Seattle Mariners

Astros show off their potent pitchers against Mariners lineup. This time it was Lance McCullers Jr.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., right, chats with catcher Brian McCann during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., right, chats with catcher Brian McCann during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

These past three games have really ruined batting averages.

The Mariners got a solo home run from Robinson Cano in the first inning and then really nothing else. Not with Lance McCullers Jr. dicing up their batting order to the tune of 11 strikeouts in seven innings.

And that spoiled a solid night for Ariel Miranda in his 2018 Mariners’ debut as Seattle fell 4-1 to the Houston Astros.

First it was Oakland Athletics’ lefty-hander Sean Manaea (a 2-1 Mariners’ loss), then Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel (a 2-1 Mariners’ win) and now right-handed McCullers in the past three days.

“I don’t think he changed anyone’s approach because we all know how he goes to his pitch, his breaking ball,” Cano said. “He’s not a guy who’s trying to beat you with his fastball. He’s confident in what he’s got and puts it where he wants.

“You have to give the guy credit. He knows how to pitch.”

And it doesn’t get any easier with right-hander Gerrit Cole (1-0, 1.29 ERA) to pitch for the Astros on Wednesday.

“They have good pitching and we know that,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We have to have more competitive at-bats, but we know these guys and they executed better than we did tonight.

“We had been swinging the bats so well and we got shut down on Sunday and here the past couple of days, as well. We got to get it going offensively again and our guys know that.”

Cano’s home run gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the first inning. It was his first home run of the season.

But then the Astros tied it in the second inning and took the lead when Brian McCann shot Dan Altavilla’s 2-1, 97-mph fastball over the right-field wall in the sixth inning for a two-run home run.

“That’s really the only hiccup (Altavilla’s) had so far was tonight,” Servais said. “He fell behind in the coutn and made a mistake to McCann.”

The Mariners only had three hits, and just one against McCullers.

Jean Segura had a single in the ninth inning but the game ended with Cano sending a rocket right at first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who stepped on the base to double up Segura.

Cano’s was the only hit for the Mariners until Ichiro Suzuki’s two-out single in the eighth inning against reliever Will Harris. It was hit No. 3,087 of Ichiro’s 18-year MLB career.

A couple takeaways:

MIRANDA’S JAMS: Ariel Miranda walked four. He allowed six hits. The Astros loaded the bases on him twice in his first start in Seattle.

Keep in mind, this was the Astros – as in the reigning World Series champions who are, again, very good.

But Miranda escaped damage opportunities just about every time, despite working out of the stretch most of the game. That he survived five innings and only allowed one run was a plus for the Mariners, who officially recalled him from Triple-A Tacoma earlier Tuesday to become the fifth starter in their rotation.

“I think a lot of Ariel Miranda because he never quits,” Servais said. “He always keeps competing and giving a good effort out there. Some nights are better than others, but what we were asking out of him tonight, to give us five innings and keep us in the ball game was pretty impressive.”

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Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Ariel Miranda reaches for a ball against the Houston Astros in the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Although that could be short-lived. Erasmo Ramirez allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Tacoma on Tuesday night in his return from a strained lat suffered in spring training. He could be in line to return to the Mariners for his next start.

Six days ago Miranda was pitching four innings (allowing three runs) against the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies and his other start was against high Single-A Lancaster (five innings, one run).

That’s why he seemed to pump his fists or slap his glove in adrenaline with each passing inning he pitched out of on Tuesday. The Astros stranded 10 runners on base.

Miranda was born in Havana and played seven seasons in the Serie Nacional Cuban League before defecting from Cuba in 2014 and eventually signing with the Baltimore Orioles.

“I was very emotional and that’s why I think I did a good job,” Miranda said through interpreter Nasusel Cabrera, the Mariners’ batting practice pitcher. “When I’m like that I usually pitch well.

“I was waiting for my time and it was time to show up. I had to take advantage of it.”

MIGHTY McCULLERS: McCullers loves facing the Mariners.

He now has six wins against them, more than any other team.

And he tied a career-high with 11 strikeouts. The only other time he fanned that many batters was in a 2015 complete game against the Orioles.

He’s renowned for his curveball. No other pitcher in the major leagues has used it as often as McCullers since MLB began tracking that data in 2007.

“I think the game is changing that way,” Servais said. “The number of teams that have gone breaking-ball or offspeed heavy – the Astros are one of those clubs. You can be heavy all you want, but you have to have quality pitches and command them. McCullers does have an outstanding breaking ball and he commanded it tonight.”

CANO VS. HORNSBY: Robinson Cano sent one of McCullers’ curveballs over the wall past right-center for his first home run of the season, coming one day after his 13-game on-base streak ended.

That was Cano’s 302nd career home run, passing Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby for second-most home runs by a second baseman in major league history.

Hornsby hit 301 home runs in a 23-year career that began in 1915.

Cano’s in the midst of his 14th season. He hit 204 of his home runs in nine seasons playing for the New York Yankees before signing with the Mariners ahead of the 2014 season.

Jeff Kent, who spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants, hit 377 home runs, which is the most by a second baseman.

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Houston Astros' Brian McCann, right, and Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Marjama watch the path of McCann's 2-run home run in the sixth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

PLAY OF THE GAME: Brian McCann’s two-run shot broke the stalemate in the sixth inning.

He caught a 2-1 fastball at 97.5 mph high and inside from Dan Altavilla and sent it over the left-field wall to break a 1-1 tie.

Pitcher of the game: Lance McCullers Jr. is probably the toughest pitcher the Mariners have faced so far. He threw seven innings and allowed one hit (Cano’s home run) and walked one batter, while tying a career-high with 11 strikeouts.

Hitter of the game: Robinson Cano saw the ball better than any other Mariner. First with his home run and he was a few inches away from making something happen in the ninth inning, but it struck right into first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s glove for the game-ending double play.

Cano and Ichiro (1-for-3) were the only batters not to strike out against McCullers, either.

QUOTABLE: Servais was asked if he’s seen one of his pitchers play with as many emotions as Miranda did on Tuesday night.

“He’s gone through a lot to get here,” Servais said. “We forget about some of the sacrifices some of the Cuban players have to make to get over here and he’s one of those guys who has paid a few dues to get here and appreciate where he’s at. And he wants to be part of what we’re doing here going forward.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
@TJCotterill
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