SEATTLE — It has taken more than a decade for the Seattle Mariners to put together the middle-lineup strength that is has shown this early season.
Now, after a 7-5 loss to Houston Monday and a 5-8 start, the concern that shifted.
"When you don't pitch well, that's a reason to be concerned," Manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We've got to get it straightened out. We have much better than what we've shown to this point. We score five runs in a game we should win that ball game."
Starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who had allowed nine runs in 11 innings in his first two starts, worked 5 1-3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out three and walked no one. The Mariners have had just two wins by a starter this season, both by Felix Hernandez.
Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena hit a pair of solo home runs, including a go-ahead eighth-inning shot, to give the Astros the victory.
Valbuena, who opened the first with a blast off Iwakuma, hit his on 1-1 pitch from Danny Farquhar (0-1). It was the first home run yielded by a Mariners reliever this season.
"I feel bad because the team is scoring a lot of runs and I'm not doing my job," Iwakuma said. "That's the first thing I need to is win for myself as well as the team."
Cruz, the AL Player of the Week, Cano and Seager were a combined 6-of-12 with four doubles, three RBI and four runs scored.
Over the last seven games, they have combined to hit .452 with eight doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBI.
"Cruz has been doing it from the get-go so thankfully me and Robbie are starting to get going," Seager said. "The impact of Cruz is huge. You can't pitch around Robbie and you have to be real careful with him."
Luke Gregerson entered the ninth knowing he had to face those three to earn the save and victory.
"The lineup card's there. The games going on, it's on the Jumbotron. It's hard to miss it," Gregerson said.
He induced Cano to hit back to him. Cruz flied out to right. Seager walked but Gregerson struck out Seth Smith to pick up his third save in three opportunities.
Houston is now 15-7 at Safeco Field.
Mariners: SS Chris Taylor (broken right wrist) appears fully recovered and is playing for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers.
Astros: RHP Josh Fields (strained right groin), who began the season on the DL, was expected to pitch two innings Monday for Triple-A Fresno. ... LHP Brett Oberholzer (left index finger blister) was expected to throw batting practice Monday at extended spring in Kissimmee.
Mariners: RHP Taijuan Walker (0-2, 17.18) made some progress from his first start to his second. In his season opener, he allowed nine runs in 3 1-3 innings then cut it back to five runs in four innings. All three of his career victories have come against Houston, 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA.
Astros: RHP Colin McHugh (2-0, 1.54) likes Safeco Field: 2-0 with a 0.61 ERA (one run in 14 2-3 innings) with 16 strikeouts in his two career starts. In his last start at Safeco on Sept. 9, he allowed one hit in eight innings. He appears unaffected by a tender finger that limited in his opening start.
PLAYER OF THE MONTH?
Cruz had six home runs, 10 RBIs and hit .500 for the week, good enough to be named AL Player of the Week, April 13-19. "Probably player of the month. I think it would be hard pressed to beat that," Manager Lloyd McClendon said. It was Cruz's fourth career player of the week honor. Cruz, who started the season at 1 for 15, said what turned him was "just a feeling. One swing can change whatever you're feeling at the plate."
REST FOR CARTER
Astros 1B Chris Carter, mired in a 3-for-40 slump, did not start. He hit 37 home runs with 88 RBIs last season but does not have an extra-base hit or a RBI this season, with 17 strikeouts. "It takes 30 to 40 at-bats to get to a bad number and it's going to take 30 to 40 to get back out of it," Hinch said. "It's going to take more than one day for him to feel great about it." Carter entered the game in the sixth as a pinch hitter and struck out. He fanned again in the ninth.