Houston hapless; Seattle hopeless?

M’s fall to 2-3 vs. an Astros squad that’s expected to be AL West cellar-dweller

Staff writerApril 24, 2013 

HOUSTON — The numbers are simple and unflattering.

With the 3-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Field, the Houston Astros have a 3-2 record against Seattle this season.

The Astros’ record against the rest of baseball?

That would be 3-12.

It’s not exactly confidence-inspiring to the Mariners’ fan base.

The Astros came into the season regarded as potentially one of the worst teams in baseball history. They have a payroll around $20 million — lowest in the majors. Some experts predicted that the team dubbed the “Lastros” could break the record of 120 losses in a season set by the New York Mets in 1962.

And the Mariners have now lost to them three times — including twice at Safeco Field.

A loss to Houston today would mean Seattle would have lost two series to the hapless Astros.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finding ways to win ballgames,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.

It may be a long season. But moral victories mean nothing in

professional sports.

“You have to put yourself in better position to win ballgames,” Wedge said. “It’s tough to fight through every ballgame like we have been.”

The Mariners got an admirable performance from starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

The right-hander, who is still battling blister issues on the middle finger of his throwing hand, pitched five innings, giving up three runs — two earned — on six hits with three walks and a season-high 11 strikeouts.

But Iwakuma said he never felt comfortable on the mound.

“Overall, I thought my pitches were just OK,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I left the ball up in the zone and I couldn’t get the ball down in the zone for strikes. That cost me today. I couldn’t find my own rhythm to get into a good groove.”

The Astros got to Iwakuma in the first inning as Raul Ibañez misplayed a Chris Carter single off the wall in left field, allowing Jason Castro to score from first base.

In the third inning, Iwakuma gave up a solo home run to No. 9 hitter Marwin Gonzalez and then later hit Castro on the hand with bases loaded to score another run.

“It was two-seamer that got away,” Iwakuma said.

With runners on second and third and two outs, Wedge had called for Iwakuma to intentionally walk lefty Carlos Peña.

Wedge liked the matchup between Iwakuma and Castro better. It backfired.

“I thought we were in good shape,” Wedge said. “It was a better matchup for us. Kuma isn’t a guy you worry about walking anyone, much less hit a guy.

“But that’s what happened there.”

The blister got worse as Iwakuma’s pitch count grew. Wedge had to take him out after the fifth inning and 93 pitches.

“It’s still an issue,” Wedge said. “He will have to make his next start on regular rest and after that we’ll be able to give him a couple extra days with the upcoming off day.”

The Mariners’ bullpen kept the Astros to three runs using the unlikeliest combination for success — Hector Noesi, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina and Oliver Perez.

The quartet didn’t allow a run for the final three innings despite a few scoring opportunities. But the effort mattered not.

A day after scoring seven runs and blasting three homers, the Mariners managed just the two runs. They had nine hits and made some outs on hard-hit balls, but that translated into nothing more.

“But we still have to get it done,” Wedge said. “The at-bats are getting better. But we are still going to have to do better than that.”

The Mariners got a run in the second inning to tie the game at 1 as Dustin Ackley singled to right and later scored on Endy Chavez’s double to right field off starter Bud Norris.

But they wouldn’t score again until the eighth, when Kendrys Morales destroyed a pitch to left field, up onto the railroad tracks some 25 feet above the wall.

But for all the majesty of the shot, it was worth only one run.

The Mariners went down quietly in the ninth as Astros closer Jose Veras struck out Jesus Montero, got Ackley to ground out and struck out Robert Andino.

Seattle had its chances.

Ibañez came up in the first inning with two outs and the bases loaded and grounded out to end the inning. In the third, he came up with two outs and runners on the corners and flied out to left field. He is hitting .160 (8-for-50) with 14 strikeouts.

Seattle had runners had first and second with one out in the fifth inning, but Michael Morse struck out and Justin Smoak’s long blast to center field was hauled in by Justin Maxwell.

“We hit some balls hard, but we didn’t get the job done,” Smoak said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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