Pitcher Taijuan Walker and the Mariners experienced firsthand how much better the Astros are in an 11-4 loss.
HOUSTON — As people are starting to figure out around baseball, and as Taijuan Walker and the Mariners experienced firsthand on Saturday night in a 11-4 loss, this doesn’t appear to be Houston Astros of the past few years.
You remember those Astros — mistake-prone in the field, walk-happy on the mound, contact-stricken at the plate, the team that lost 92 games last season, 111 games in 2013 and 107 in 2012?
Well, for the early part of the 2015 season, it seems like the Astros are here to play. They’ve now won nine straight games, and 13 of their past 14, to improve to 17-7.
Mariners @ Houston, 11:10 a.m., ROOT Sports
Even when the Astros were bad the past few seasons, the Mariners still managed to finish just 10-9 against them in 2014 and 2013. Reaching that 10-9 mark against the Astros this year seems unlikely, since Seattle fell to 1-5 against them.
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After sweeping the Rangers in a three-game series to start the road trip, the Mariners will turn to J.A. Happ to try to avoid a four-game sweep on Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
“It turned out to be a bad night for us in a lot of different ways,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It’s a tough loss, but it’s only one loss. So we move on and get ready for tomorrow.”
Coming into his start, Walker had handled Houston with relative ease in five career starts, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.67 earned-run average. But this version of the Astros knocked him around and out of the game in the fourth inning on a barrage of home runs that was a sign of things to come for Mariners pitchers.
“They are just hot right now and swinging the bats well and not missing the mistakes,” Walker said.
With the roof open and steady breeze pushing out to left and left-center field, the already hitter-friendly confines of Minute Maid Park turned into a band box.
Seattle took advantage of it early, giving Walker a 3-0 lead on three solo homers. Nelson Cruz led off the second inning with a solo homer to left field off Astros starter and Mariners nemesis Collin McHugh. With two outs in the inning, Logan Morrison slammed a ball over the wall in right-center. It was the second straight game Cruz and Morrison hit solo homers in the same inning. Mike Zunino made it back-to-back homers, driving a ball into the right-field seats.
But given a 3-0 lead, Walker couldn’t post a shutdown inning in the bottom of the second.
“I got three runs and I lost it,” he said.
An error by Brad Miller on an overthrow on Evan Gattis’ ground ball and a double by Colby Rasmus led to the issues. Gattis scored on a ground ball by Marwin Gonzalez and an infield single from Jake Marisnick led to another run.
“One thing I told my club, when you are playing a club this hot, you cannot give them extra outs,” McClendon said. “It seems like things just unraveled after the error at short. Taijuan probably threw another 12 to 14 extra pitches that inning and never really got it back together after that.”
Walker escaped the inning without further damage, but lost the lead an inning later. He issued a two-out walk to George Springer and then hung a breaking ball to Gattis on a 1-2 count. The lumberjack of a designated hitter yanked the mistake into the seats. Rasmus then followed with a solo homer to right-center to make it 5-3.
“To a guy like Gattis, you just can’t do that,” McClendon said.
Walker admitted the choice of a curveball was a mistake
“I left it up,” Walker said. “It probably should have been a fastball and try to blow it right by him.”
Walker started the fourth inning, but never made it out of it. He gave up back-to-back singles to Hank Conger and Jonathan Villar — the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters — to start the trouble. It earned a visit from McClendon. Whatever was said wasn’t registered or executed. Walker left a 1-1 fastball over the middle and diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve launched it for a deep homer to left-center to make it 8-3. That ended Walker’s outing and the Mariners’ chances.
Walker fell to 1-3 and his ERA rose to 8.74.
“I cautioned people before,” McClendon said. “Taijuan is a very talented young man and he’s going to make us all proud. But there are going to be growing pains, and right now we are hoping three out of every five starts are good. That’s just the way young pitchers are. You are going to have couple of bad ones in between.”
Reliever Yoervis Medina gave up a solo homer to Luis Valbuena, the first batter he faced. At 9-3, the only question remaining was the margin of defeat and how many home runs would be hit.
Cruz added to the total with another solo homer to left field, this one landing on the train tracks above the stands.
It was his 13th homer of the season and 10th solo homer. The 13 homers in 24 games ties a club record set by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997.
“I’ve been in a pretty nice groove the last few weeks,” he said.
Down 9-4, the Mariners could have trimmed a little more off the lead in the sixth inning.
But with Rickie Weeks on base, Jake Marisnick, made a brilliant over-his-shoulder catch in deep center field to rob Morrison of a double and the Mariners of a run.
In the seventh inning, Houston’s Conger hit the ninth home run of the game, a Minute Maid Park record.