Mariners falter after Vargas' solid start
Left-hander throws five strong innings after multi-year layoff
ARLINGTON -- The way Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas handled the Rangers' potent offense on Tuesday night was impressive.He threw 73 pitches over five innings and only one of them did much damage. That was a breaking pitch to Chris Davis leading off the fifth inning that the left-handed slugger hit off the top of the fence in right-center field which bounced over for a home run. It was the only run Vargas allowed in his first Major League start in nearly two years. But the Mariners' offense offered little in the way of support, and he had to settle for a no-decision in Seattle's eventual 7-1 loss to the Rangers before 16,564 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. A six-run uprising in the seventh inning, mostly against reliever Mark Lowe, turned what had been a stellar performance by both teams into a one-sided affair that left Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu as upset as he's been all season. The loss was Seattle's seventh in its past eight games, three of them against the Rangers, who swept a two-game series at Safeco Field last week. That triggered the recent skid, which knocked the Mariners from first place to third place in the American League West. But it wasn't just the loss that irked the manager, but the way the game came apart in the seventh. "This game for me was really about the offense and the defense," Wakamatsu said. "Lowe ended up giving up the home run [to Josh Hamilton], but then it got out of the hand with people being out of position. It's something we're going to have to get a lot better at. It's pretty disappointing to me." Lowe retired the first batter in the inning, but then Michael Young singled into right field. Hamilton, fresh off the disabled list and 0-for-3 against Vargas, followed with an opposite-field home run, putting the Rangers ahead, 3-1. Andruw Jones then hit a grounder up the middle that shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt fielded, but threw wildly to first base. "Whether they called it a hit or not, that play needs to be made," Wakamatsu said. "There were a couple of plays we threw the ball around and didn't contain it. That's something we have to make some changes with." First baseman Russell Branyan committed two errors in the inning, the second one when a throw from center field eluded him. "That ball should have been cut off," Wakamatsu said, showing his frustration. "You play a good ballgame for six innings, and then it slips through your fingers. It was really that one whole inning. "If we play fundamental baseball and get beat, that's one thing. But if we beat ourselves, that's awfully frustrating." The best news of the series opener was the work of Vargas. The last time Vargas had started a game in the big leagues was for the Mets on July 3, 2007, when the Rockies scored nine earned runs against him in 3 1/3 innings. Despite the long layoff, he looked sharp. "I think with Vargas tonight, it's exactly what we were looking for from him," Wakamatsu said. "He did an outstanding job locating his fastball and mixing his pitches." Vargas avoided a loss when the Mariners tied the game at 1 in the seventh inning. Franklin Gutierrez reached on a one-out single, stole second and scored on Kenji Johjima's double into the right-field corner. Johjima advanced to third on an infield out, but was stranded there when Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus back-handed pinch-hitter Wladimir Balentien's grounder in the hole and made a strong throw to first base. Vargas knew he would be working on a lower pitch count than other Seattle starters. "I really wasn't focused on pitch count as much as going out there time after time," Vargas said. "I hadn't been out there that long, and I felt good. I felt real good the last inning, especially after being able to get out of a jam." After the tie-breaking home run in the fifth, Vargas surrendered back-to-back singles with two outs. His final act was striking out Hamilton on a called third strike. "I felt pretty good from the beginning," Vargas said. "I definitely got more in a rhythm after the second inning, but I really didn't feel off-balance or anything out there. I felt all right." Though several balls were hit hard and caught, the one that wasn't caught didn't seem to be hit that hard. "I was really surprised," Vargas said about how far the ball Davis hit traveled. "I thought some of the other ones were hit better. It was just one of those things. The ball happened to carry more on that one." But not quite as far as the ball Hamilton hit off Lowe. "I don't think it was the right pitch, a bad choice," Lowe said. "He swung over the first changeup, way over the top of it. I was really just trying to throw a fastball off the plate a little to get him to hit it off the end of the bat. "It got too much of the [strike] zone, and you don't want to leave it over the plate to him. He's such a good hitter." The Mariners' offense, meanwhile, continued to sputter. "We keep saying we've got to get better," Wakamatsu said, "but that's 10 games or so with none or one run. We're going to have to make some adjustments, or maybe look to make some changes. "We don't have a lot of options. We've stressed all along to be able to manufacture runs. We had a heck of a game for 6 1/2 [innings], but you play nine innings. The biggest thing for me was the defense in the seventh inning. "I think sometimes it's a lack of focus, and there's no excuse for it."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.