- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - Erasmo Ramirez couldn’t come up with the big pitch when he needed it.

Twice in the early innings Tuesday night he had an 0-2 count on a batter before giving up a home run.

Those pitches were enough to do in the Seattle Mariners in a 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros, extending Seattle’s losing streak to eight games.

Ramirez (1-3) didn’t pitch badly overall, striking out eight over six innings and only allowing three hits. Two of those, however, were the home runs that gave the Astros a 3-0 lead after two innings.

“He did not make quality strikes when he needed to,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Particularly ahead in the count two strikes, and it cost him tonight.”

Three batters into the game, Houston’s Jason Castro just cleared the left field wall for a two-run homer, his fourth. Chris Carter followed in the second inning with a shot to left that landed in the second deck for his first homer of the year.

“That is something I have to work on,” Ramirez said. “Try to make a better pitch in that situation, because it was hard to get to 0-2.”

Seattle’s Dustin Ackley tried to counter with his own deep ball to left in the bottom of the second, but Matt Dominguez made a leaping catch at the wall to end the inning.

The Mariners‘ offense did little to help Ramirez out. Houston starter Collin McHugh, making his season debut after being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City, struck out a career-high 12 and didn’t walk a batter, giving up three hits in 6 2-3 shutout innings for his first win in 10 career starts.

“He was a little different than the scouting report we got. He was 94 (miles an hour) with a pretty good cut slider,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He threw exceptionally well tonight.”

The Mariners only got one man to second against McHugh. Once he left with two outs in the seventh inning, Justin Smoak provided Seattle’s only offense of the day with a two-run homer off reliever Raul Valdes.

That was a rare bright spot for the Mariners, who struck out 14 times, equaling their season high set Monday.

“We just have to do better as a whole, show what we are capable of doing,” Smoak said.

Houston’s Matt Dominguez homered in the top of the seventh against Seattle reliever Dominic Leone. The Astros got an insurance run in the eighth off Danny Farquar. The Astros loaded the bases with three singles and then Carter singled to drive in the run.

Josh Fields pitched the ninth for his second save. The Astros have won six straight against the Mariners.

Ramirez said he felt confident in his pitches early on, despite the two mistakes. He got stronger as the game went on, retiring the last nine batters he faced.

“I tried to use every pitch I got and whatever control, just throw it,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez won his first start of the season. In the four starts since, Ramirez has three losses and a no-decision when he gave up five runs and didn’t make it out of the third inning.

“The fact is, when the club is struggling you have to go out and throw strikes and put up zeros, and he didn’t do that early,” McClendon said.

NOTES: The crowd of 10,466 was the fifth-lowest in Safeco Field history. Six of the seven lowest crowds at Safeco have been matchups with the Astros, all coming since the start of last season. … Seattle RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (finger) was scheduled to pitch in a rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Tacoma, but instead threw a simulated game at Safeco Field on Tuesday afternoon due to weather concerns. McClendon said the outing went well, and Iwakuma will have a rehab outing with Tacoma on Sunday. … Astros RHP Lucas Harrell, designated for assignment on April 16, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

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