Lopez leads onslaught in French's debut

Offensive onslaught for French in debut

KANSAS CITY -- Name the American League player with the most three-hit games this season.

If you guessed Major League hits-leader Ichiro Suzuki, you're wrong -- but close.

It's Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez.

On a night every Mariners starter had at least one hit, Lopez had three, leading Seattle and rookie left-hander Lucas French to an 11-6 victory over the Royals before 27,805 at Kauffman Stadium.

It was his 16th three-hit game of the season -- one more than Ichiro -- and fourth in his past seven games. Lopez also drove in three runs, extending his streak of driving in at least one run to seven straight, two shy of the franchise record set by Edgar Martinez in 1995.

"I'm just trying to do my job," Lopez said. "When a runner [is in scoring position] I look for one pitch and I swing hard and try to drive him in."

The RBI binge has propelled Lopez into the club lead with 65. Russell Branyan, who also drove in three runs in Wednesday night's game, is second with 61. No one else has more than 46, though the total has grown the past two nights.

After getting 16 hits and scoring seven runs in Tuesday night's 7-6 victory, the Mariners came back the following night, hammered out 16 more hits, and matched their season high in runs.

"That was an awfully nice win to get two in a row here and try to get back on track," manager Don Wakamatsu said.

Seattle's two wins against the Royals and the Angels' two straight losses to the White Sox have moved the Mariners to within eight games of first place in the AL West. The second-place Rangers also have lost two straight, so the gap in the West is getting a little smaller.

The Mariners took control of Wednesday night's game with a six-run rally in the fourth inning.

The uprising began with third baseman Adrian Beltre hitting a single into right field -- his first hit since coming off the disabled list on Tuesday.

Beltre scooted to third on Franklin Gutierrez's single to right-center and scored when Jack Wilson bunted past starting pitcher Kyle Davies for a single. One out later, Michael Saunders walked, Ichiro singled home a run, Branyan doubled in a pair, and Lopez added an RBI single.

Jose Lopez on an RBI binge
Date
Opponent
H-AB
RBIs
August 5 @Royals 3-for-5 3
August 4 @Royals 1-for-5 2
August 2 @Rangers 2-for-5 1
August 1 @Rangers 3-for-5 2
July 31 @Rangers 3-for-4 3
July 30 @Rangers 1-for-4 1
July 29 Blue Jays 3-for-4 1

"You're in a situation right there where hopefully you can stop the bleeding," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "You gotta make pitches to do it. We weren't able to do that and it dominoed into the big inning."

Lopez also singled in the sixth inning, driving in two runs, and again in the eighth.

The 25-year-old has come a long way after going through a tough May, when he batted .214 and had to deal with the news that his sister was dying of cancer in Venezuela.

She passed away in mid-June and Lopez went on the bereavement list for a week. He returned on July 25 with a new attitude and approach.

"When I came back, I decided to hit in the cage every day," Lopez said. "I hit the ball the other way, every swing, and it has worked. Early in the season, they pitched me away and I kept trying to pull the ball.

"Now, I think first of going the other way [to right and right-center] and pull the ball if it's inside."

The results have been impressive.

He was batting .248 with five three-hit games on June 17 and is batting .335 in his past 51 games and raised his batting average to a season-high .281.

"It doesn't surprise me," Wakamatsu said. "What surprised me was the way he struggled early. I have seen him for a number of years and he always seemed to hit well against us, both Oakland and Texas."

French appreciated the offensive support he received.

Acquired from the Tigers last Friday, French surrendered nine hits and four runs over five innings, departing after 89 pitches -- 61 for strikes -- and a 6-4 lead.

"It was nice to get that one out of the way," French said. "It kind of felt like my first start all over again. I felt good, but was up in the zone a few times and they made me pay for it."

French surrendered two-run homers to Billy Butler in the second inning and Alex Gordon in the fourth, both of them on first pitches.

"He was a little nervous to start," Wakamatsu said, "but I think the biggest thing, and most important thing, is to get him acclimated to this club."

French said it has been a wild week since getting traded, but things are slowly settling down. He says the support from his teammates has been strong and his wife, who was in Detroit at the time of the trade, drove back to Colorado and will rejoin Lucas in Seattle.

If they need a pet, well there's a cat at Kauffman Stadium that might be available.

The game was delayed for a few minutes in the top of the fifth inning when a feline ran in from left field.

"It jumped from the stands into our bullpen," Shawn Kelley said. "We thought it was going to attack [bullpen coach John Wetteland] so we had to divert it away from him. It scaled an eight-foot wall, it really did. We were just concerned with saving John. We thought he was in trouble. He was cornered."

One of the bullpen guardians, right-hander Sean White, later entered the game, replacing Miguel Batista with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth.

He retired Mark Teahen to end the inning and all three batters he faced in the seventh.

"The key to game for me was White," Wakamatsu said. "He got the game back under control at a point where it could have gotten out of hand."

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