‘Average’ pitcher shuts down Mariners, Astros win 4-1

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

But Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon was not among the awe-struck crowd, instead using another word to describe this performance by Keuchel, the tough lefty who improved his record to 6-2 and lowered his ERA 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 consecutive singles they fashioned together in the bottom of the second inning but 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 home plate that Keuchel fielded and fired toward first, but the throw was high and Zunino scored on the error.

With ace right-hander 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 top of the sixth, when Astros second baseman Jose Altuve singled before 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 was still pretty good. He allowed nine hits and 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 the Mariners hitters, Houston’s two homers were plenty, and Iwakuma suffered his first loss since Aug. 10 of last season.

“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 field by third baseman Kyle Seager with one out in the seventh inning. But 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 last 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.

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