SEATTLE -- It was bound to happen. The run of stellar starts for Hisashi Iwakuma was bound to come an end at some point. He simply couldn't keep up that kind of production.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, the day Iwakuma gave them an average start, they were facing a pitcher who is in the midst of his own run of dominance.
In a duel of top American League West pitchers on Sunday at Safeco Field, Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel won the battle and his team won the game, rolling to a 4-1 win.
Never heard of Keuchel? Well, it's time to get familiar with him. The 26-year-old lefty has been one of the better pitchers in the American League this season.
Keuchel tossed his second complete game of the season to win his fourth straight start. He was a seventh-round selection in the 2009 draft out of the University of Arkansas. Keuchel was never considered a top prospect. Last year in 22 starts and nine relief appearances, he posted a 6-10 record with a 5.15 ERA.
In nine starts, he's now 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA and eight quality starts. In his last three starts, Keuchel has allowed four earned runs in his last 341/3 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts.
The Mariners' lone run came in the second inning. Mike Zunino led off with a sharp single to left and Michael Saunders followed with line-drive single to right. With runners on first and second, Cole Gillespie uncorked a swinging bunt near the third base line. Keuchel hustled off the mound and tried to throw Gillespie out at first. But his throw was wide of the bag and Marc Krauss couldn't field it. The throwing error allowed Zunino to score.
But that was it.
After the Gillespie hit, Keuchel retired 14 straight batters. Kyle Seager finally broke the streak in the seventh inning with a single to right. But he was quickly erased when Mike Zunino grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
While Keuchel was cruising, Iwakuma was battling. The Mariners' starter didn't have quite the crispness on his pitches as in his past outings. He gave up hits in five of his seven innings pitched. A timely double play helped him out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the second inning. In the sixth inning, Iwakuma gave up a one-out bloop single to Jose Altuve and then hung a slider on a 1-2 count to George Spring, who blasted it into the visiting bullpen. It was the third home run in two games and seventh of the season for the Astros' top prospect in 34 games.
Down 2-1, there might have been some hope for the Mariners against Keuchel. But Iwakuma gave up a two-run homer to Marc Krauss in the seventh inning. A 4-1 deficit against Keuchel might as well have been 40-1.
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