SEATTLE -- The Mariners are well-equipped to close out games. All they need now are more leads to protect. Right-hander J.J. Putz returned to action with one inning of perfect relief on Sunday afternoon, after spending over a month on the disabled list, and power-armed Brandon Morrow has developed into a dependable game-ender. And that could make the final two innings in games the Mariners have a lead become a virtual lock.
But that wasn't a factor in the series finale against the Indians. For the second consecutive game, the Mariners fell behind by a wide margin early and never caught up, dropping a 6-2 decision in front of 32,230 at Safeco Field. Seattle (38-60) became the first American League team to lose 60 games this season, but better days could be ahead with two potential closers at interim manager Jim Riggleman's disposal. "We're kind of feeling it out as to how many days in a row each guy can pitch," he said. "You might see a combination of two guys closing games down for us." Morrow is 9-for-11 in save situations this season and Putz was 40-for-42 last season, when he established himself as one of the best closers in the Majors. A string of injuries this season has forced the right-hander to miss 49 games. "J.J. didn't throw that many pitches today, so if we needed to use him tomorrow, it would be another test, another hurdle to go over -- pitching two days in a row," Riggleman said. "If something later in the game [against the Red Sox] comes up, we would probably put him out there again. "Once we know he can go a couple of days in a row, [the situation becomes clearer]. We haven't done that too often with Morrow." The fourth-inning departure of starter Carlos Silva to tightness in his lower back handed Sunday's series finale over to the bullpen and, as usual, it excelled. Right-hander Roy Corcoran was nicked for two runs in the second inning he pitched, but Mark Lowe, Putz, Sean Green and Arthur Rhodes held the Indians to two hits and no runs over the final four innings. The Seattle bullpen has now surrendered just 18 earned runs in its last 62 1/3 innings -- a 2.60 ERA. But on this day, as like so many others this season, the Mariners' offense was unable to cash in when the opportunity presented itself. First baseman Miguel Cairo and designated hitter Jose Vidro each had three hits and center fielder Willie Bloomquist added two singles. The Mariners had two more hits than the Indians (11-9), but were 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Cleveland left-hander Cliff Lee, who pitched his second complete game and improved to 13-2 on the season. The three-run home run Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach hit off Silva in the fourth inning proved to be more than enough offensive support for Lee. "He is really good," Riggleman said of the Indians All-Star pitcher. "He has a smooth delivery and throws a fastball that sneaks up on you. He got out of three or four jams with a changeup to get a double play or ground ball. That is classic pitching." One of those changeups helped Lee get out of the second inning with only one run being scored. Adrian Beltre started the inning with a leadoff double, went to third on a grounder to second, and scored when Vidro reached on an infield single. But Kenji Johjima grounded into an inning-ending double play. After the Mariners were held to one base runner between the second fifth innings, a pair of two-out singles in the sixth gave them a chance of slicing into a five-run deficit, only to have Beltre hit a comebacker to Lee. And when the first two batters singled in the seventh, Lee induced Johjima to bounce into another double play. Cairo followed with a run-scoring triple, but that didn't faze Lee. "I don't think he got tired, but after the seventh inning he started to creep up a little bit," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Cliff and Shoppach worked real well together. Cliff made some good pitches and his curveball came into play. But again, he threw strike one [to start hitters off] all day long." Lee struck out four and didn't walk anyone. He has issued just 20 walks all season.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.