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Originally published June 12, 2012 at 10:20 PM | Page modified June 13, 2012 at 7:13 PM

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Struggles continue for Felix Hernandez

Mariners drop series opener to worst team in majors

Seattle Times staff reporter

Wednesday

San Diego @ Seattle,

7:10 p.m., ROOT

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A disastrous sixth inning for Felix Hernandez and the Mariners gave the team's front office all the motivation needed to take the next step.

By the time the seventh inning of this 5-4 defeat to the lowly San Diego Padres was under way on Tuesday night, general manager Jack Zduriencik and an assistant were in the clubhouse ordering up travel plans for several players. The series of sixth-inning defensive lapses might have had nothing to do with a flurry of moves to be announced Wednesday that should bring center fielder Franklin Gutierrez back to Seattle along with several others.

But the defensive follies of that sixth should spell out why the Mariners need outfield help along with another starting pitcher to get this rotation through its roughest patch of the season.

"I felt like we were sluggish defensively," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after his team was beaten by the club with the worst record in the majors. "I mean, we didn't give Felix much help that inning. We've been a very good defensive club all year this year, but I was very disappointed in that inning.

"I felt like, on multiple levels, we were sluggish and just didn't have the same level of energy defensively."

The Mariners were down 5-1 in the ninth before Michael Saunders hit a solo homer to launch a three-run comeback that gave the stragglers from the initial 13,084 something rare to cheer about. But it was too little, too late on a night Hernandez and the defense didn't bring enough to the table, while the offense again appeared to get robbed of some home runs by their spacious ballpark.

On Wednesday, it is expected the Mariners will announce pitcher Blake Beavan and third baseman Alex Liddi are headed to Class AAA, while outfielder Mike Carp and pitcher Stephen Pryor go on the 15-day disabled list.

None of that came in time to prevent a third consecutive home defeat Tuesday. The score was tied 1-1 in the sixth when Hernandez put the leadoff batter on for the fifth time out of six innings that he pitched.

Yonder Alonso then hit a pop-up to left-center that Chone Figgins did not break in on quickly enough. Brendan Ryan tried to make a near-impossible catch racing back from his shortstop position but failed to do so on what was initially ruled an error but rightly changed to a single.

An ensuing force out at third left two on and Cameron Maybin singled to center to put the Padres ahead for good. Saunders looked to have a play at the plate, but made a terrible, bounced throw that wound up halfway up the first baseline.

Nick Hundley then made it 3-1 with a single to right field past a diving Dustin Ackley. A subsequent wild pitch brought another run home and then a triple to right center by Everth Cabrera made it 5-1.

Hernandez said he was pain free from the back troubles that had caused him to go 11 days since his last start in a loss at Chicago. But he allowed 13 base runners in six innings and wasn't happy with all the leadoff batters he kept putting on.

"For me, it was disappointing," Hernandez said. "I'm tired of pitching like this. I've got to do something about this. I've just got to pitch better."

Hernandez wasn't getting a whole lot of offensive support, though Justin Smoak gave it his best shot. Smoak hit some hard drives to right-center in the second and then left-center in fourth, only to have them hauled in at the warning track.

"I crushed both of them," Smoak said. "The first one, I hit well. The second one, that's all I've got. So, that's all I can say."

The second blast would have given Seattle a 3-1 lead had it cleared the wall with a runner on. Saunders also hit a bases-loaded drive to center field in the sixth with the Mariners down four.

But it was caught just before the track.

"I felt like we hit a couple of balls tonight that had a chance to get out of there, but didn't," manager Wedge said. "That's part of it. Every ballpark's different. But what you can't do is let it drag you down."

The pitching and defense did enough of that on its own. And Wednesday the Mariners will take steps to do something about it.

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

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