Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is right, you know. Things are going to get better for his club. They can only get better — can’t they? — after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros at Safeco Field
Because if this isn’t the bottom … oh, boy.
It isn’t just that the Mariners lost for a second straight night to Houston, which had lost seven in row before arriving in SoDo. (Bad enough.) Or that this makes eight consecutive True-to-the-Blue losses. (Still worse.)
No, it was watching Collin McHugh so overmatch the Mariners’ whispering attack that he supplanted Roger Clemens in the Astros’ record book.
“He was a little different than the scouting report that we got,” McClendon said. “He was 94 (mph) with a pretty good cut slider and cut fastball. He commanded the strike zone pretty good.
“He (pitched) exceptionally well tonight.”
Look, McHugh, 26, might yet evolve, in his seventh professional season into one of the game’s better pitchers. Things happen. And if that thing happens, he’ll be able to point to Tuesday as the fulcrum.
Because prior to Tuesday, when recalled and pressed into service due to an injury to Scott Feldman, McHugh possessed an 0-8 record in 15 career big-league games for the Mets and Rockies over the past two years.
With an 8.94 ERA over those 15 games (47 earned runs in 47 1/3 innings).
But here was McHugh (1-0) limiting the Mariners to three hits, all singles, in 6 2/3 innings before Astros manager Bo Porter decided 89 pitches were sufficient and went to the bullpen.
“That’s what you call seizing the opportunity,” Porter said. “He did a real good job of plus-and-minus-ing his fastball.”
McHugh handed off a 4-0 lead to Raul Valdes after striking out 12 and walking none. Those 12 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher in an Astros debut since Clemens in 2004.
Valdes promptly threw the Mariners a lifeline by walking Kyle Seager before surrendering a two-run homer to Justin Smoak before Anthony Bass retired pinch-hitter Nick Franklin on a grounder to short.
Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez (1-3) put himself in an early 3-0 hole by surrendering homers to Jason Castro and Chris Carter on 0-2 pitches. But Ramirez allowed nothing more in his six innings.
“He did not make quality strikes when he needed to,” McClendon said, “Particularly ahead in the count. It cost him tonight. For me, I think he’s got to pitch better than he pitched.”
Even so, it was Ramirez’s best start in his past four, but three runs were too much when fronting an attack that has now scored fewer than three runs in nine of its past 13 games.
“It’s time for all of us to make a little bit of an adjustment,” Smoak said. “Go up there with the mindset that we’re going to get the job done. Have that mentality and a little bit of the cockiness and swag that we had early on.”
The Astros stretched their lead to 4-0 on Matt Dominguez’s one-out homer in the seventh against Dominic Leone before Smoak went deep later in the inning against Valdes.
Any comeback chance dimmed when Houston nicked Danny Farquhar for a run in the eighth. Bass worked a scoreless eighth before Josh Fields closed out a victory against his former club for the second straight game.
Ramirez got the game’s first out on one pitch before walking Dexter Fowler, who lugged a .206 average into the game.
Next, Ramirez jumped ahead 0-2 on Castro, who was batting .193, before Castro flicked an 0-2 fastball to left — and the ball kept carrying for an opposite-field homer.
“What can I say?” Ramirez asked. “A power hitter. I was a little bit high with my fastball, and he made good contact. I saw the video. It wasn’t a bad pitch.
“Maybe a little bit down would have been better, but it wasn’t that bad.”
Houston extended its lead to 3-0 when Carter, batting .123, crushed an 0-2 curveball for a one-out homer in the second inning.
Throwing hittable pitches when ahead in the count is a recurring problem for Ramirez, and McClendon signaled his patience might be ebbing — and that he planned to discuss matters with general manager Jack Zduriencik.
“The fact is, the club is struggling,” McClendon said. “You need to go out and throw strikes and put up zeroes. We didn’t do that early.”