ARLINGTON, Texas — For the first time in the 2014 season, the Mariners have fallen below .500.
With a third consecutive listless start from Erasmo Ramirez and the inability to score any runs late in the game, a six-run third inning was wasted in an 8-6 defeat against the Texas Rangers on Thursday afternoon at Globe Life Park.
But the Mariners aren’t panicking about the 7-8 record. It’s just 15 games into the season with so much baseball remaining. Of course, optimism is a little more difficult for a fan base that’s endured what it has the past few seasons.
The 6-3 start has been doused by a stretch where Seattle has lost five of its past six, including three of four in the series to Texas.
“This series was tough for us,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.
After taking the opening game, the Mariners dropped the next three in a variety of ways. But McClendon found some positives in his team. Less than 24 hours after squandering Felix Hernandez’s gem in a gut-punch, walkoff defeat, the Mariners found themselves down 4-0 Thursday after two innings of poor pitching from Ramirez.
But they didn’t just roll over on a getaway day and start preparing for the next series.
Instead, Seattle came alive for six runs in the third inning, knocking Rangers starter Tanner Scheppers from the game.
Abraham Almonte led off with a single and Brad Miller drew a walk to start the inning. Robinson Cano picked a good time to hit his first homer of the season, sending a 0-1 change-up over the wall in right field.
“It feels good not because it was my first homer, but at least I hit the ball in the air,” Cano said. “The last four games if you saw my swing I was hitting a lot of ground balls. Hopefully, it will start going now.”
After he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract in the offseason, there are plenty of expectations for Cano. But he wasn’t feeling any added pressure to hit that first home run.
“To be honest, I don’t really worry about that,” he said. “There’s five months left in the season. Most of the good hitters or guys who hit a lot of homers get them all in two months out of six. But I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t really care if it goes out. I want to have quality at-bats. You don’t waste your swings, chasing pitches, hitting weak ground balls, and pulling balls.”
The Rangers kept the 4-3 lead for few minutes longer until Corey Hart launched a 3-2 fastball. The towering fly ball landed in the left-field seats. It was his team-high fourth homer of the season.
Scheppers made it through three more hitters before Justin Smoak ended his outing with a hard single to right field.
Rangers manager Ron Washington called on former Mariner Hector Noesi to stop the bleeding. Noesi, as he often did with Seattle, turned the cut into a hemorrhage. Dustin Ackley laced a double to the gap, scoring two runs and giving the Mariners a 6-4 lead.
“It really says a lot about our team after the tough loss last night and getting down early,” McClendon said. “It could have really got ugly, but to bounce back they showed me something. I was extremely proud of them. I think it’s a sign of good things to come.”
But that lead didn’t last.
Given new life, Ramirez did nothing with it. He gave up a double to Kevin Kouzmanoff to start the fourth and was immediately pulled for reliever Dominic Leone, who gave up a cheap double to Mitch Moreland to score Kouzmanoff and later allowed a run to score on a fielder’s choice to tie the game at 6-6.
Ramirez pitched just two innings, the shortest outing by a Mariners’ starter this season. He gave up five runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
After his outstanding first start of the season, Ramirez has failed to go more than five innings in his past three, pitching a total of 11 innings and giving up 15 earned runs on 18 hits for a 12.27 ERA.
“I’m not sure,” McClendon said of Ramirez’s issues. “I can’t put my finger on it. Obviously, it was very disappointing. I thought he showed signs of coming out of it, and then he’d just revert back to lack of command with quality pitches. It’s very concerning. It’s something we are going to have to continue to try to work through.”
The Mariners have no choice. Their starting pitching depth is so thin that Ramirez has to stay in the rotation even if he seems to be pitching his way out of it.
“The problem was when I was 1-2 or 0-2, I didn’t execute the pitches,” Ramirez said. “Or else they’d foul it back and I didn’t execute the next pitch and they made me pay.”
The Rangers broke the 6-6 tie in the fifth inning. Reliever Joe Beimel issued a leadoff walk, which later came around to score and another run scored on a wild pitch.
Down 8-6, the Mariners did nothing against Texas relievers Pedro Figueroa, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria in the final five innings.
“It’s tough to score six and get the hits we had and not win,” Hart said. “But it was tough loss last night, but to battle back and the lead shows we definitely have fight in this team. We are trying to right through some adversity. It would have been nice to win, but we’ll go tomorrow and with heads high.”