SEATTLE -- And on the eighth day, the Mariners lost yet again.
Sure, Erasmo Ramirez gave up a pair of home runs on 0-2 counts -- a move made infamous by former teammate Hector Noesi -- but Tuesday night's 5-2 loss to the Astros, the Mariners' eighth straight, fell on their offense or lack thereof.
On a frigid Tuesday night typical of Safeco Field in the spring and with a small announced crowd of 10,466 -- also becoming more typical -- watching and shivering, Mariners hitters made right-hander Collin McHugh look like Roger Clemens.
The 26-year-old right-hander, who was recalled from Class AAA Oklahoma City to replace an injured Scott Feldman, was outstanding in his Astros' debut, pitching 61/3 shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out 12 hitters.
The 12 strikeouts were the most by any pitcher in their Astros debut. The previous record was held by Roger Clemens, who struck out nine in his debut against the Giants on April 7, 2004.
There was nothing about McHugh's background that suggested such a showing. He spent most of the 2013 season in the minor leagues. Coming into the game, he'd made 15 major-league appearances in his career (eight starts) and was 0-8 with an 8.94 earned run average. The Mariners wish they could have seen that version of McHugh, not the guy who was throwing his low-90s fastball on the outside corner with precision.
McHugh struck out the side in the first and third innings and was hit hard only a couple of times.
It wasn't until he left that the Mariners finally mustered some offense.
After striking out Robinson Cano for the second out of the seventh inning, Astros manager Bo Porter lifted McHugh in favor of lefty Raul Valdes. The move didn't work so well. Valdes walked Kyle Seager and then served up a two-run homer to Justin Smoak, who hammered a 2-2 curve--ball deep into the left-field stands.
But that was it for Seattle, which has scored two runs or fewer in seven of its last 10 games.
Ramirez was shaky in his start. He issued a one-out walk and then left a pitch up in the zone on an 0-2 count to Jason Castro, which he hit over the wall in left field.
In the second inning, Ramirez left an 0-2 fastball over the middle of the plate and Chris Carter crushed into the upper deck in left field to push the lead to 3-0.
It looked as though it would be another short start for the diminutive right-hander. But he rallied and retired 14 of the last 17 batters he faced after the homer.
He gave the Mariners six innings and allowed three runs on three hits with three walks and eight strikeouts.
Relievers Dominic Leone and Danny Farquhar each allowed costly runs to make any sort of comeback that much more difficult.
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