SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners went on a five-game skid midway through last summer. They were 20 games over .500 at the beginning after the first game of that homestand. They never reached that mark again once it was over.
This season, five consecutive losses at home came much sooner.
After jumping out to the best start in club history at 13-2, and building a six-game winning streak during last week’s road trip, the Mariners have dropped five in a row at T-Mobile Park.
In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians, Seattle’s bats — which have struggled throughout the homestand — stalled again in key moments.
“Our offense shut down again tonight,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Really didn’t get much going there. (Cleveland starter Shane) Bieber threw the ball well. He’s real aggressive in the strike zone.
“I think we had some pitches to hit, didn’t really get a whole lot going with it. Had a couple chances out there … and really couldn’t capitalize on that.”
The Mariners managed just six hits, and despite having a handful of runners reach on walks and errors, couldn’t scratch across more than two runs. They stranded eight base runners throughout, including six in scoring position. They also struck out seven times.
Seattle entered this six-game homestand averaging nearly eight runs per game. Through the first five games of it, they’re managing just three.
The Mariners scored early in the second when shortstop Tim Beckham drew a two-out walk and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Catcher Tom Murphy’s RBI single to left scored Beckham for an early 1-0 lead. Murphy finished 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles, and registered half of Seattle’s hits.
Jay Bruce belted a first-pitch fastball 437 feet to center field with two outs in the eighth for Seattle’s only other run of the game. Bruce’s eight home runs this season rank second in the American League behind Oakland’s Khris Davis (10). He also extended Seattle’s MLB record for consecutive games to start a season with a home run to 20. The Mariners lead the majors with 42 homers.
But, Bruce’s homer provided one of few offensive highlights Tuesday night. The stunted production overshadowed a quality start by right-hander Mike Leake (2-1, 3.86 ERA), who recorded his first loss of the season. Leake worked six innings, allowing two earned runs on eight hits, striking out four and walking none.
“He navigated through that lineup very well,” Murphy said. “He got creative when he needed to, made his pitches when he needed to, really kept those guys as off-balance as we could.”
The Mariners twice converted double plays in the first and third to help Leake through speedy innings, but a missed opportunity for a third double play in the fourth led to a pair of Cleveland runs.
Jose Ramirez hit a one-out single before Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon made a brilliant diving stop on a sharp grounder Jason Kipnis hit back up the middle. Gordon flipped the ball out of his glove to shortstop Tim Beckham to retire Ramirez at second. But, Beckham lost the ball trying to transfer and throw to first.
“It was a big play,” Servais said. “Dee made an unbelievable back-handed stop. Flips it to Tim, and he just didn’t make the exchange. We get out of that inning with nothing out there if we turn the double play. ... Every out, every double play ball, it’s huge in these tight games.”
Kipnis then scored from first on a two-out double to right center by Carlos Santana, and Hanley Ramirez followed with a single that scored Santana to give the Indians a 2-1 advantage they never lost.
Cleveland tagged Mariners reliever Roenis Elias with two more runs in the seventh. Tyler Naquin hit a leadoff single, advanced to second on a balk, and came around to score on a Mike Freeman single. Max Moroff, pinch running for Freeman, then scored on a two-out double to center by former Mariner Leonys Martin, who finished 3 for 4.
“The tack-on runs have hurt during this homestand,” Servais said. “In a lot of these games, we go to the bullpen and you kind of need that couple shutdown innings and hope your offense can come back, and teams have tacked on a run here or there, and it’s been a little bit tougher.”
Bieber (2-0, 1.71) earned the win, allowing just one run on four hits, while striking out three and walking five.
The Mariners wrap up their three-game series against the Indians — and their six-game homestand — at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday.
Seattle right-hander Erik Swanson (0-0, 9.00) is scheduled to make his first major league start, filling in for injured lefty Wade LeBlanc (strained right oblique), who is on the 10-day injured list. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (1-2, 12.60) is slated to start for Cleveland.
The game will be telecast on Root Sports Northwest, and broadcast on 710-ESPN radio.