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Mariners' offense can't find home remedy

Mariners' offense can't find home remedy

SEATTLE -- At the end of four innings Monday afternoon, Mariners left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith had yet to allow a hit, but he still was behind by a run.

And the way the Mariners have been scuffling on offense so far this still-young season, even if Rowland-Smith had pitched a no-hitter, there was no guarantee he would have won.

At the end of the day, the Mariners had two hits and absorbed their first shutout of the eight-day-old season, a 4-0 decision to the Athletics before a sellout crowd of 45,876 at Safeco Field.

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Alas, home is not where the runs are -- at least not on Seattle's Opening Day.

Rowland-Smith's no-hit bid ended in the sixth inning when Cliff Pennington, behind in the count 0-and-2, hit a line drive into the visitors' bullpen for his second home run of the season. It gave the Athletics a two-run lead that loomed large as the game progressed.

The Mariners stranded the five runners -- two hits, two walks and a hit batter -- they had, including two at third base.

"We are just pressing offensively, trying to get the guys on the mound a lead," designated hitter Ken Griffey Jr. said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. We'll get it on track and the first seven or eight games will be forgotten."

But right now it's difficult to overlook the Mariners' 2-6 record. Four of the losses were handed to them by the Athletics, a team that beat Seattle just five times in 19 games last season.

"There is nobody more disappointed than the 25 guys in that room," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "It's unfortunate to start a season this way. You look out there during the course of that ballgame and you see a lot of guys kind of with their heads down. It's something we're going to talk about tomorrow and it's something we're going to attack and continue to work on and be positive."

The Athletics, meanwhile, have bolted out of the chute with a 6-2 record and right-hander Justin Duchscherer was at the top of his game in Monday's series opener.

"He kept the ball down and pretty much kept the ball out of the hitting zone all day," Mariners second baseman Chone Figgins said. "We put some good swings on him, but you have to tip your hat to them. That's not a bad team over there and they are playing good ball right now."

Rowland-Smith was holding his own early on, retiring the first nine batters he faced. The perfect streak was aided by a diving backhanded stab by first baseman Casey Kotchman in the third inning that robbed extra bases.

The play was so good Rowland-Smith never covered the base and Kotchman had to get to his feet and win a foot race to the bag with Gabe Gross.

For whatever reason, Rowland-Smith lost track of the strike zone in the fourth inning, when 12 of the first 14 pitches he threw were taken for balls. The wild streak loaded the bases with none out, the last thing the run-starved Mariners needed to see.

"The first three innings, I was in sync and I was in a rhythm, and all of a sudden I was trying to do a little bit extra and I was nibbling," Rowland-Smith said. "The five walks aren't acceptable. It doesn't matter how good of a game you pitch or how many hits you give up."

A fly ball to medium-deep left field barely scored speedy Rajai Davis for the game's first run. An ensuing inning-ending double play yanked Rowland-Smith out of further trouble in that inning.

But a one-run deficit seems like a lot more than that with the Mariners.

"Everyone is really trying," Rowland-Smith said. "It's Opening Day and there's a sellout crowd. Everyone is trying to do a little bit extra when you don't really need to. I think it'll get to a point where we'll take a look back and just play our game and relax, and all of a sudden the hits will come.

"There's that pressing feeling right now, but I think we're going to get over it."

Good teams have gotten off to slow starts before and recovered.

"It happens," Figgins said of the Mariners' slow start. "One big hit, one defensive play can turn things around. We need one good thing to happen."

"It's better to do it early and get it out of the way and have some fun from here on out," Griffey added.

The Mariners came close to scoring three times in the series opener.

Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez extended his hitting streak to eight games with a leadoff double to left-center in the fourth inning and advanced to third on a give-himself-up infield out to second by Jose Lopez.

But Griffey struck out and Milton Bradley grounded out.

"I went back to look at the video and I was just pulling out a little bit, trying to hit the ball a little too hard instead of what they give me," Griffey said.

A single, forceout, walk and infield out put runners on second and third in the seventh inning, but catcher Rob Johnson rolled over on an offspeed pitch from Duchscherer and bounced out to third.

An inning later, Ichiro Suzuki missed by a few inches of hitting a solo home run to right field, eventually flying out to center field.

"We just have to keep playing, going out there and battle," Griffey said. "That's the biggest thing. Everyone is pressing right now, but eventually things will go our way and we'll be fine."

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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