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It was bound to happen. The run of stellar starts for Hisashi Iwakuma was going to come to an end. He simply couldn’t keep up that kind of production.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, on the day Iwakuma gave them an average-to-fair start, they were facing a pitcher who was in the middle of his own run of dominance.

In a duel between two of the top American League West pitchers, Houston ace Dallas Keuchel was better, leading the Astros to a 4-1 win on Sunday at Safeco Field.

The Mariners split the four-game series and fell to 24-25.

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Never heard of Keuchel? Well, it might be 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, while winning his fourth straight start. He gave up one unearned run on four hits with six strikeouts and no walks.

“I’ll tell you what, he’s definitely in a groove right now and it’s a joy to watch,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “It’s good just to see the pitch-ability game after game and how he’s making adjustments.”

Keuchel was a seventh-round selection in the 2009 draft out of Arkansas and was never considered a top prospect. Last year in 22 starts and nine relief appearances, he was 6-10 with a 5.15 earned-run average.

This season has been different.

In 10 starts, he’s 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA and eight quality starts. In his last four starts, Keuchel has allowed four earned runs in 341
3 innings for a 1.05 ERA with 28 strikeouts and one walk.

But none of that impressed Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon, who felt his team shouldn’t have been overwhelmed by what they saw from Keuchel.

“I saw average stuff today,” McClendon said. “We didn’t swing the bats very good. At some point, you gotta stop giving credit to average pitchers. That becomes a broken record. At some point, you have to start swinging the bats.”

Was it the approach?

“It had nothing to do with the approach; we had four hits,” he said. “You don’t win games with four hits and one run.”

The Mariners’ run and three of those hits came in the second inning. Mike Zunino led off with a sharp single to left and Michael Saunders followed with a 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.

“The second inning was the only inning where there was a little bit of stress, and from there on, he was pretty much on cruise and in control of the game,” Porter said.

After the Gillespie single, Keuchel retired 14 straight. Kyle Seager finally broke the streak in the seventh inning with a single. But he was erased when Zunino grounded into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play.

Keuchel retired 21 of his final 22 batters.

“The last couple of times I’ve seen him, he’s thrown the ball really well,” Zunino said. “You just have to tip your cap for keeping us off balance and keeping the ball down in the zone because that’s what his strength is and he did it.”

While Keuchel was cruising, Iwakuma was battling. The Mariners’ starter didn’t have quite the same command as in recent outings. He gave up hits in five of his seven innings.

In the sixth inning, Iwakuma surrendered a one-out bloop single to Jose Altuve and then hung a slider on a 1-2 count to George Springer, who blasted it into the visiting bullpen. It was his third home run in two games.

Down 2-1, there might have been hope for the Mariners against Keuchel. But Iwakuma gave up a two-run homer to Krauss in the seventh inning. A 4-1 deficit against Keuchel might as well have been 40-1 on this day.

“I thought I had good stuff today,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “It was just those two pitches I left up in the zone that they took advantage of and they scored four runs. Those were the only two mistakes I made today. Giving up those two runs late in the ballgame hurt the team.”

Iwakuma gave up four runs on nine hits with no walks and six strikeouts.

“His breaking stuff wasn’t as sharp today as it had been and they took advantage of it,” McClendon said.

Zunino didn’t fault his starting pitcher, knowing the offense was stymied.

“He had a couple of pitches that got away,” Zunino said. “He’s been so good, you can’t be upset with a couple mistakes.”

Singles only
The Mariners have failed to get an extra-base hit in six games:
Game Result Hits Ks
April 9 vs. Angels L, 2-0 1 9
April 13 vs. Oakland L, 3-0 3 11
April 15 at Texas L, 5-0 7 2
May 7 at Oakland L, 2-0 3 5
May 22 vs. Houston W, 3-1 6 8
May 25 vs. Houston L, 4-1 4 6
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