HOUSTON — We have a problem.
The Mariners keep waiting for their veteran bats to produce, particularly with runners in scoring position…and it’s just not happening.
The silence was notably telling Friday in a 4-3 loss to do-no-wrong Houston at Minute Maid Park.
“Everybody in here believes that we’re a good team,” center fielder Austin Jackson said, “and that things will turn around eventually. It’s just not falling for us right now. It’s just part of the game.
“It’s tough, but if we keep getting those guys out there and keep presenting ourselves with opportunities, eventually it will turn around.”
Friday seemed like a ordered-up opportunity.
The Astros reached into their bullpen for starting pitcher Sam Deduno, who responded with four solid innings. Then came ex-Mariner Josh Fields, recently returned from the disabled list, and just-recalled Kevin Chapman.
That got the game to the seventh inning with the Mariners in near-shutdown mode.
Houston polished off its eighth straight victory with veterans Pat Neshek and Chad Qualls before Luke Gregerson wobbled through a two-homer ninth inning.
“Obviously, we want to play better,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “You have days like we’ve had where pitching has been good, and we haven’t been able to get enough runs for them.
“You just keep grinding and come out of it.”
The Mariners had just four hits before the ninth inning, fell to 10-13 and now find themselves trailing Houston by six games just one day into May. The Astros have won 12 of their last 13.
“Whatever we’ve got to do,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “shake it up or whatever, we’ve got to do to start swinging the bats better. You score two or three runs, you’re not going to win ballgames.”
McClendon said he wasn’t advocating wholesale personnel changes.
“I’m not, after (23) games, going to say the season is burning,” he clarified. “Let’s blow it all to (heck). I mean that’s not very responsible. That’s certainly not the message I’m going to send to my team.
“But do we need to work and do we need to get some things done? Yeah.”
Houston scored all of its runs on homers. Evan Gattis had a two-run shot in the first inning and Jake Marisnick had a solo shot in the second. Those came against starter Roenis Elias.
The final run came on George Springer’s two-out moon shot in the eighth inning against Tyler Olson.
Springer’s homer appeared to be mere icing at the time, but that changed when Nelson Cruz opened the ninth with a towering homer against Gregerson that struck the locomotive atop the left-field wall.
Logan Morrison then hit a one-out homer to right, (VIDEO LINK) but that was it. Gregerson retired the next two hitters for his fifth save. Fields (1-0) got the victory.
Elias (0-1) rebounded from those two early homers by limiting the Astros to three runs in six innings. It was a quality start, although it marked the first time in 10 games that a Mariners starter allowed more than two earned runs.
The problem was the lack of a counter-punch until the ninth inning.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Mariners rebuilt their lineup in the off-season by adding several veteran players in an effort to avoid the long droughts that kept last year’s club from reaching postseason.
Right now, they sound like a group searching for answers.
“We have to focus a little more,” Cruz said, “or relax — whatever it is — and get it done. We’re better than that.”
Elias began the Houston first inning with a four-pitch walk to Jose Altuve but retired the next two batters and was ahead 0-2 on Gattis before hanging a curve. (VIDEO LINK)
The Astros led 2-0.
It was the first homer allowed this year by a Mariners’ pitcher on an 0-2 count; they gave up 11 in 2014, which tied for the most in the majors.
Houston hiked its lead to 3-0 with one out in the second inning when Marisnick drove a first-pitch fastball into the Crawford Boxes atop the left-field scoreboard wall.
The Mariners got one run back in the third on Robinson Cano’s two-out RBI double and had a chance to draw closer when Morrison ripped a one-out triple in the fourth.
But Brad Miller and Dustin Ackley grounded out. Miller’s out dropped the Mariners to 6-for-31 this season with a runner on third and less than two outs.
That stat, as much as anything, underscores the Mariners’ struggles.
“Without a doubt,” Cruz said, “with runners in scoring position we have to do a better job. Overall, we’ve left too many runners on base. The pitching has been doing its job, we have to step up (on offense).”