Mariners know they have to grind their way out of June slump

Jun 21, 2016, 9:30 AM | Updated: 9:42 am

Nathan Karns allowed five runs in five innings Monday as the M's lost for the 12th time in 17 games. (AP)


DETROIT – Nathan Karns has got to give his team more than five innings and he knows it.

“It’s putting the bullpen in a bind,” he said after allowing five runs over five innings in the Mariners’ 8-7 loss to Detroit Monday. “I’ve got to have clean innings and right now I am not being too efficient. There are no excuses. I have just got to be better at it.”

Nelson Cruz has got to score runners on base and he knows it.

“It is what it is. I just have to get it done,” he said. “I think it is my responsibility to drive these guys in. It’s my job.”

When was the last time you heard a Mariner talk about fun? Up until two weeks ago, it was word No. 1 in the team’s lexicon. Now? Well, it’s easy to lose the fun when you haven’t sniffed first place since June 2, going 5-12 in the recent tumble.

This is it. This is the grind you hear of in this game. This the tough part.

While some believe the grind comes much later in the summer, more in the “dog days,” Mariners broadcaster Mike Blowers is very familiar with the twists and turns of the baseball season.

“As a team, the month of April is going to be tough because you are going to have guys who are going to get off to a hot start, other guys are going to really struggle. By now you have kind of gotten through that stuff. I think you have a good idea of what your team is,” said Blowers, who played the game for 14 years. “Individual player-wise, I think it can be tough, especially when you run into the stretch of games that these guys have. The types of teams and quality of teams that they are playing, now is when you start to see guys get into the grind of the season, the real true day-in, day-out, head down and just grind your way through it.

“I think once you get to mid- to end of August, rolling into September, that’s when things get to be exciting again because it’s right there in front of you, you are getting close to it. But this is the grind mode.”

The Mariners passed the out-of-the gates test with flying colors. In spring training, culture was established, the foundation was set and the necessary work was put in. They got off to the start they had hoped to.

“We talked about it in spring training, about getting out of the gate and not getting buried, just getting off to a decent start and I think we did,” manager Scott Servais last week. “Then you look at the middle part of the season, which is what we are upon. A few roster tweaks happen, you are dealing with injuries, you look at your schedule, how that matches up. We just came off of a rough stretch of 17 straight games.

“There’s a lot to play with there and you really don’t think about that coming out of spring training. I look at it as being divided up into different parts of the season. You want to play good all the time, but I think we have got about 100 games left, so you look at that bigger picture. Where do you want to be? What’s it going to take to be in a good spot when you get in the end of September? Coming out of spring training, if you said this is where you are going to be, I would have taken it.”

While Servais would have taken the start, I am sure he would have preferred to not have the last two weeks added on. Neither would the general manager, but Jerry Dipoto remains focused forward. On Sunday in Boston, with the team sitting 36-32 and 7.5 games out of first place, there was no panic.

“We’re about where we thought we would be. We just got here in a unique way,” he said on the “Mariners Magazine” show Sunday. “We played so, so well in April/May and I think expectations raised as a result, and justifiably so. Here in June we have been 6-11, running standing still so to speak, and we have battled injuries for the first time. You have to overcome those to be a winning team, but coming through the offseason, we thought we were built to be in that 86-88 zone and if things broke right we could win 90-92. If the season ended today, we would be 86-87 (wins) pace. That’s about where we thought we would be, which is going to make the next six or so weeks very interesting.”

Maybe in future years it will be about chasing down Texas or whatever team is in front of them, but the goal that was set with the acquisitions made and by the numbers was never one better than second place. It was 86-88. Those numbers represented a chance at play in October. Things happen in a season and that no doubt was built into the numbers. The Mariners have taken some big hits with injury and it is little coincidence that the slide coincides with those hits. But just like Cruz and Karns, Dipoto is offering no excuses.

“You have to overcome those to be a winning team.”

The grind, the injuries, the schedule, fewer days off, the realization that you got passed by quickly and the rewards will now be slower to come – this is the challenge of a 162-game season. Nathan Karns is feeling it. Nelson Cruz is feeling it. Twenty-three other guys in the Mariners’ clubhouse are feeling it as well, each knowing that there are things they can do that can mean the difference between a win and a loss. More innings from starter. Doing more with runners in scoring position. Cleaner defense and limiting mental lapses.

The Mariners mastered the first part of the season and are being tested now in the second, but this is the game. This is a critical part of the season, and as disappointing as these past two weeks have been for them, if the goal is 86-88 wins to give them a chance to make moves at the deadline, there is still plenty in front of them. We shall see how they respond.

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