The Mariners needed to be almost perfect to beat Corey Kluber. They didn’t come close on a warm Thursday night in a 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field.
An already difficult task in facing Kluber grew harder when LHP James Paxton had to leave the game with two outs in the fifth inning with what was later announced as discomfort in his left middle finger. To that point, the Ladner, B.C., product wasn’t especially sharp with location or fielding.
He and McClendon weren’t sure whether the injury was serious. He’ll be evaluated by team doctors Friday.
“Obviously, I’m not happy about it,” Paxton said after he fell to 3-3 and his ERA jumped to 3.70. “But I’m staying positive and I don’t think it’s going to be anything too big, hopefully. We’ll find out tomorrow. Right now it has pretty good movement. It already feels better than it did an hour ago so hopefully by tomorrow it will feel much better.”
Meanwhile, Kluber, reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, did his thing. He allowed three runs over seven innings and struck out 13 to improve to 3-5 after he dropped five of his first seven starts. In his past four outings, he’s 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA.
Two mistakes cost him: C Mike Zunino lifted a solo homer into the left-field bullpen to tie at 1 in the third inning. It was Zunino’s seventh homer of the season.
In the sixth, LF Dustin Ackley lined an opposite-field, two-run shot to cut the lead to 5-3.
“I thought we had real good at-bats off a very tough pitcher,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We certainly made the most of our at-bats. This guy is tough as hell.”
Ackley entered hitting .179 with three home runs and seven RBIs. In his mind, the fact he drove the ball to the opposite field with power is a sign his swing is improving. At the least, it busted an epic power drought — a 36-game homer-less streak.
“It’s definitely huge,” said the embattled No. 2 overall pick from the 2009 MLB draft. “When I’m going that way and not trying to, that’s right where I want to be. I just got to take that confidence and make good swings and everything will be good.”
That was all the Mariners mustered. With the chance to exact the slightest bit of revenge after Kluber narrowly beat out RHP Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young last season, the Mariners didn’t make the most of their few opportunities, going 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.
The best chance came in the fifth when Nelson Cruz stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. But Kluber got the Triple Crown candidate to strike out.
He scattered seven hits, walked one and hit a batter in his first road win since Sept. 21. He finished by striking out the side in his seventh and last inning.
Indians reliever LHP Marc Rzepczynski worked a perfect eighth and closer Cody Allen did the same in the ninth.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 23-24 and denied them a chance to extend a three-game winning streak at the start of an 11-game homestand.
The Mariners, who entered ranked 12th in the AL in runs scored, needed more from their lineup after falling behind early.
In the second inning, Paxton missed up and over the plate on an 0-1 pitch that 1B Brandon Moss nearly hit off the black batter’s eye in center field for a 1-0 lead. It also marked the first home run Paxton allowed against a left-handed batter in 623 plate appearances. He allowed four runs (three earned) in 4.2 innings while striking out four and walking one.
“I just hung a cutter,” he said. “I was trying to go low and away and it stayed middle.”
More trouble followed in the fourth when Moss delivered a one-out single. SS Jose Ramirez hit a tapper back to the mound. Paxton bobbled making the transfer and the throw to first was late. He walked CF Michael Bourn to load the bases.
2B Jason Kipnis, one of the hottest hitters in the league, lined an RBI single before 3B Mike Aviles reached on a tapper up the middle that Paxton let slip under his glove. But the error was given to SS Nick Taylor when he charged and couldn’t field it cleanly. An RBI groundout by LF Michael Brantley made it 4-1.
Kipnis added an RBI fielder’s choice in the sixth. The deficit was too steep, especially against Kluber.
“He’s tough,” Ackley said. “He’s hard to square up. He’s got the cutter, slider, curveball, change-up. Right when you think that you have him, he drops him another pitch on you.”
2B Robinson Cano was out of the lineup Thursday for the first time this season after developing flu-like symptoms on the flight back to Seattle Wednesday night. “(He’s) dehydrated and is taking an IV,” McClendon said. “I’m not sure how much fluids he’s getting back in there but he’s lost a few pounds.” Cano pinch-hit in the ninth inning and flew out to right field . . . McClendon indicated the Mariners won’t add a reliever from Triple-A Tacoma for a few more days. The club is working with a six-man bullpen while it decides which position player to replace. Barring a trade, they can either send SS Chris Taylor to Tacoma or DFA Justin Ruggiano, LF Dustin Ackley, U Willie Bloomquist or U Rickie Weeks . . . RHP Hisashi Iwakuma played catch Thursday as he tries to make his way back from a right lat strain that landed him on the 15-day disabled list April 24. It was his third consecutive day throwing, according to 710 ESPN, after he had a setback during the last homestand when he developed inflammation in his throwing shoulder. “Obviously, he’s getting to the point where he feels good enough to get on the mound,” McClendon said. “I’ll be surprised (if he returns to the mound) in the next seven or eight days.”