SEATTLE — Five starts into his MLB career, Yusei Kikuchi is still searching for his first win.
The rookie left-hander, who has given up 13 of his 17 runs allowed this season in the first three innings, again got off to a slow start Monday night against the Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland scored twice in the first inning on back-to-back RBI singles by Hanley Ramirez and Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez launched a home run into the left field bleachers in the third, giving the Indians an early three-run cushion.
Kikuchi (0-1, 4.23 ERA) settled in well by the fourth, but Seattle’s late offensive rally fell just short, and the Mariners dropped their fourth consecutive loss, 6-4, at T-Mobile Park.
“These last three starts I’ve been giving up runs at the early parts of the game,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak. “I am going through scouting reports, and I am preparing myself for the game, but that’s something I need to work on moving forward.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais said he was happy with Kikuchi’s approach out of the gate, but Cleveland’s hitters jumped on Kikuchi early enough to gain a lead they never lost.
“His stuff wasn’t like he was trying to get it ramped up or whatever, it was right there from the get-go,” Servais said.
Following Jose Ramirez’s solo shot, Kikuchi retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, including collecting four of his five strikeouts in his final three innings. Through six innings pitched, he allowed the three earned runs on five hits, and walked three.
He said it’s difficult to pinpoint why he’s struggled in the early innings, but been able to throw so efficiently later on in starts.
“I have been watching a lot of videos two or three days before my start, and I am preparing myself and imagining what my pitches would look (like) against these hitters,” Kikuchi said. “But, at the end of the day, I’ve got to go out there and execute.”
Kikuchi exited the game trailing by three runs, and while the Mariners (13-6) did rally with four runs over the final four frames — including three on back-to-back home runs by Edwin Encarnacion and Omar Narvaez in the eighth — they couldn’t muster quite enough to avoid Kikuchi getting tagged with his first loss.
“Once he gets rolling later in the game, his tempo picks up and everything comes a little bit easier for him,” Servais said. “He gives us six innings, we’re right there in the ball game.”
Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer (2-1, 2.05) frustrated the Mariners’ offense from the outset, allowing a single earned run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked three, and left with a 3-1 lead and two outs in the seventh, after throwing 112 pitches.
Seattle registered just two hits through the first five innings, and Bauer at one point retired 10 consecutive batters before the Mariners finally scratched across their only run in the sixth. Mitch Haniger hit a one-out double, and Domingo Santana — who leads the majors with 24 RBIs — drove him in on a single, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 3-1.
“We are going to have some ups and downs throughout the season,” Servais said. “We’re just in one of those little lulls right now, and a lot of it has been driven by the pitching we’ve been facing.”
It wasn’t until the bottom of the eighth that the Mariners offense closed in. Santana hit a leadoff single, and Encarnacion, who spent the past two seasons with the Indians, extended Seattle’s record-breaking home run streak with a two-run shot to left. Narvaez followed with a high-flying solo homer to right that nearly hit the roof, to make it 5-4.
The Mariners now have 41 home runs through their first 19 games, an MLB record for consecutive games with a home run to start a season.
“We just have to keep battling,” Encarnacion said. “We know we’ve been facing good pitchers, so we’ve got to keep focused on what we’ve been doing, and keep trying to do the best we can do.”
But, Seattle couldn’t break through on earlier scoring opportunities, and never led. In the bottom of the seventh, Narvaez hit a leadoff single, and Dee Gordon walked with two outs. Bauer was pulled, and reliever Tyler Olson walked Mallex Smith to load the bases.
Haniger, who hit home runs in back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday, faced Puyallup High School and University of Washington product Adam Cimber with the bases loaded. Haniger worked a full count and fouled off three pitches before Cimber, one of the rare MLB pitchers who throws from the submarine motion, struck him out on a perfectly placed sinker on the lower inside corner.
The Mariners also missed out in the fifth, after Encarnacion opened the inning with a double. Narvaez then walked, setting Seattle up with a pair of runners and no outs. Bauer — aided by some questionably called strikes — struck out the next three batters to retire the side.
The Indians plated two more peculiar runs in the eighth. Jose Ramirez drew a leadoff walk against Mariners reliever Zac Rosscup, and eventually scored on a pair of wild pitches by reliever Connor Sadzeck three batters later.
And, Cleveland made it 5-1 after reliever Shawn Armstrong loaded the bases and then apparently hit Greg Allen in the knee with a pitch, to score Carlos Santana. Though replay appeared to show that the ball’s trajectory did not change, the call was upheld.
Rosscup, Sadzeck and Armstrong combined walk four, and each also recorded a strikeout in the inning.
After the Mariners had closed the lead to one run, reliever Roenis Elias worked two quick outs in the top of the ninth before Carlos Gonzalez reached on a throwing error by shortstop Tim Beckham. Santana doubled, and another throwing error by Beckham allowed Gonzalez to score.
“I trust this team. I trust these guys,” Encarnacion said. “We have great talent here. We’re going to be alright. Just a tough game. We can play better than we’ve played.”
The Mariners continue their three-game series against the Indians at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday. Seattle right-hander Mike Leake (2-0, 4.15) is scheduled to meet Cleveland right-hander Shane Bieber (1-0, 1.80).
The game will be telecast on Root Sports Northwest, and broadcast on 710-ESPN radio.