Beleaguered Mariners lose again

Losing skid hits eight as Seattle bats fall silent to Houston starter McHugh

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comApril 23, 2014 

SEATTLE — Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is right, you know. Things are going to get better for his club. They can only get better — can’t they? — after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros at Safeco Field

Because if this isn’t the bottom … oh, boy.

It isn’t just that the Mariners lost for a second consecutive night to Houston, which had lost seven in row before arriving in SoDo. (Bad enough.) Or that this makes eight straight True to the Blue losses. (Still worse.)

No, it was watching Collin McHugh so overmatch the Mariners’ whispering attack that he supplanted Roger Clemens in the Astros’ record book.

Look, McHugh, 26, might yet evolve in his seventh professional season into one of the game’s better pitchers. Things happen. And if that thing happens, he’ll be able to point to Tuesday as the fulcrum.

Because prior to Tuesday, when recalled and pressed into

service due to an injury to Scott Feldman, McHugh possessed an 0-8 record in 15 career big-league games for the Mets and Rockies over the past two years.

With an 8.94 ERA over those 15 games (47 earned runs in 47 innings).

But here was McHugh (1-0) limiting the Mariners to three hits, all singles, in 62/3 innings before Astros manager Bo Porter decided 89 pitches were sufficient and went to the bullpen.

McHugh handed off a 4-0 lead to Raul Valdes after striking out 12 and walking none. Those 12 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher in an Astros debut since Clemens in 2004.

Valdes promptly threw the Mariners a lifeline by walking Kyle Seager before surrendering a two-run homer to Justin Smoak.

Anthony Bass then replaced Valdes and retired pinch-hitter Nick Franklin on a grounder to short.

Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez (1-3) put himself in an early 3-0 hole by surrendering homers to Jason Castro and Chris Carter on 0-2 pitches. But Ramirez allowed nothing more in his six innings.

Fact is, it was Ramirez’s best start in his past four this season, but three runs were too much when fronting an attack that has now scored fewer than three runs in nine of its past 13 games.

The Astros stretched their lead to 4-0 on Matt Dominguez’s one-out homer in the seventh against Dominic Leone before Smoak went deep later in the inning against Valdes.

Any comeback chance dimmed when Houston nicked Danny Farquhar for a run in the eighth. Bass worked a scoreless eighth before Josh Fields, a former first-round Mariners draft choice, closed out a victory for the second consecutive game.

Some perspective on how bad the Astros had been before arriving at Safeco: The Mariners, with their eight losses in a row, still have a better record than Houston.

Ramirez got the game’s first out on one pitch before walking Dexter Fowler, who lugged a .206 average into the game.

Next, Ramirez jumped ahead 0-2 on Castro, who was batting .193, before Castro flicked an 0-2 fastball to left — and the ball kept carrying for an opposite-field homer.

The Astros led 2-0.

McHugh then struck out the side in the Mariners’ first.

Houston extended its lead to 3-0 when Carter, batting .123, crushed an 0-2 curveball for a one-out homer in the second inning.

Next, Astros left fielder Alex Presley tormented the Mariners. He started the second inning by thwarting Corey Hart’s bid to stretch a single into a double; then finished the inning by stealing a homer from Smoak.

McHugh returned to strikeout mode in the third by whiffing the side.

The Mariners finally showed some life in the fourth when singles by Abraham Almonte and Robinson Cano put runners at first and second with one out.

McHugh responded by retiring Hart on a fly to left and striking out Seager. That made eight strikeouts in four innings.

IWAKUMA WORKS OUT

With the weather threatening less than ideal conditions Tuesday at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, the Mariners shifted gears and kept rehabbing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma at Safeco Field for another simulated game.

Everything suggests it went well.

“The feel for the game is coming back gradually,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I felt a lot better than that (simulated) game (last Friday) in Miami.

“The ball jumped out of my hand pretty well today. I feel pretty close now to the regular season.”

Iwakuma threw 58 pitches over four simulated innings. Plans now call for him to throw 75 pitches Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma at Las Vegas (Mets). If that goes well, Iwakuma could then rejoin the big-league rotation.

“We’ll see,” McClendon cautioned. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Iwakuma, an All-Star in 2013, is recovering from a strained ligament in his middle finger, which was diagnosed in early February. Reports from others suggest he’s close to top form.

“(The ball’s) moving all over the place,” said utilityman Willie Bloomquist, who served as one of the hitters against Iwakuma. Added catcher John Buck: “Awesome. Nasty.”

The shift in plans provided a benefit. The Mariners were better able to control conditions in the simulated game, which permitted Iwakuma to work beyond the 45 pitches planned for his outing in Tacoma.

“We could actually get the pitch count up a little more than we anticipated,” McClendon said. “As you could see, we had him cover some bases, throw to some bases. We had a guy bunt on him. All in all, I thought it went very well.

“I thought he had better finish to the fastball, better finish to the breaking ball. I thought he was sharper.”

A Sunday start for Tacoma could position Iwakuma, on normal rest, to pitch May 2 when the Mariners open a three-game series at Houston.

If all goes well.

“I think you have to be patient,” McClendon said, “because we’re talking about a guy who is not a one-year wonder. I plan on this guy being around a long time because I plan on being around a long time.

“I want to make sure I take care of him.”

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

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