Mariners 8, Twins 2

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Seattle Mariners have been looking for better production from the middle of their lineup.

All they had to do, it seems, was wait for the Minnesota Twins to appear on the schedule.

Kenji Johjima had three hits, three RBIs and a home run to lead the Mariners to their third straight victory, 8-2 over the flustered Twins on Monday night.

Six Seattle starters had at least two hits and the defense was spectacular in support of Joel Pineiro (3-2), who tossed his ninth career complete game and cruised behind a five-run sixth. He gave up nine hits without a walk or a strikeout.

Jose Lopez and Matt Lawton each had three hits, Yuniesky Betancourt went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and Richie Sexson homered for his 1,000th career hit.

“The meat of our order hasn’t really done anything,” said Sexson, who has been struggling along with Carl Everett and Adrian Beltre—three sluggers making more than a total of $29 million this season. “We’re still winning games and floating around .500, so that’s good. As soon as we start clicking and doing some things that we can do, we’ll start winning more consistently.”

Facing Minnesota sure helps.

The troubled Twins, who were hoping to write off a miserable April as a mulligan, have lost 11 of 14. They’ve been outscored 41-3 while losing four straight.

A pitching staff that ranked seventh in the majors last year in ERA and was supposed to be one of the best groups in the game is now last in baseball with a 6.35 ERA. The starters have a collective 7.25 ERA.

“Guys are trying. Guys are out there playing. You’ve also got to score some runs, too,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Our starters haven’t been getting it done. Our offense has to pick them up.”

Lew Ford had two hits and an RBI, and Justin Morneau homered for Minnesota, which is batting .251 as a team.

“I don’t know what to say about it,” Ford said in a silent clubhouse. “It’s just difficult right now.”

Gardenhire provided a perfect picture of the frustration in the bottom of the eighth inning when he came out to argue after Luis Castillo was called out on a grounder to first that was close to being foul.

After pleading briefly with umpire Brian Gorman, Gardenhire trudged toward the dugout, tore off his hat and gave it an awkward drop kick—to the delight of the few fans left from the announced crowd of 11,796.

That was Gardenhire’s second ejection this season, and the 22nd of his five-year career.

Mariners manager Mike Hargrove was sympathetic.

“Getting outscored 33-1 in Detroit, that’s like a perfect storm,” Hargrove said. “It’s one of those things that don’t happen very often. Thank goodness or we’d all probably commit suicide.”

Scott Baker (1-3), the one Twins starter who pitched consistently well in April, had trouble keeping his breaking balls down in the strike zone. He allowed 10 hits and five runs while striking out three in 5 1-3 innings.

Ford’s two-out single put Minnesota ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the inning and ended an incredible 0-for-25 skid by the Twins with runners in scoring position. But that came after Betancourt threw out Shannon Stewart at home on a grounder to deep shortstop, killing a bigger rally.

Seattle starters haven’t received much run support this spring, but Pineiro had plenty this time. He’s won both of his road starts, allowing only two runs in 15 1-3 innings.

“Once we got that eight-spot up there, I felt a little more relaxed,” Pineiro said. “I knew I had to throw strikes early in the count and get some ground balls. That’s what happened.”

The Mariners took a 2-1 lead in the second when Johjima—who homered in his first two games but hadn’t gone deep since—hit a 2-0 pitch down the line and just inside the left field pole. They tacked another one on in the third on Everett’s sacrifice fly and erupted in the sixth with five extra-base hits against Baker and reliever Jesse Crain.

Crain, who gave up three runs and got only one out, has a 9.49 ERA in 12 1-3 innings. He went 12-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 75 appearances last season as a rookie.

Notes

Betancourt, who also made a nifty backhanded stop of a grounder in the hole and threw out Joe Mauer in the third, is one of only two everyday shortstops in the majors without an error. Houston’s Adam Everett is the other. Beltre made a diving catch of Rondell White’s line drive at third. … Ford is 6-for-14 with one homer and five RBIs in his career against Pineiro. … This was Lawton’s first start in center field since May 2000, when he played for the Twins. … Morneau hit his team-high sixth homer leading off the seventh.

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