Hisashi Iwakuma can’t hold the lead in another dismal performance

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The offense wasn’t the problem for the Mariners, which seems odd considering all the anemic, run-scoring efforts at Safeco Field the past few seasons.

Monday night, against a Houston pitching staff they should score runs against, the Mariners did just that, putting up five runs in the first five innings.

It should have been more than enough run support for a victory and erase any need for late-inning heroics. But it wasn’t.

Another uneven start from Hisashi Iwakuma and less-than-stellar pitching after him put the Mariners in another come-from-behind situation late in the game. And all the rally magic from the improbable victory Sunday against the Rangers seemed to have been used up. Instead, Seattle lost 7-5 in front of a sparse crowd of 15,129.

“When you score five runs in a game, you should win that ballgame,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said.

Yes, it’s early — 13 games into the season. But this early trend of starting pitchers failing to put up quality starts is a growing concern for Seattle. The Mariners have gotten just three starts of seven innings — two by Felix Hernandez and the other from J.A. Happ. It’s troubling to McClendon.

“Obviously, when you don’t pitch well that’s a reason to be concerned,” McClendon said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. We’ve got to get it straightened out, because we are much better than we’ve shown to this point.”

Iwakuma has looked little like the high-level pitcher he was the past two seasons. He has failed to get out of the sixth inning his two starts and has 6.61 ERA. He made it just 51/3 innings Monday, giving up four runs on five hits with three strikeouts. Four of the five hits were for extra bases, including two homers.

“He has not been sharp,” McClendon said. “The ball was up again tonight. We’ve got to figure out a way to get him down in the zone. Fastball command has just not been good as of late.”

Asked what isn’t working, Iwakuma didn’t really offer any answers.

“I felt like my stuff was good, but it was just some pitches that were up in the zone that they didn’t miss,” he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I’m feeling better and better each start. Last time they hit my slider pretty well and I wanted to work on that. But my two-seamer was too high. I have to work on that.”

Seattle hitters — particularly the heart of the order with the Nos. 3, 4, 5 hitters — did their job. The trio of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager accounted for six hits, four runs scored and three runs batted in. Seattle had 10 hits in the game and drew four walks. Sure, they stranded nine runners and left some runs on the field, but five runs should have been enough.

The offense answered every deficit from Iwakuma and even gave him a lead once, but he couldn’t hold it.

Down 1-0 after Luis Valbuena’s solo homer off Iwakuma in the first inning, Seattle bounced back when Brad Miller drove in Seth Smith on a single up the middle to tie it at 1-1.

Down 2-1 after a leadoff double and a sacrifice fly in the third, Seattle responded with a one-out double from Cano. He later scored on Cruz’s infield single.

Down 3-2 in the fifth inning after a solo homer from Colby Rasmus on a grooved fastball from Iwakuma that was belt-high and split the plate, the Mariners answered with three runs in the bottom of the fifth on a run-scoring double from Cruz, a run-scoring single from Seager and a sacrifice fly from Mike Zunino to make it 5-3.

But the lead wouldn’t stand for Seattle. It wasn’t all on Iwakuma in the top of the sixth inning. The Astros’ George Springer ripped a one-out double to the gap. McClendon had seen enough of Iwakuma and went to his bullpen.

“He wasn’t pitching good,” McClendon said.

Right-hander Yoervis Medina appeared to get the second out of the inning, inducing a ground ball to third base. But Seager misplayed the backhand play and the ball rolled into the corner. The error allowed Springer to score from second. Jed Lowrie followed with a single to right field to score Evan Gattis and tie the score at 5-5.

“I feel bad because the team is scoring a lot of runs and I’m not doing the job,” Iwakuma said.

The Astros took the lead for good in the eighth inning against reliever Danny Farquhar, who was saddled with the defeat.

Valbuena, who originally came up in the Mariners’ organization as non-drafted signee out of Venezuela and was traded to the Indians as part of the Franklin Gutierrez three-team deal in 2008, homered for the second time in the game. The veteran infielder slammed a solo shot into the right-field seats to give the Astros the lead.

“I tried to backdoor the cutter there and left it over the middle and he hit it over the fence,” Farquhar said.

Houston tacked on a big insurance run when Lowrie golfed a low fastball up the middle for a run-scoring single to make it 7-5.

“It was a changeup down and away and he went down and got it,” Farquhar said. “I thought I threw the ball well tonight minus that homer.”

Houston closer Luke Gregerson worked a scoreless ninth inning to pick up his third save of the season.