Roenis Elias rebounded Friday from the worst start of his career by shutting down the same opponent who delivered a severe spanking five days earlier.
Elias worked into the eighth inning as the Seattle Mariners opened a key weekend series against first-place Houston — as key as they get, maybe, in June — with a 5-2 victory at Safeco Field.
“My last outing was bad down there (last Sunday in Houston),” Elias said, “but I prepared better this time. I was more aggressive, and I had better command of my pitches.”
The Mariners also, encouragingly, mustered some impact from the middle of their lineup. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager were a combined 6 for 10 with four runs and two RBIs.
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“We did the stuff we’re supposed to do every day,” Cruz said. “We’re grinding. That’s part of the season. But the good thing is we got everybody going today.
“We put pressure on them in all kinds of ways. Ground balls. Walks. Whatever it takes. That was nice.”
Now add three RBIs from Mark Trumbo, who drove in only one run in his previous 12 games since arriving in a trade from Arizona. That two of those RBIs came on groundouts hardly mattered.
“Maybe those weren’t the prettiest ways to get it done,” he said, “but they’re every bit as effective at times.”
The sum was plenty of support for Elias, who began the game by giving up a first-pitch homer to George Springer but yielded nothing more until a leadoff homer in the eighth inning by Marwin Gonzalez.
In between, Elias (4-4) was dominant. In all, he limited the Astros to two runs and four hits in seven-plus innings. He didn’t walk a batter and matched a career high with 10 strikeouts.
“This might be the first time I’ve ever seen a pitcher where the first pitch he threw was a home run and the last pitch he threw in the game was a home run,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think that’s a first for me.”
McClendon went to the bullpen after Gonzalez’s homer and got six quick outs; three in the eighth from Mark Lowe and three in the ninth from Carson Smith, who gained his fourth save in four chances as a closer.
“It’s an important series,” McClendon said. “I can’t kid you and say, ‘No, it’s not.’ This is important for us to make a statement and try to continue to move forward and do the things we need to do to get back in this race.”
The Mariners won for the third time in 11 games this season against the Astros — which pretty much explains why they’re 8 1/2 games out of first place.
“They’ve beat us pretty bad every time we’ve faced them,” Cruz said. “So it’s nice to win the first one. Hopefully, we can win the next two.”
Elias’ outing represented a notable comeback after he yielded a career-worst eight runs last Sunday over just 3 1/3 innings in a 13-0 loss in Houston.
“I thought he would be determined,” McClendon said, “particularly after the outing he had in Houston…He’s a tough cookie. He came over on a boat (in defecting from Cuba). He’s not intimidated by too much.”
This isn’t an isolated incident.
Elias gave up four runs on May 30 on a 4-3 loss to the Indians at Safeco, which broke his streak of 16 consecutive starts of permitting three or fewer runs.
He faced them again 10 days later in Cleveland — and gave up just one run in six innings.
Nonetheless, the game started with a bang: Springer clubbed a first-pitch fastball for a 397-foot homer to left. Elias said, “I threw a pitch right in the middle, and he hit it. That woke me up.”
The Mariners’ attack also roused itself in getting a second look at Houston rookie Lance McCullers (3-2) in six days. McCullers threw five scoreless innings last Sunday in the same game when the Astros pummeled Elias.
“When it’s a guy you’ve never seen before,” Cano said, “it’s really hard. You don’t know how his ball moves or what kind of pitches he has. To see him again tonight after five days, that helps.”
The Mariners struck for two runs in the first inning after Logan Morrison led off with a looper into short left field that should have been caught but dropped for a single.
After Austin Jackson walked, Gonzalez booted Cano’s grounder to second, which loaded the bases with no outs. McCullers then forced in the tying run by walking Cruz after being ahead 1-2 in the count.
Seager struck out on three pitches, but Trumbo’s soft grounder to short traded an out for the go-ahead run and a 2-1 lead.
“All the credit goes to Nelson for getting a great jump off first,” Trumbo said, “and forcing them to take the one out. That’s an RBI. That’s the kind of teamwork you look for.”
The Mariners made it 3-1 in the third inning on Trumbo’s RBI single and knocked out McCullers in a two-run fifth. Seager had an RBI single before Trumbo made it 5-1 with an RBI grounder to second.