Mariners again fail to produce at plate

Staff writerMay 26, 2014 

Many of the 26,839 folks at Safeco Field on Sunday had to be impressed with Houston starter Dallas Keuchel, who pitched a complete game, allowed only four hits and retired 21 of the final 22 Seattle Mariners batters he faced in a 4-1 Astros victory.

But Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon was not among the awestruck crowd, instead using another word to describe this performance by Keuchel, the tough left-hander who improved to 6-2 and lowered his earned-run average to 2.55.

“I saw average stuff,” McClendon said. “We didn’t swing the bats very good. At some point, you’ve got to stop giving credit to average pitchers. That becomes a broken record. At some point, we’ve got to start swinging the bats.”

The Mariners (24-25) did swing their bats. They just didn’t make a whole lot of productive contact outside of the three singles they strung together in the second inning. Even then, a throwing error by Keuchel was required to plate Seattle’s only run.

With two outs, catcher Mike Zunino and right fielder Michael Saunders reached on singles. Then left fielder Cole Gillespie hit a ball in front of the plate that Keuchel fielded and fired toward first, but the throw was high, and Zunino scored on the error.

With ace Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound for the Mariners, that scratch-and-claw second inning was enough to give them a lead they maintained until the sixth, when Astros second baseman Jose Altuve singled and right fielder George Springer launched a two-run home run over the left-field fence.

That pitch, Iwakuma said, was a slider that came in too high. So, too, did the two-seam fastball he threw to Marc Krauss with a runner on base in the seventh — a pitch that Krauss sprayed into the right-field seats — and that was that.

Iwakuma (3-1) wasn’t his absolute sharpest, though he still was pretty good. He allowed nine hits, five in the first four innings, but pitched around those — aided by double plays in the second and fourth innings — to keep the Mariners in it.

But with the way Keuchel baffled Seattle’s hitters, Houston’s two homers were plenty, and Iwakuma suffered his first loss since Aug. 10.

“You guys might not believe it, but I gave up nine hits today, and I don’t feel like I gave up that many hits today in general,” Iwakuma said through an interpreter. “But they put up good at-bats, and it felt like they were sitting on certain pitches in certain situations, and I thought they did a good job in general.”

The only hit Keuchel allowed after the second inning was a single to right by third baseman Kyle Seager with one out in the seventh inning.

Zunino followed by hitting into a 4-3 double play, and Keuchel retired the side in order in the eighth and ninth innings to cap his third career complete game. He’s 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA and 28 strikeouts in his past four starts.

“The last couple times I’ve seen him, he’s thrown the ball really well,” Zunino said. “He was doing a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone, and you’ve just got to tip your cap (to him for) keeping us off balance and working down in the zone because that’s what his strength is, and he did it tonight.”

McClendon put it another way.

“We had four hits,” he said. “You don’t win games with four hits and one run.”

Not on average, anyway.

christian.caple@ @ChristianCaple

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