By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
SEATTLE: The Seattle Mariners pushed their season-high winning streak to seven games and the Indians continued to stumble out of the gate in the second half, as Seattle took the first game of this series at picturesque Safeco Field 2-1 on Monday.
Coming off a three-game weekend sweep of the Houston Astros, the Mariners continued their success against the Indians in a game in which all three runs came via solo home runs.
Nick Swisher scored the Tribe’s only run in his first at-bat as the Indians new No. 2-hole hitter. After working a 3-2 count against Mariners starter Aaron Harang, he launched a home run to left field to give the Indians the early lead.
“It was nice to be able to get back on track, but it’s frustrating to not be able to score runs,” Swisher said.
The Indians have lost three of its first four games since taking a promising five-game winning streak into last week’s All-Star Break.
“[Starting pitcher] Ubaldo [Jimenez] did a great job, the bullpen comes in and does a great job,” Swisher said. “For a team that’s been hot as a fire cracker, for us to hold them to two runs, we’ve gotta be able to score more runs than that to pick up that win.”
In Swisher’s old clean up spot, Asdrubal Cabrera was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat, then went on to go 0-for-3 as Harang got better the longer he went.
“He just basically pitched,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of the veteran Harang, who improved to 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA on the season. “He went up, he went down, he went in and out enough. He just kept us from doing a whole heck of a lot. It started out real promising when Swish takes that beautiful swing, but that’s really all we had.”
As the game quickly shaped up to be a pitcher’s duel, both starters managed to work their way out of jams in the third inning before the Mariners began to rally from behind in the fourth.
The Indians had runners on first and third with just one out in the top of the inning via back-to-back singles by Michael Bourn and Swisher, but Harang escaped after striking out the next two hitters he faced in Jason Kipnis and Cabrera.
In the bottom of the inning, Mariners rookie catcher Mike Zunino led off with a double into the left-field corner. Then with two out, Jimenez walked Nick Franklin to put men at the corners. Seattle’s slugging left fielder Rual Ibanez smashed a liner up the first-base line, but a perfectly-timed diving catch by Swisher ended the threat.
This time around for the up-and-down Jimenez (7-5, 4.49 ERA), it wasn’t base runners that did him in (although he had his fair share with five hits and four walks). Instead, it was the long ball that got the right-hander in trouble in the fourth and fifth innings.
Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales sent Jimenez’s 2-2 offering into the right-field stands to tie the score at 1-1 in the fourth.
“It was a mistake,” Jimenez said. “It was a split finger that was supposed to go down and away. It just slipped out of my finger and I left it up.”
The homer marked just the first given up by Indians’ pitchers in 88 innings. However, it followed a disturbing trend in that it was the 11th of Jimenez’s 15 home runs this season that he has allowed to a left-handed batter.
Yet, if there’s any solace to take in allowing the home runs, consider that 12 of them have been solo shots.
“The thing is, if you’re gonna give up home runs, you want to do it without anybody on base so it doesn’t hurt that much,” he said.
Solo or not, the two homers hurt just enough Monday.
Proving Morales’ streak-busting home run wasn’t an aberration, the Mariners pulled off the feat again in the following inning when Zunino lauched an 0-2 Jimenez pitch into the left-field stands for another lead off homer that held up to become the eventual game winner.
“I was trying to go away to set him up with a fastball,” Jimenez said. “I tried to throw a fastball away, but it came back and was right up the middle. Mistake.”
Indians rookie right-hander C.C. Lee took over for Jimenez with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, looking to keep his team trailing by just a run. With Zunino up, it was a perfect time to bring in a different look. In his first time facing Jimenez, Zunino had hit Jimenez hard for a line driuve double and line drive homer — both to left.
Lee quickly got Zunino to ground out to get out the frame, but it was the only batter he faced, as left-hander Rich Hill came out to start the seventh.
The one-batter outing appeared to be Lee’s final outing in the majors for now, as he cleaned out his locker and packed up to head back to the minors with starting pitcher Zach McAllister expected to be activated today to start the second game of the series.
While Hill was tossing his warm-up pitches, Francona said he thought something odd and he a trainer went out to the mound to check on Hill briefly before retutning to the dugout.
“We thought we saw something, but he was fine,” Francona said. “It doesn’t hurt to check, though.”
With Jimenez out of the game, Harang began to settle and became more efficient. He needed only 11 pitches to retire the next six consecutive batters he faced in the sixth and seventh innings.
“He was keeping us off balance,” Bourn said. “He knows how to pitch, he’s been pitching for awhile, and he man-handled us today basically.”
Hill and Bryan Shaw each gave the Indians an inning of scoreless relief late to keep the Mariners advantage at a run. But the Tribe batsmen couldn’t scratch a run across against Mariners relievers Charlie Furbush and closer Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth and ninth innings, despite having runners on base against each.
Furbush hit Bourn with a pitch to start the eighth, but the speedster was quickly erased on an easy pickoff by the left-handed pitcher.
In the ninth inning, Tribe left fielder Michael Brantley doubled with one out and veteran slugger Jason Giambi walked with two outs, but Wilhelmsen retired Lonnie Chisenhall on a flyout to right field to end the game and notch his 22nd save of the season.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.