The return to offensive futility continued Monday in Tampa, where another outstanding effort from starter Felix Hernandez went for naught after Elliott Johnson, hitting .143, singled home the winning run in the 12th inning for 3-2 win over the Mariners.
The Mariners had a second loss as catcher Miguel Olivo had to be helped off the field after straining his groin throwing to first. Olivo, who apparently caught his cleats in the artificial turf, had an eight-game hitting streak after a second-inning home run — his third of the season, one in each city of this road trip — gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead.
Judging by the pain visible with Olivo, the injury seemed substantial. Manager Eric Wedge said after the game that Olivo was likely destined for at least the 15-day disabled list and possibly the 60-day DL.
“My cleats stuck in the turf and I felt a pop,” Olivo, on crutches, told reporters afterward. “I know my body, and it’s not going to be easy. I had a groin issue last year in spring training. This one is more painful.”
Olivo hit over .300 during his eight-game streak, which made matters worse for a weak-hitting team.
“I was struggling, starting to feel better. I’m sad,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do. I think it is (the disabled list). I can’t put my weight on it right now. It’s happens when you play hard. I play hard, no matter what.”
He was replaced by rookie Jesus Montero, who responded well with his bat, also hitting a solo homer, this one in the 11th, to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead. It was his team-leading fourth of the season.
It didn’t hold as closer Brandon League gave up a game-tying single to B.J. Upton in the bottom of the 11th. In the 12th, League issued a one-out walk to Ben Zobrist, followed by a single from Carlos Pena.
Johnson, in the game only because All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria strained a knee on a third inning slide, lofted a soft single into left. Zobrist easily beat the throw from Chone Figgins as the relative handful remaining of the crowd of 9,458 cheered at Tropicana Field.
“We’ve been in a lot of tight ballgames against pretty good teams,” Wedge said. “We’re right there. We’re fighting but not always executing and getting the job done. But we will. That’s where the optimism comes. Once these kids settle in, we’ll find a way to win these games.”
The third consecutive loss after beginning the trip 4-0 was again a result of inept offense. They had 11 hits, but left only three in scoring position. The Mariners have scored just four runs in the three losses. The Mariners finished April 11-13.
Hernandez was again outstanding, going eight innings and 106 pitches and giving up one run, five hits and four walks while striking out nine. But he was matched by Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 American League rookie of the year who gave up only the homer to Olivo in seven innings.
The Mariners lost their best chance to win the game in the ninth when, with one out and pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki at third base, Michael Saunders dropped down a suicide squeeze bunt. Relief pitcher Fernando Rodney bare-handed the ball and flipped to catcher the catcher Jose Molina. Replays showed that Kawasaki apparently slid past the tag but the umpire was screened from the view and called the runner out.
Wedge said the bunt attempt was Saunders’ idea, not his, and Wedge was not happy about it.
“Saunders did it on his own — he shouldn’t have,” Wedge said. “I asked him about it, he gave good answers, but it’s still not what we want to do right there. If we do (bunt) , it comes from me. He made a mistake, but he’ll be better for it.
“We had runners at first and third with one out and we felt good with him. We didn’t even need a hit. It could have been a fly ball. You look at pros and cons of that situation, it’s not what we’re looking for right there.”
Johnson became the hero after nearly being a goat in the fifth inning. With two runners on, two out and two strikes on him, Johnson attempted to bunt, but fouled the attempt into the stands for strike three.
Wedge said that the Mariners were likely to split catching duties between Montero, who has been primarily a DH, and veteran John Jaso, acquired from Tampa in the off-season but has yet to catch an inning. When Olivo goes on the DL, the likeliest roster replacement will be Mike Carp, who was the starting left fielder until spraining his shoulder in the season opener in Tokyo. He is near the end of his rehab assignment in Triple A Tacoma.
Guitierrez, Sherrill, now Olivio. All before May. At this point one more injury to a regular and the M’s will be hard pressed to get more than 70 wins.