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Originally published Wednesday, May 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Miguel Batista struggles mightily in M's lopsided loss

It was four years ago this month that Mariners starting pitcher Miguel Batista had one of the wilder days anyone could on a mound. That day, while pitching...

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

It was four years ago this month that Mariners starting pitcher Miguel Batista had one of the wilder days anyone could on a mound.

While pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays, an erratic Batista needed 94 pitches to make it through just three innings at Fenway Park in Boston. When he wasn't walking six batters in those three frames, the pitches that actually made it over the plate were tattooed down the lines and off walls.

Fast forward to Tuesday night's 10-1 shellacking suffered by the Mariners at the hands of the lowly Texas Rangers. It was vintage Batista all over again, and we're not talking fine wine. More like sour grapes for what was actually the smallest crowd in Safeco Field history, which looked on stunned as Batista needed 85 pitches to make it through just 2-1/3 innings in an outing eerily similar to that of four years ago.

"You can't execute your game plan when you're inconsistent," said Batista, who walked six while yielding six runs, just as he did that day in Boston.

Of his 45 pitches that did find the strike zone, one was rocketed down the left-field line for a double and another cranked into the right-field seats by David Murphy for a two-run homer in Batista's third and final inning. But the Rangers, for all of their runs, only outhit Seattle 8-7 and didn't take the lead for good in that department until the ninth inning.

"If you noticed, they let me beat myself tonight," Batista said. "They hit the home run, but they really didn't hit the ball hard other than that."

Plenty of the 15,818 fans among the record-low crowd, 80 people fewer than the previous low mark, did take notice of Batista giving the game away via walks. They let him know it, too, generating a mock cheer when he was pulled and then roundly booing him as he trudged off the field.

Josh Hamilton smoked a mammoth three-run homer, into the second deck in right field, off Cha Seung Baek later that inning. Texas starter Sidney Ponson, spotted the early cushion via what became a seven-run third inning, cruised through seven frames to improve to a surprising 2-0 record and 1.33 earned-run average in his comeback season from near career ruin.

By the time what was left of the crowd filed out of the ballpark, the Mariners were 7-½ games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Angels and on the verge of more similarities with Batista's personal history book.

Back in 2004, when Batista had his Boston meltdown, the Blue Jays had been touted by many pundits as a serious playoff contender and a potential 95-win dark horse to capture a tough American League East. Instead, that club never recovered from an early season spiral, saw its offense drive off a cliff and wound up losing 94 games.

Much like this season's Mariners, preseason picks by many around the country to challenge for the AL West title, only to now find themselves on the verge of being buried before June.

"We can't panic right now," Batista said. "What we actually need to do is be more consistent at staying hot when we get hot."

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What he means is putting a winning streak together, as the team often did last season, to offset a major losing stretch.

But right now, Batista can't even figure out why he's so inconsistent on the mound. He'll throw a seven-inning quality start one week, then struggle the next. Part of it could be the groin he strained a few starts back, though Batista isn't sure and suggested it may be his sore back from spring training or some other physical ailments.

Whatever it is, the training staff and coaches will try to figure it out with him today. Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima attempted some sleuth work of his own during Batista's 45-pitch first inning on Tuesday, but came away empty-handed.

"The last time he started, he also didn't start very good," Johjima said of Batista's previous outing in Cleveland last week, where he shook off a rough beginning and allowed just an earned run through seven frames. "So, I went out to the mound [on Tuesday] two or three times to talk to him. But I don't know why he lost his rhythm."

Mariners manager John McLaren has been at a loss all week to figure out how his foundering team, now 14-20 and tied again with Texas and Detroit for the league's worst record, can find its rhythm. It hasn't helped that three of the past four starting pitchers have been chased from games early.

"The third inning wasn't a good inning," McLaren said. "We need to make better pitches."

They could also stand to score some more runs. Maybe knock down some grounders headed toward the outfield.

The Mariners did none of the above and paid for it once again on the scoreboard and in the standings.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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