectations coming in were high and we had a great turnout [the series drew 136,440]. It's a setback, but we're still in a good position. We need to regroup and need to start doing that tomorrow."

The sweep opened up a five-game gap between the first-place Angels and second-place Mariners, who begin a 10-game road trip Thursday night against the AL Central-leading Indians. It will be the Seattle's fourth -- and final -- trip to Cleveland during the regular season, a wacky travel schedule caused in part by all four games of an early April series being snowed out.

So what did the Angels sweep prove?

"It means they whipped our butts three days in a row and gave themselves some breathing room," starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn said. "Were they the better team this series? Yeah. But a week from now we could be the better team.

"It's a streaky game. Teams get hot -- teams get cold. Right now we're going through a little rough stretch. But if the season ended today, we'd be in the playoffs. People tend to forget that."

As they departed for Cleveland, the Mariners still had a one-half game lead over the Yankees in the AL Wild Card race, pending the outcome of New York's game against the Tigers.

"Do we want to win the division? Yeah, but if [the Angels] keep playing like that, they're going to be hard to catch," Washburn said. "If we get in by winning the Wild Card, we're still in. I got in with the Wild Card once."

That was in 2002, when he played for the Angels and won a World Series ring.

"With a month to go, it's awful tight. We're looking up at the Angels more than we want to be right now," he said. "There's no room for error when you're playing against teams you're fighting for that playoff berth. We have our work cut out for us. Bottom line, we have to play better than we have the last three days."

McLaren acknowledged that catching the Angels becomes more difficult, but isn't out of the question. There is something about the resiliency this team has shown all season that makes him believe a hot streak could be just around the corner.

"It seems like we play swell, run into a bump, go the other way, and then kick it back into gear and get going again," McLaren said. "We're still in good position, and we've always had the ability to come back and put a hot streak together."

And boy do they need a hot streak now.

They were dominated by a talented Angels team during their three-day stay in Seattle. The Angels had better starting pitching, better relief pitching, better hitting, better baserunning and more close calls that went their way than they probably deserved.

"It seemed liked every mistake we made in this series came back to get us," Putz said. "And there were some bizarre things that happened, like our manager getting tossed for really nothing in the first game. There were some close plays that, being politically correct, could have gone either way."

Though he wouldn't say "uncle" as far as catching the Angels and capturing the division title, Putz said, "This makes it more difficult. But we have been further back than five games and came back to get within one. It's not out of the question, because we still have four games against them.

"But we're definitely going to have to play better if we are going to catch them."

A two-run rally in the first inning gave Angels right-hander Jered Weaver an early lead, and unlike his older brother, Jeff, who squandered a five-run first-inning lead during Tuesday night's loss, he never allowed the Mariners to catch up.

Hernandez, meanwhile, surrendered at least one hit in five of the seven innings he worked. Two of the hits were solo home runs -- Jeff Mathis in the fourth and Vladimir Guerrero in the fifth.

"They hit everything we threw up there -- good pitches, bad pitches," McLaren said. "Felix threw the ball extremely well at times, but then left some balls over the plate. They looked very comfortable off him up there, and that's something we have to talk to him about."

Hernandez was dumbfounded afterwards.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "Everything I threw they hit hard."

The Mariners, meanwhile, had consecutive hits only twice all afternoon off Weaver. They also made mistakes on the basepaths, including second baseman Jose Lopez getting picked off first base in the fifth inning with the Mariners trailing, 4-2. Not good.

Lopez also made a mistake on defense. He was playing at double-play depth with runners on first and third and none out in the eighth inning when he fielded a grounder and tried, unsuccessfully, to throw out the runner going home.

It was that kind of a series for the Mariners.

"It wasn't a do-or-die series, but we expected better than this, believe me," McLaren said. "We just didn't get it done. Now we need to go .500 or better on the road. We're playing teams we have to beat and we're looking for a big road trip. We need to straighten out a couple of things, score some runs and have our starters give us some innings."

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