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Sunday, June 7, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Piniella Has Little Patience Left As M's Defense, Pitching Falter

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Things may not change for the Seattle Mariners today, but they will be different.

After watching yet another loss yesterday - a dismal four-error, 10-6 decision to Los Angeles before 49,559 fans at the Kingdome - Manager Lou Piniella promised a shake-up.

"I'm going to do some things here to shore up my defense that might not be too popular, but it's my responsibility," Piniella said. "I'm tired of this team being at the bottom defensively in the league for the last three, four years so I'm going to do the best I can, as a manager, to take care of the problem.

"What we're doing now is not equating into wins anyway so we might as well do the things that are necessary to get it done. And if the players aren't here who can do it, maybe we have a couple in Triple-A who can."

It's clear second baseman Joey Cora is the one who set Piniella off. Cora, with his brother Alex just called up by the Dodgers and his sister Aimette and nephew Andres flying in from Puerto Rico on Friday night to watch them, committed three errors and struck out twice. He dropped a ball on a steal attempt in the first, underhanded too high a simple throw to first in the sixth and air-mailed a relay throw to first into the stands in the Dodgers' three-run ninth.

Cora has committed 11 errors, not even the team high. Third baseman Russ Davis leads with 14. The club has a league-worst 54 errors. But at Tacoma, Jeff Berblinger and Tilson Brito, who alternate playing second, have combined for 20 errors in 46 games. Not exactly Gold Glove material.

"I screwed up big time," said Cora, his head bowed as he dressed. "That was my loss there. It was bad. I hope my teammates can forgive me for that."

His manager might not be as forgiving, but if Piniella is looking for a shake-up he doesn't have much to shake. He could insert reserves Rich Amaral or Jeff Huson at second base today, but that will do little to close the 10 1/2-game gap behind AL West-leading Texas.

What is needed is improved pitching, particularly in the bullpen. Untimely defense yesterday might have triggered Piniella's unspoken frustration over the front office's paralysis in acquiring pitching, which can cost more victories than an occasional boot and bobble.

Take Bobby Ayala, for example. He not only couldn't keep the score close in the ninth, but he joined Cora in the error category by throwing wide of home plate to open up the Dodger rally.

Ayala, entering the ninth trying to keep it a 7-6 deficit, yielded a first-pitch single to Eric Young, who was sacrificed to second. Gary Sheffield hit a hard single to left, sending Young to third.

Eric Karros then bounced a one-hopper back to Ayala, who dropped it. As he tumbled down to pick it up and throw, his 50-foot toss to catcher Dan Wilson went to the backstop, allowing Young to score. Raul Mondesi was intentionally walked to load the bases. Paul Konerko then hit a potential double-play ball to short, but Cora's relay sailed over first baseman David Segui and two more runs scored.

Ayala gave up a single to center to Charles Johnson, but Ken Griffey Jr. threw out Konerko at home to end the inning.

"That was one of the ugliest games I've been involved in. It was not a well-played game," said Segui, who made a critical baserunning mistake in the fifth. With the bases loaded, he pulled up trying to tag from third on Wilson's fly out to right, but the runner behind him, Edgar Martinez, had already committed to third base. Segui was caught in a rundown.

"It (Wilson's fly ball) was pretty shallow and (right fielder Gary Sheffield) made a good throw. I couldn't stop in time," Segui said. "It was my fault. Edgar read that I was going in."

That was a pivotal play and inning. The score was tied at 6 and Dodger reliever Dennis Reyes had loaded the bases with no outs. But, after Jim Bruske relieved Reyes, Glenallen Hill popped out to second and Wilson hit into the double play. The Mariners are 5 for 43 (.116) with the bases loaded.

Still, for all their untimely hitting, the Mariners scored six runs. They've lost two other games this week after scoring eight runs and nine runs. The opponents are simply scoring more.

"I'm not fluid and relaxed out there," said Mariner starter Jeff Fassero, who had his third consecutive subpar outing. "I have not been happy with the way I pitched the last three games. I've looked at films and I don't see much difference.

"I just have to find the strike zone."

Fassero has not pitched more than four innings in those three starts. He has allowed 14 runs and 20 hits, and walked seven.

"(Friday) was a heck of a ballgame (a 4-0 victory)," Piniella said. "Then we come out here and play a beer-league game. The only thing missing was the keg around second base.

"I don't need to say anything. I've said enough. It's got to be done on the field."

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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