Punchless Mariner fall to 8-14

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HOUSTON -- There were some much harder hit balls by the Mariners in this latest defeat, though the knowledge of just who they're playing won't make it any easier to swallow.

Several teams have hit balls hard against the Houston Astros this season, yet the Mariners are the only one that keeps losing more often than they win against the American League's bottom feeder. Tuesday's 3-2 defeat was tough to take for several reasons, including the fact the Mariners outhit their opponents while logging 15 strikeouts against them.

But in the end, a team that has taken on a very different on-field look from the one that left spring training once again could not find a way to get it done when it mattered.

"We had guys on and hit balls hard, just things didn't go our way," said Justin Smoak, who had a double, a single and a 400-foot fly ball to center field that was caught at the warning track.

But the Mariners had precious few hits after the fifth inning, other than a Kendrys Morales solo homer to left-center in the eighth that cut Houston's lead to one run.

Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma managed to strike out 11 batters in five innings despite saying he lacked his best stuff, but a third-inning homer by Marwin Gonzalez put the Astros up to stay.

Houston then added a third run that same inning when Iwakuma walked Carlos Pena intentionally to load the bases with two out, only to hit ensuing batter Justin Maxwell on the hand with a pitch to make it a 3-1 game. The Mariners went down in order rather meekly in the ninth.

As the days pass without Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez atop the batting order, the options for the Mariners become fewer.

This is a much slower team all-around than the one than left spring training, and the near-disintegration of Brendan Ryan in the No. 9 spot has eliminated much of the hoped-for speed game. The Mariners pinch-hit for Ryan with Robert Andino in the seventh, only to see the latter take a called strikeout.

Then, when Andino was due up again in the ninth, there were no natural shortstop options to replace him in the field had the Mariners used Jason Bay or Carlos Peguero as a pinch-hitter.