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Free-swinging Mariners can't find big hit

Free-swinging Mariners can't find big hit

SEATTLE -- Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn had to work a lot harder to keep his team in Monday night's game against the Red Sox than his younger counterpart in a battle of left-handers at Safeco Field.

And it had more to do with the approach the hitters took to plate. The Mariners lost, 4-0, in front of 37,861, but went down swinging -- usually early in the count -- against Jon Lester.

Washburn needed 112 pitches to make it through 5 2/3 innings, while Lester threw 103 pitches in 7 1/3 innings, but only 60 after six innings.

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"It's kind of the nature of our ballclub," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "We're just not going to see a lot of pitches. Sometimes, it can work in your favor, if you get a good fastball to hit early in the count and it's a high-percentage pitch to hit.

"But if they can get you swinging at something a little off [the plate], and that seems to be what they've been able to do here lately, they can kind of run through you with 50 or 60 pitches in five or six innings, like they did tonight."

The Mariners have a lineup of swing-now-and-look-at-the-video-later hitters. It worked well last season, when essentially the same lineup won 88 games. But it hasn't worked this season. The Mariners, who have lost three straight, are now 38-61.

The defending World Series champion Red Sox, meanwhile, ended a three-game losing streak and remained on the heels of the Rays in the AL East.

"They are always patient, they are always working the count, looking for their pitch," Washburn said of the Red Sox. "You always seem to throw a lot of pitches against them and you know going in that one mistake can hurt you, and that's what happened today."

That one mistake was throwing ball four to Coco Crisp with one out and none on in the fifth inning of a scoreless game. Washburn went to a full-count against Boston catcher Jason Varitek, tried to sneak a down-and-in fastball past the switch-hitter, and watched the ball sail into the left-field seats for a home run.

"I know he's a veteran guy and one of the smartest players in the game," Washburn said. "He has always hit me pretty well, and I think he was guessing fastball in right there and I gave it to him. He did what he was supposed to do."

Washburn didn't second guess the pitch.

"I wanted to throw a fastball inside and not walk him. The mistake was walking Crisp."

As it often happens, a walk comes back to haunt the pitcher. But the Mariners are not a walk-happy bunch. This was their second straight walk-free game and Seattle's 278 free passes rank third-to-last in the American League.

"I don't think at this point in guys' careers, they're going to change," said Riggleman of his free-swinging club. "Boston has a group over there right now that takes quite a few pitches and they make pitchers throw a lot of pitches. They made [Washburn] throw a lot of pitches tonight.

"Wash did a heck of a job. Varitek got him on a 3-2 pitch, but he really did a good job. He has given us a chance to win the ballgame just about every time out there, and he did it again tonight. When he leaves, it's 2-0, and if you've only given up a couple runs to Boston, you're probably doing a pretty good job, and he did."

Washburn (4-9) knew he had worked hard, but had no idea how much harder he worked than Lester.

"After I came in [the clubhouse], I looked at the TV and saw that he had thrown 68 pitches in the seventh inning. I said, 'Is that all?' He was tough and a very talented young man."

The Mariners had several scoring chances against Lester, including a bases-loaded situation with one out in the eighth inning on singles by Jeff Clement, Yuniesky Betancourt and Willie Bloomquist.

But Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon came in and induced Raul Ibanez to bounce into a double play.

Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki went hitless for the second consecutive game -- the first time that has happened since May 13-14 -- and remained seven hits shy of his 3,000th professional hit.

He would prefer getting it in front of his home fans, but needs to get real hot real fast for that to happen.

The Mariners have two games remaining on this homestand, leaving Ichiro with about 10 at-bats to get it done before the team goes on a seven-game road trip to Toronto and Arlington.

He twice came close to getting hits in the series opener against the Red Sox.

With Betancourt on second base via a one-out double in the third inning of a scoreless game, Ichiro slapped a hard grounder up the middle, the kind of ball that usually means a hit for the speedster who is tied for second with 26 infield hits this season.

But Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia backhanded the ball, turned and made a strong throw to first, beating the runner by a step.

Ichiro came to bat for the final time in the eighth inning, runners on first and second base, and drilled a line drive -- right at shortstop Jed Lowrie.

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

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