Mariners can't stave off Orioles' bats

Mariners can't hold off Orioles

BALTIMORE -- When two of the first three batters hit home runs in the first inning on Monday afternoon, Mariners manager John McLaren thought it just might trigger a breakout game the offense needs to generate some confidence.

"I had a good feeling," he said.

But it was not to be.

Two runs there, one in the fourth and another in the fifth kept the Mariners close to the Orioles in the final game of a four-game series, but some of the same things that led to Seattle losing the first three games were apparent again in a 5-4 loss in front of 10,774 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"It was kind of a repeat performance out there," McLaren said. "I can't explain it."

Much of what has happened the first week of the regular season is goofy.

A struggling offense could be the result of the cold weather the Mariners have encountered since leaving Arizona. It was cold in Seattle during a three-game series against the Rangers and just as cold during the four-game series in Baltimore.

Less explainable were the location of an 0-and-2 pitch that right-hander Carlos Silva threw Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora in the third inning, or the right-down-the-middle fastball that left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty served up to Aubrey Huff in the eighth inning.

In each case, the pitches were hit over fences, producing three of the five run that Baltimore needed to pull off its first four-game series sweep in more than three seasons.

"I tried to throw a sinker in, but it didn't go in enough on him," Silva said. "I missed my spot and they know I am going to throw sinkers. It was a bad pitch. We should have won today. I made a mistake and that was the game right there."

Actually, there was more to this loss than that one errant pitch by Silva, but one or two errant pitches seem to be all it takes for the Mariners to lose a game. And to make matters even worse in this series, three of the Orioles' wins ended with former Mariners left-hander George Sherrill getting the final out.

Who would have thought?

When the Mariners were asked to include Sherrill in a trade with the Orioles that brought them premier starting pitcher Erik Bedard, hardly an eye was batted in Seattle's front office.

After all, O'Flaherty was a younger version of Sherrill, and performed brilliantly against lefty hitters last season -- holding them to a .183 batting average (17-for-93) with one extra-base hit, no home runs and six RBIs.

"Eric was such a big part of our bullpen last year," McLaren said. "But for some reason, he's having a tough time against left-handers."

When Huff connected for his first home run of the season, it was the seventh hit in 11 at-bats for left-handed batters against O'Flaherty. Right-handers are 0-for-5 against him and the head-scratching continues.

Though he wasn't charged with a blown save in Sunday's one-run loss to the Orioles, O'Flaherty surrendered three hits to the four lefties he faced, fueling a three-run game-winning rally.

McLaren and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre figured the best thing to do was get O'Flaherty back in the saddle quickly. It didn't pan out.

"I probably should have called for another pitch, a slider," catcher Kenji Johjima said.

"I think we need to get him in a non-pressure situation to get his confidence back," McLaren said.

But that could be easier said than done, because the Mariners are playing so many close games. Four of their five losses have been by one or two runs and the other was by three runs.

"We're still not swinging the bats the way we're capable of, and until we do, we're putting pressure on the bullpen. Everything is magnified and there is not breathing room. We need to get a lead and add on to it."

Ichiro Suzuki started the game with a booming home run into the center-field seats, his first of the season and 26th in his career to start a game. One out later, Raul Ibanez smacked a home run to right-center, his second of the season.

But they stranded three runners in scoring position and the bulk of the starting lineup has struggled big-time the first week of the season. Right fielder Brad Wilkerson is batting .059; Johjima is batting .095; designated hitter Jose Vidro is at .115; and Richie Sexson has a .217 mark.

Seattle is batting .225 as a team.

"This team is going to start hitting," said Ibanez, who is batting .308. "We're all going to be really good at times and sometimes we'll all be bad at times, and sometimes we'll be all right. We know things are going to turn around.

"There are too many guys who can hit, who are going to break out. They have too good of a history to be hitting .100. It might sound corny, but that's what I believe."

McLaren tinkered with his lineup, moving third baseman Adrian Beltre from fifth to fourth, Wilkerson from sixth to fifth and Sexson from fourth to sixth.

"We wanted to break up the right-handers a little bit and figured this was a good time to do it," he said. "It's something we've been talking about."

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