And on the eighth day, the Mariners lost yet again.
Erasmo Ramirez gave up a pair of home runs on 0-2 counts, a move made infamous by former teammate Hector Noesi. But Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Astros — the Mariners’ eighth straight — was also a failure of the team’s 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 — Mariners hitters helped 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 an Astros debut. The record had been held by Clemens, who struck out nine against the Giants on April 7, 2004. McHugh is also the first Astros pitcher to strike out 12 batters and not walk anyone or allow any runs since Randy Johnson in 1998.
“He was a little different than the scouting report we got, he was throwing 93-94,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He had a pretty good cut fastball and command. He pitched exceptionally well tonight.”
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 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.
“We’ve got to have better at-bats as a team as a whole,” said M’s first baseman Justin Smoak. “He was in and out with a little cutter and a change-up and a curveball. His fastball away was running a little. But it was nothing we haven’t seen before.”
It wasn’t until he left that the Mariners finally mustered some offense.
After McHugh struck out Robinson Cano for the second out of the seventh inning, Astros manager Bo Porter lifted him in favor of lefty Raul Valdes. The move didn’t work so well as Valdes walked Kyle Seager and then served up a two-run homer to Smoak, who hammered a 2-2 curveball 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. Seattle has struck out 14 times in two straight games.
“It’s still early and we all know that,” Smoak said. “But at the same time, it’s time for all of us to make a little bit of an adjustment.”
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 was 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 the ball into the upper deck in left field to push the lead to 3-0.
It looked like it would be another short start for the diminutive right-hander. But Ramirez 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. Ramirez didn’t have an exact description for the change.
“It’s something I have to work on,” he said. “I have to try and throw better pitches in that situation. I tried to use every pitch I’ve got.”
But McClendon has been unhappy with Ramirez for the last handful of starts. If there had been a viable option in Class AAA Tacoma, Ramirez would’ve likely traded place with him. But McClendon wouldn’t rule it out. General manager Jack Zduriencik was waiting in his office.
“That’s something that Jack and I will sit down and talk about,” McClendon said. “The fact is this club is struggling and you need to go out and throw strikes and put up zeroes. “
Relievers Dominic Leone and Danny Farquhar each allowed costly runs to make any sort of comeback that much more difficult.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish