May 1 is way early to start scoreboard watching, but it’s worth noting the Mariners (10-13) dropped six games behind the first-place Astros in the American League West with Friday’s 4-3 loss to Houston (16-7) at Minute Maid Park (box score). After being a popular pick before the season to win the division, the Mariners’ early struggles against the Astros — winners of eight in a row — and their inconsistent offense is troubling.
In the bottom of the eighth, LHP Tyler Olson gave up a solo homer to George Springer, as Houston extended the lead to 4-1. That run would come back to haunt the Mariners.
In the ninth, Cruz blasted a solo shot to left-center that hit the train that runs well above Minute Maid Park’s left field wall. After Kyle Seager flew out, Logan Morrison followed with a solo shot to make it 4-3. But Brad Miller nubbed one back to reliever Luke Gregerson for the second out and Rickie Weeks fanned to end the game.
Cruz’s homer was his MLB-leading 11th of the season.
The Mariners had six hits, two from Robinson Cano, who had an RBI double off starter Sam Deduno in the third. Morrison finished 2-for-4, including a triple, to bring his average to .213.
After allowing three runs over the first two innings, LHP Roenis Elias (0-1) settled down and finished with four scoreless. His final line of six frames, three runs, six hits and three walks qualified as a quality start, but for the second consecutive outing since replacing injured RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, efficiency was an issue.
Elias threw 103 pitches, but finished with eight strikeouts. His mistakes were confined to a two-run homer to Evan Gattis in the first and a solo shot to Jake Marisnick in the second.
“We got to start swinging the bats better,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You score two or three runs, you’re not going to win ballgames . . . I’m seeing a lot of at-bats that I don’t like. We’re much more professional than that. You gotta be able slow things down and get it done. We’re just not doing that.
“Listen, I’m not after (23) games gonna say the season is burning, let’s blow it all to hell. That’s not very responsible and that’s certainly not the message that I’m going to send my team. But do we need to work? Do we need to get some things done? Yeah.”
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen reported no issues following his Friday afternoon bullpen session, which marked his first time on a mound since he went to the 15-day disabled list in mid-April with a hyperextended right elbow. He threw about 25 pitches at 90-95 percent effort. His next bullpen is Sunday. Barring setbacks, he’ll then go on a minor league rehab assignment, with the hope he can return by mid-May . . . Iwakuma (0-1, 6.61 ERA) is playing long toss in Seattle, McClendon said, but estimated the 34-year-old, on the 15-day DL with a strained lat behind his throwing shoulder, is 3-4 weeks from getting back . . . LHP Danny Hultzen, in his first minor-league start since September 2013, allowed one unearned run in 3.1 innings Friday for Double-A Jackson. Hultzen, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 MLB draft, missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing rotator cuff and labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder . . . Rainiers LHP Joe Saunders used the opt-out clause in his contract to officially become a free agent Friday after going 0-3 with a 5.73 ERA in six appearances with Tacoma.
RHP Taijaun Walker (1-2, 6.86 ERA) will look to build off his last start, a seven-inning, one-run (unearned) gem that helped him beat the Rangers, 3-1. The Astros counter with RHP Collin McHugh (3-0, 2.92 ERA), who is 10-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his last 14 outings. He won his last three starts against the Mariners.
Quentin says farewell
“Hard Hittin’” Carlos Quentin is hanging it up. The 32-year-old, who signed a minor-league deal April 22 with Triple-A Tacoma, is retiring, general manager Jack Zduriencik announced Friday.
“Over the past several days, it became clear to me that my injuries have taken too great of a physical toll for me to be able to perform at the level I expect from myself,” Quentin said. “As a result, I believe it is the right time for me to walk away and to refocus my energy on the next chapter of my life with my family.”
Quentin attended Stanford before going on to a nine-year major league career with the Diamondbacks, White Sox and Padres. A two-time American League All-Star (2008, ’11), the outfielder/designated hitter posted a .252/.347/.484 career slash with 154 home runs and 491 RBIs in 834 games.
But knee injuries plagued him late in his career. Quentin played just five games with the Rainiers, collecting three hits in 17 at-bats.