BY Anthony Dion 12:02AM 04/23/2014

Obscure Astros pitcher crushes Mariners, 5-2

A somber Justin Smoak stood in front of his locker, trying to find encouragement in his team’s performance after their latest loss Tuesday night. There wasn’t much to point to after the 5-2 defeat in the second of three against the last-place Houston Astros (7-14).

One night after the Mariners’ hitters struck out 14 times, the team returned with 14 more versus a Houston staff that featured obscure Collin McHugh making just the 10th start of his major league career. McHugh, 26, had a 8.94 ERA in 15 games over 47.1 major-league innings, but he had enough to send the Mariners to their eighth loss in a row and 11th in the past 13.

Smoak generated the only offense the Mariners could muster. His seventh-inning, two-run home run came off reliever Raul Valdez and was his first homer batting right-handed this season. Houston’s lead was cut to 4-2.

Instead of talking about his ninth and 10th two-out RBIs of the season, Smoak attempted to explain how the offense was not pressing.

“I don’t think so. It’s still early, we all know that,” Smoak said. “It’s time for all of us to make a little bit of an adjustment and go up there with the mind-set that we’re going to get the job done. Have the mentality and a little bit of cockiness, swag, that we had early on.”

McHugh looked sharp in his first major league win. In 6.2 innings, the right-hander allowed three hits and no walks while striking out 12.

Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon gave McHugh the majority of the credit in limiting the M’s offense.

“He was a little different than the scouting report that we got. He was 94 (mph). He threw a pretty good slider or cut fastball in, commanded the fastball . . . you’ve got to give him credit,” McClendon said.  “I think it was a combination of that, and our guys probably trying to do a little too much right now.”

The Mariners hoped for an improved effort from starter Erasmo Ramirez after he struggled in his previous three outings, when opponents combined to hit .383 and plated 13 runs.

Houston had two-run home run in the first inning from  Jason Castro and followed in the second with a solo homer by Chris Carter. But over the next four innings, the Astros garnered just one more hit. In fact, when Ramirez was relieved by Dominic Leone to start the seventh inning, he had set down nine in a row.

While it didn’t start out well for the diminutive right-hander, the Mariners had to be encouraged with the way he finished. McClendon, though, was more focused with the beginning.

“He did not make quality pitches when he needed to,” McClendon said. “I think he needs to pitch better than what he did.”

Are there any alternatives short of getting Hisashi Iwakuma back as soon as possible?

“That’s something that Jack and I will sit down and talk about. The fact is the club is struggling. You need to go out and throw strikes and put up zeroes and we didn’t do that early.”

The bullpen didn’t do it late, either.

After Ramirez exited, the Astros stretched their lead to 4-0 in the seventh inning when Matt Dominguez took Leone deep to center for his fourth home run of the season. They added fifth in the eighth on four hits off Danny Farquhar. That run was the 18th the Mariners have allowed in the eighth inning this season.

During the eight-game losing streak, the offense has been outscored 46-18.  The top third of the Mariners’ order was 2-for-12 with nine strikeouts.

McClendon would not criticize the approach his hitters had Tuesday night.

“I think the guys are trying to be intelligent, trying to work the counts. I think it’s a combination, again, of trying to do a little bit too much. Some of the credit has to go to the guy who pitched against us.”

Add McHugh’s name to the list of excellent starters the M’s have faced this season.

Notes

Hisashi Iwakuma pitched a four-inning simulated game at Safeco Field Tuesday. Iwakuma was scheduled to make his first rehabilitation start in Tacoma Tuesday but was kept here to avoid a rainout. Iwakuma threw 60 pitches to John Buck. Among the hitters to face him were Willie Bloomquist and Nick Franklin.

“Today I thought he had better finish to the split, more bite to the breaking ball and the fastball had good finish at the end, a little oomph at the end,” McClendon said. “So I was really pleased with what I saw today.”

Iwakuma will head to Las Vegas to make his first rehab start with AAA Tacoma  Sunday. He is scheduled to throw 75 pitches . . . Nick Franklin pinch hit for Michael Saunders in the seventh. After grounding out, Franklin took over Saunders’ position in right field for his first appearance in the outfield in the regular season.


YourThoughts

  • Will

    I’ve seen this movie – several times – and the ending is always the same.

  • Greg

    Sadly, after a decade, all of the platitudes become cynical parodies… Feeble hope turns to disgust which morphs into baseball depression. And, sitting next door is how you do it right which makes the contrast beyond intense. I’m seasonally left with the question, “Just how bad will it have to get before the necessary change takes place”, perhaps being swept by the lowly Stros… No, dream on… I feel for the team.

    • art thiel

      An apt sentiment for many fans.

  • jafabian

    The Astros had 20 LOBs and the M’s only 8. No one is getting on base. Ramirez didn’t make things any better either and he knows that he has to have his best stuff for the team to remain competitive. However each inning with players striking out doesn’t help either. The M’s have made the Astros last two pitchers look like All-Stars.
    Buhner was saying how until recently he called the Astros the “Lastros.” If things don’t change the M’s will be inheriting that title. I’ll give McClendon credit for saying all the right things right now, but it’s early. He could still have a John McClaren-type of rant at some point and I wouldn’t blame him.

  • dinglenuts

    Mclendon: “He was a little different than the scouting report that we got.”

    What the hell?

    Who’s doing the scouting, Mr. Magoo?

    This is the most ridiculous line I’ve heard all year. Granted, it’s only April, but come on now. If Mclendon is pinning failure on scouting reports, he must already be feeling the heat.

    • art thiel

      Apparently the report on young Collin was a universal in MLB, and he had a breakthrough game. Nevertheless, after the first inning, it was plain he could throw 94. MLB hitters are obliged to adjust.

  • ollie swensen

    i’m sure Iwakuma can’t wait to get back on the mound. no pressure. just another start, right? not expecting the guy to throw 80 shutout innings in a row while waiting for the offense to produce. he’s a veteran after all. hahaha
    remember, it’s still early until it’s too late.
    woo hoo

  • Effzee

    I’ve been saying it for years, like a broken record. The atmosphere at Safeco Field sucks. I have been to a couple of birthday parties in suites there recently, but have not paid to enter the Safe in a decade. I am not *that* much of a sucker. Everything is just as I remembered it. It felt like some kind of weird outdoor yuppie mall where people go to socialize, stare at each other’s $100 t-shirts, call someone not in the stadium, and purchase insanely overpriced concessions. There was also occasionally a reason to pay attention to what was happening in the diamond shaped grass area… Too bad the reason was the alarmingly attention-grabbing videos and silly antics by the Moose and some people dressed like the grounds crew who suddenly START DANCING?!?! OMG, WHAT IS GOING ON HERE THIS IS CRAZY DID THOSE PEOPLE REALLY JUST START DANCING??!?! OMG THAT IS JUST AMAZING AND ADORABLE!! I CAN’T BELIEVE WHAT I AM SEEING IN FRONT OF ME!!

    Oh, *ahem*…. Right. I lost my composure there for a minute… I just get so excited sometimes… ;-p

    ALL of the things that make Howie’s Mariners Howie’s Mariners also drain any possibility of character or soul from ever developing in the team. It sucks the life straight out of them. Even when they manage to get some momentum on a road trip, all they have to do is return to the Safe and all will be back to normal. I can’t pinpoint it, but there’s something about the Safeco Experience that just aint right, to me. I think its the audible murmur of people doing two million things aside from watching the actual game. There is nothing about the venue or the atmosphere that indicates baseball is the thing to pay attention to. Its just not a serious baseball facility. Then again, when the team sets franchise records for futility, year after year, why would anyone be excited? Why would real baseball fans come to the stadium? What is there really to cheer for? This brings us to Robinson Cano.

    We all know that Howie loves his milquetoast, easily marketable, yes-saying nice guys who can easily be given cutesy nicknames that all the wives will adore. So, he made the “Desperation” move of approving of JZ bribing a hitter to come here for eleventy billion dollars, but really, how hard a decision was that to make? The dude’s name that he signed is almost Robinson Crusoe, ok? Do you know what the actual title of that book is? “The Life and Most Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner.” Yeah, I’m totally not making that up. I wish I was, but I’m not. Could Howie’s real motives be more transparent? This fits PERFECTLY into the Lincoln Mold. This isn’t about winning. It never is. Its about getting fans to come to the stadium. As long as the team is likeable, and they appear to try hard, he will trot the loveable losers out there. Just as long as nobody speaks their mind honestly about anything.

    Howard is the lead dog, and he has his latest perfect mouthpiece/future scapegoat in JZ. Howard will not be challenged by anyone. He is the all-knowing when it comes to baseball success. In his mind, Safeco really was the reason the fans came to the stands in 2001. No, really! Safeco was why there was success. Not the players. Nope. Couldn’t be them. Real players all have personalities and opinions and stuff. Those are not OKG’s to Howard. His OKG’s are not tough, hard-nosed workers who eat, sleep, and breathe the desire to be great. This why Lou left, and why Hargrove and Wedge walked away in disgust. This is also why he can fire a guy (Bo-Mel) who goes on to win Manager of the Year awards in both leagues. Its never going to get better, until the overall guiding philosophy of the Lincoln is gone for ever.

    I am glad that we now have a situation where the blame can no longer be deflected. There is no longer a need to question how much having an absentee foreign owner, or being shackled with a Chuck Armstrong, has hindered the franchise. Its Howie’s show now, and we are going to get the same as we always have.

    • Trygvesture

      Clownship of Baseball

    • art thiel

      Quite a screed, effzee. What happens when they win 10 in a row? Not predicting, just sayin’.

      • Effzee

        Dude… I have been waiting for that day. If it happens, I will totally acknowledge it. I will give credit where credit is due. Just as I place the blame right where it belongs.

  • tedsfrozenhead

    This team and organization is simply terrible. Until there are changes in the GM and Ownership positions the Mariners will never be competitive.

  • Trygvesture

    Ramirez started badly, then settled down and did his job. Pitchers do that. Then the team scores runs. Not so here. Then McClendon goes off on the pitcher, essentially damns his future witht he club and off-handedly blames scouting for bad hitting. Let’s see– former hitting coach who may not have been all that successful– maybe got a bit of twitch about terrible hitting; gets a little edgy when hitting gets looked at and seen as defficient?

    It’s pretty simple: the M’s are a bad team. Triple A players, largely, A manager probably not up to the job– although the players limit his options to be good. A GM that’s just a smarmy corporate-line yes-man without any success at the job, ever. A president who is admittedly not a baseball guy but a bean counter. And Howie– unaccountable to the meekest of ownership groups and an autocratic, clueless leader.

    Boycott and encourage others to boycott. Approaching gooseggs at the gate, in viewership, in radio listenership and gear sales can only help in the long run.

    • notaboomer

      bbbbbut beard hats and macklemore bobbleheads

      • Trygvesture

        aaaaaand don’t forget garlic fries

        • zigzags

          ooooooh yeah and those zany dancing grounds crew guys. Such fun.

    • art thiel

      Being this bad, this early after the enormous investment in Cano is the worst possible outcome, because fan cynicism morphs into a total emotional break with the club. As your comment illustrates.

  • rosetta_stoned

    against the last-place Houston Astros

    Not for long.

  • David Michel

    McClendon seems to have his favorites. such as Almonte, who leads the league in strikeouts, not exactly what you want out of a leadoff hitter. He does not like certain guys either, such as Saunders, and obviously Ramirez. But at the same time, he does not have much to work with, there are lots of holes on this team.

    • art thiel

      McClendon is apparently going to make a leadoff hitter out of Almonte, and is willing to work through the learning curve. That would work if he were the only flat tire.

      • Trygvesture

        There’s a pattern here, maybe? I know players sometimes learn new positions, but at what percentage are those attempts typically made? How many players have the Ms worked with to deprogram them from the positions they normally play? How many of those deprogramming attempts have ‘worked’? It seems like the need for a leadoff hitter would, in most organizations, lead to the GM getting a leadoff hitter (left fielder, third baseman, catcher…)
        rather than resorting to an in-season deprogramming-OJT program on the MLB club.

        • art thiel

          In Ackley, Almonte and Franklin, they converted all three from infielders. The Mariners are hardly alone in converting guys at the MLB level. But the fact that they can’t raise a single outfielder to start at the MLB level is remarkable.

          • Trygvesture

            or not. Ms failures in baseball are not really remarkable anymore in any universe. Those three aren’t exactly converted into Griffey, Ichi and Bonilla — hardly deprogramming successes. I really thought AA or AAA was the best place for conversions what with no MLB pennant races and that win-games stuff that other teams seem to give deference to.
            On the not-news information front, Armstrong’s exit has proven that, in spite of stellar effort, he didn’t carry the entire load in the incompetence dept. The tradition continues.

  • Big

    Most M’s fans have little experience with MLB. So the theme park called the Safe must entertain the folks with baseball being a strange, poorly acted out drama that isn’t very interesting. Take in a Frogs game, much better experience than the M’s.

    • zigzags

      There aren’t enough bobbleheads or beard hats on the planet to get Seattle to care about the Mariners again. Bring in some damn talent and we’ll be back. Until then, have fun with an empty — but “family friendly!” — stadium.

  • Matt712

    Turns out Cano is a better ‘GM’ than he was given credit. If the Ms had indeed acquired another pitcher and another quality bat as he implored them coming out of Spring training, they most certainly wouldn’t be in this mess. Instead, they’ve done exactly what he and everyone else below the rank of ‘Kiss-My-Rear Admiral’ on the good ship Mariner was afraid of: a complete face-plant.

    And they’ve done it in the worst possible fashion – by roaring out of the gate, swinging away and producing impressive wins, making us believe that, just maybe, there was something different in store this year for their long suffering fans. Instead, the uncomfortable throat clearing noises heard upon Cano’s suggestions, followed by utter indifference in regard to action, was akin to leaving a dump truck full of well ripened banana peels about ten games in front of the hapless galloping ball club.

    Here, Robinson Cano, is a one-word answer to your early Spring requests – just in case your given one back then: “Splat!”

  • zigzags

    Well those first 3 games sure were fun. The problem with peaking at the start of the season is we now get 4 months to enjoy the inevitable freefall into the cellar. Weeeeeee!

  • 1coolguy

    Had enough yet HOWARD? Jack?
    PLEASE SELL to a capable, interested owner!!!