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Originally published April 19, 2013 at 9:22 PM | Page modified April 20, 2013 at 8:08 PM

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Everything but the Mariners' confidence getting battered around

Seattle keeps piling up the strikeouts, and the defeats

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Mariners @ Rangers, 5:05 p.m., ROOT

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Kyle Seager insisted that confidence isn't sagging in his team's clubhouse despite all the non-contact of late when his team swings at the baseball.

These Mariners are supposed to be able to hit the ball deeper, harder and more frequently than some of the inept squads that preceded them. And yet, with 13 more strikeouts in this 7-0 defeat Friday night to the Texas Rangers, the Mariners, nearly three weeks into the season, are actually worse at the plate than last year.

Counting the 14-inning affair from Wednesday night, the Mariners now have whiffed 44 times in their past three games alone.

"I think confidence-wise, we're fine," Seager said after the Mariners lost for the seventh time in their past 10 games. "I don't think we've lost confidence in each other. We still know what we're capable of doing. Everybody in this locker room has confidence in each other."

Seager had given the Mariners one of their rare chances to score off Rangers starter Yu Darvish, lining a one-out double to left center in the third inning. But after Craig Gentry made a leaping catch in center on a Kendrys Morales drive, the Mariners never came close again with the game hanging in the balance.

Jeff Baker gave the home side the only run it needed with solo homer to right-center off Joe Saunders in the second inning. Texas came alive for six runs in the fifth off Saunders, and Darvish cruised through seven innings for the victory in front of 36,273 at The Ballpark.

The Mariners were held to five hits all night by Darvish and the bullpen, and now are batting .220 with a .285 on-base percentage and a .350 slugging percentage.

At the 18-game mark a year ago, the Mariners were hitting .233 with a .284 OBP and a .353 slugging percentage. They also were averaging 3.72 runs per game compared to just 3.22 this year.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said the Mariners having faced Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Darvish on consecutive days has contributed to the higher strikeout totals. That trio finished 1-2-3 in strikeouts in the American League last season.

But Wedge also said the Mariners have to do a better job in their at-bats.

"We have faced good pitchers, but we're a lot better than that," he said. "We're a lot better than that. And the one thing is with two strikes. We've got to do a better job with two strikes. There are certain things we need to do better prior to that to create damage, but speaking on the strikeouts ... we just need to do a better job with two strikes. We're capable and we should be better than that."

Asked to elaborate, Wedge said: "Just protecting the plate and being disciplined at the same time. That's why it's so tough to hit. It's one of the many reasons. One, you're up there not to take strike three and, two, you're up there not to chase, too.

"So, it's just having better overall discipline and better pitch recognition."

The Mariners had little of that on display Friday.

Justin Smoak went down swinging against Darvish with two on to end the first inning, then swung through a full-count fastball in the seventh with the bases loaded to leave five on base for the night.

Smoak led off the seventh with a single, but was stranded after Raul Ibanez and Kelly Shoppach struck out. Ibanez had a particularly tough night at the plate and in the field and grounded into a double play after a leadoff walk drawn by Smoak in the fourth.

Saunders pitched pretty well to keep it at 1-0 until the fifth, then had trouble catching a break.

"It was just one of those weird games, weird innings where I'd make a pitch and they'd find a hole," Saunders said. "You've just got to tell yourself to keep making pitches, keep hitting spots and things will turn around. But it just snowballed on us."

A.J. Pierzynski drove in a pair on a bloop single to left that inning, then a ground out got another run in. Two more scored on a triple lined to left by Gentry that Ibanez seemed to have trouble getting to on the slick outfield grass.

Hector Noesi relieved Saunders at that point and gave up another run on a double lined to left. But that was the only hit he allowed over the next 3-1/3 innings as he spared Seattle's bullpen a bit for the weekend still to play here.

Seager wound up with the only extra-base hit by the Mariners. He agreed that hitting with two strikes requires a specific mindset in order to avoid a plethora of strikeouts.

"It's a battle," he said. "You get in there with two strikes and it's a battle. You have to dig in there and fight. That's basically what it comes down to, and sometimes you'll be in there fighting and they'll surprise you with a pitch. But for the most part, you've got to do whatever you can to try to put the ball into play."

And the past few days, that's been the Mariners' biggest losing battle of all.

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

On Twitter @gbakermariners

Saturday

Mariners @ Rangers,

5:05 p.m., ROOT


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