ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For the longest time, the Seattle Mariners have waged a tremendous struggle to get hits.
Lately, the futile effort has been focused on getting clutch hits.
Whether that qualifies as progress is debatable, but the upshot is that the Mariners, buried by their failures with runners in scoring position, dropped their fourth straight on Tuesday, 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since Michael Saunders’ grand slam in Toronto on April 27, they have been in a huge funk in clutch situations as they continue to negate a great start to a road trip.
They were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position Tuesday and have now gone 0 for 30 in such situations since Saunders’ big hit. All of their runs since then have come on solo home runs, including one by Saunders on Tuesday.
Fernando Rodney ended it with a flourish, striking out the side in the ninth, including Mike Carp — in his first at-bat since hurting his shoulder March 28 — to end it.
Jesus Montero, in his first game as the Mariners’ semi-regular catcher in the wake of Miguel Olivo’s injury, went 4 for 4 to continue his torrid hitting while behind the plate. He is 13 for 24 (.542) when catching, with three homers and eight runs batted in. That compares to 12 for 61 (.197) with one homer and five RBI when serving as designated hitter.
But the Mariners couldn’t do anything to get him home, as they evened their record on the trip to 4-4 with two games to play against the Rays.
The Rays, meanwhile, made their scarce hits count. They had just three of them, none after the third inning, but still won to raise their record 16-8. The Mariners, who had nine hits, are three games under .500 (11-14) for the second time this season.
Seattle’s lone run came via a homer by Saunders, his fourth, to lead off the third inning against Tampa Bay’s touted rookie, Matt Moore, who earned his first win of the season.
Saunders, who had ill-advisedly bunted in a key ninth-inning situation on Monday, pounced on Moore’s first pitch and crushed it deep into the right-field bleachers.
Mariners starter Hector Noesi came into the game lugging a 8.83 earned-run average, and needing a solid outing to make his case for staying in the rotation. It didn’t start out well, as he gave up two runs in the first on two walks, a Matt Joyce triple, and a sacrifice fly.
Noesi gave up another in the third on Matt Joyce’s homer, and seemed on the verge of being knocked out. But he settled down to retire the next nine in a row before walking Carlos Pena and exiting the game. In all, Noesi gave up three hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out one.
The Mariners got Ichiro to second base with two outs in the first; had first and second with one out in the fourth; first and second with two outs in the fifth; a leadoff single in the sixth; and a two-out double in the eighth. They didn’t capitalize on any of them.