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Originally published Monday, July 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Notebook | Timely blast helps Jeff Clement bust slump

Slumping catcher Jeff Clement had hoped for any type of hit to jump-start his slumbering bat. He got just about the biggest one possible...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Mariners five-game planner

Friday | vs. Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., FSN | M's Felix Hernandez (6-6, 2.95) vs. TBA.

Saturday | vs. Cleveland, 12:55 p.m. | M's Jarrod Washburn (4-8, 4.83) vs. TBA.

Sunday | vs. Cleveland, 1:10 p.m., FSN | M's Carlos Silva (4-11, 5.46) vs. TBA.

Monday | vs. Boston, 7:10 p.m., FSN | TBA vs. TBA.

Tuesday, July 22 | vs. Boston, 7:10 p.m., FSN | TBA vs. TBA.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Slumping catcher Jeff Clement had hoped for any type of hit to jump-start his slumbering bat.

He got just about the biggest one possible on Sunday afternoon, blasting a two-run homer in the seventh inning to bring the Mariners from behind the Kansas City Royals in an eventual 4-3 victory.

Clement had been mired in an 0-for-15 slump, having failed to notch a hit since clubbing a pair of homers eight days earlier against Detroit.

"All day, I felt like my at-bats were better," he said. "It was good to have a result like that in the end."

Clement entered the day hitting just .162 and with more strikeouts than walks and hits combined. He has made it a point to try to see pitches better, whether it's right away or when he falls behind in a count.

"It's a fine line between being patient and, when you get a pitch you can hit, actually hitting it," he said.

Now, there has to be a follow-up.

Clement doesn't think clubs are pitching him a specific way, trying to zero in on his weak spots.

"I think it's different with every club you face," he said. "They all have a different mentality and demeanor. Each starting pitcher does something different. I don't think there's any common thing that they're doing to me. Some teams are coming in hard, some are staying away. It's just a matter of staying back, seeing the ball and trusting in yourself."

Clement should start to face pitchers he has seen before as the season progresses. That familiarity alone could bring some improvement.

"It's definitely easier to see the same pitcher time and time again," he said. "It's tough, but everybody who comes up, at the beginning, goes through it. Some handle it better than others, and I just haven't been able to have any consistency up there."

Seeking second-half success

It seemed almost fitting that Jose Lopez spent the final day of the first half penciled in as the Mariners' designated hitter.

Lopez spent the first part of the season putting up the highest slugging percentage of his career, his .412 currently third on the team behind Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez. Lopez's 48 runs batted in are second-highest among American League second baseman, trailing only Texas' Ian Kinsler, while his nine sacrifice flies are tied with Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton for the AL lead.

Throw in his .296 batting average, and it has been a successful season at the plate for Lopez.

But carrying that success into the season's final stretch has proved difficult for Lopez, who has faded badly in each of the past two seasons.

"I don't know what happened the last two seasons," he said. "I just know that now, I want to do the same job. Keep working hard, stay strong and come to play every day."

Last season, there were complaints about his focus, his ability to ratchet the intensity up each and every game.

Lopez seems to have gotten the message.

One positive sign for Lopez could be his lofty June totals. Lopez began last season's slide in June, but his totals for this year — including a .315 batting average and .802 on-base-plus-slugging percentage — represented his best numbers of any one month.

Lopez says his ability to go the opposite way to right field on a lot of his hits this season is something he's proudest of. He has also managed to hit ground balls the other way, enabling him to move runners over and drive them in.

"I got a lot of hits the other way," he said. "A lot of hits with two strikes. I see the ball with two strikes. I don't do a hard swing, just try to make contact, put the ball in play. I have a better chance of getting a hit that way."

Them's the breaks

The decisive run of Sunday's contest scored on a bizarre play in the ninth inning. Beltre was at third with one out when Willie Bloomquist hit a comebacker that was snagged by Royals pitcher Joakim Soria.

Beltre was running on contact and got caught in a rundown between third and home. At one point, catcher John Buck threw the ball over the third baseman's head.

Royals shortstop Mike Aviles was backing up the play and somehow managed to barehand the errant ball. But instead of throwing home to nab the runner, Aviles threw to second in a futile attempt to nab Bloomquist, who had rounded first on the rundown.

Beltre scored easily.

"It seems every game has been a one- or two-run game and a crucial play here and there," Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said afterward. "And today, we finally got the better end of it."

Notes

Ichiro heads to his eighth consecutive All-Star Game locked in one of the more bizarre power droughts of his career. After a first-inning single on Sunday, his last 37 hits have all gone for a lone base. He has gone 127 plate appearances without an extra-base hit, dating to June 14.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 37 consecutive singles are a team mark. The previous record was 33, set by Julio Cruz in 1980.

• Closer J.J. Putz (elbow) threw 30 pitches in a simulated game in Peoria, Ariz. He is scheduled to pitch in a rookie-level game in Peoria on Tuesday, then a Class AAA game in Tacoma on Thursday.

• Rumors continue to swirl that released 1B Richie Sexson will sign a contract with either the New York Yankees or Arizona Diamondbacks today. Both teams are in need of some extra power against left-handed pitchers, and Sexson's .344 batting average and 1.046 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against southpaws certainly qualifies him.

Sexson was set to clear waivers by midnight Sunday, meaning any team could sign him for the $390,000 major-league minimum starting today. The Mariners would be on the hook for the remainder of his $14 million pro-rated salary.

For the record

W-L W PCT
37-58 .389

Streak: W1

Home: 19-27

Road: 18-31

vs. AL West: 11-17

vs. L.A.: 3-6

vs. Oakland: 4-5

vs. Texas: 4-6

vs. AL East: 11-18

vs. AL Cent.: 6-14

vs. NL: 9-9

vs. LHP: 9-16

vs. RHP: 28-42

Day: 11-19

Night: 26-39

One-run: 11-19

Extra innings: 2-4

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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