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Originally published May 17, 2011 at 9:44 PM | Page modified May 18, 2011 at 7:11 PM

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Felix Hernandez takes the loss as Mariners' offense chills

Mariners hitters strike out 12 times in a 2-1 loss to the Twins and foil a decent outing from Felix Hernandez, who allowed only three hits.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Wednesday

L.A. Angels @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT

quotes Sorry Felix, You deserve better. Sincerely, M's Offense Read more
quotes Getting to the point where I don't care again. Sad, I love and follow the M's. If I... Read more
quotes Looks like the Mariner's vacuum machine is working again....they suck! Read more

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SEATTLE —

The sight of Franklin Gutierrez out in center field again will come none too soon for a Mariners squad needing more offense from someplace.

That offense was nonexistent Tuesday night in a 2-1 loss to a Minnesota Twins team that could barely manage a pulse of its own. But two first inning walks by Felix Hernandez allowed the Twins all the runs they'd need when Michael Cuddyer delivered a two-out single to score both runners.

Seattle went nowhere against southpaw Francisco Liriano during his seven innings, mustering just three hits all night versus the Twins starter and Minnesota's bullpen while striking out 12 times total.

After the game, the Mariners announced that pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen will be optioned to Class AA Jackson and Gutierrez activated so he can start in center field on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels.

"On and off the field, Gut has been a solid major league player," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after the game. "I had him when he was a young man coming up from the minor leagues. He's accomplished a lot since then. To have him around his teammates consistently in center field, in the lineup, it should be a boost for us."

Wedge said he has "multiple options out there now" in left field between Michael Saunders, Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero. Saunders will back up Gutierrez a couple of games per week in center to start off, but Wedge wouldn't say who will be in left field on Wednesday.

As for this loss, a sixth in seven games for the Mariners, Wedge wasn't around to see the end of it. He was ejected for the first time this year after a close call at second base in which umpire Jerry Meals ruled Miguel Olivo out at the bag on a force play.

The initial set of replays appeared to show Olivo safe and second baseman Alexi Casilla with his foot off the bag. Different replays, slowed down frame-by-frame, were later said to have shown the play to be much closer, though the crowd of 16,015 at Safeco Field clearly didn't agree.

Instead of runners at first and second with one out, there were two out and Adam Kennedy soon hit a slow roller to the right side that ended the game.

The Twins halted a nine-game losing streak and the Mariners missed a golden opportunity to gain some momentum against a squad devastated by injury and sporting the worst-scoring offense in the American League.

But neither team could do much offensively on a cool, breezy night in which each side was held to three hits. Hernandez made a quick mechanical adjustment during that difficult first inning and was virtually unhittable the rest of his eight innings, striking out nine.

"I don't know what happened in the first," Hernandez said. "I was flying open too often. And I made one mistake and that was it. He got the hit for two runs."

It's a scenario Hernandez became all-too-familiar with during his 2010 Cy Young Award season, seeing games lost in the first inning because of an offense that gave him virtually no support. Hernandez has now won just two of his six lifetime showdowns against Twins ace Liriano, who displayed little of the wildness that has plagued much of his season to date.

Seattle scored its only run in the fifth inning when Liriano hit Brendan Ryan with a two-out pitch, then served up a single to Saunders that left runners at the corners. Ichiro came through with a single after that, but the Mariners got no further.

On the few occasions they did hit the ball hard, the Mariners had little luck. Jack Cust drove a ball to left field in the second inning that would have been out of a lot of ballparks, but seemed to die in the cool night air this time as it reached the warning track.

"I hit it pretty hard," Cust said. "Not as hard as my double the other night, but pretty hard."

Cust is getting used to how balls carry — and how they don't — at Safeco and didn't think it had enough steam to make it out. "At this park, I thought I had a chance for a double," he said.

No luck either for Olivo in the ninth after he'd drawn a rare, one-out walk off closer Matt Capps. Wedge said he didn't think about pinch-running for Olivo, who is deceptively quick for a catcher.

But now, with the team going to a reduced six-man bullpen and extra position player, Wedge will have multiple options off the bench for pinch-hitting, running and defensive moves. Wilhelmsen will join the AA rotation and start stretching his arm out more after appearing in just four games the past month.

And the Mariners will resume their search for an offensive spark.

"We've got to do a better job of squaring the ball up," Wedge said. "These guys are up there, they're battling. Working to get into better counts.

"But when we do get into better counts, we can't keep missing pitches."

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

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