SEATTLE – Mariners left-handed starter Joe Saunders always used to say he pitches better on the road than at home.
No one believed “Safeco Joe” back in April and May, but he’s looked better on the road of late and then the second inning Tuesday night likely shattered any home illusions for the time being. Saunders allowed three home runs, a double and a single that inning before being pulled on his way to a 9-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Starling Marte hit one of his two home runs that inning, to go along with a triple in the first. The big blow was a three-run homer that frame by Brandon Inge while Russell Martin also went deep to chase Saunders just 12/3 innings in.
The Mariners were down 6-0 at that point, with Saunders having given up more runs in that span than he had his prior five starts combined. A crowd of 21,074 at Safeco Field didn’t have much to cheer for after that, with Pirates starter Jeff Locke holding the Mariners to just four hits over seven innings.
The Pirates hit five home runs total, with Gaby Sanchez capping the long ball parade in the ninth with a solo homer off Carter Capps.
Kyle Seager hit a solo homer off Locke in the sixth inning while Carlos Triunfel accounted for Seattle’s only prior run with a single in the second. But the Mariners never recovered after the early flurry against Saunders.
Saunders had given up just five earned runs his last five outings combined. Three of those had come on the road, where he allowed just a run in each game.
Blake Beavan worked through some innings without any earned runs, while Tom Wilhelmsen pitched a scoreless seventh frame. The Pirates scored a run in the sixth when Seager threw a ball over first baseman Justin Smoak’s head, allowing a runner to trot home from third on the error.
Marte later added his second home run of the night in the eighth with a towering shot off Capps.
The Mariners saw their brief, two-game win streak halted and again fell 10 games under .500.
They entered the night knowing Franklin Gutierrez was back on the disabled list and forced to play an aging outfield consisting of Raul Ibanez, 41, in left, Endy Chavez, 35, in center and Jason Bay, 34, in right field.
Ibanez had a single and also reached on a walk, but Chavez could not generate any offense from the top of the order.
The Pirates entered 16 games over .500 and giving every indication that they could be for real this season. Pittsburgh spent a good part of 2012 in contention before collapsing in the second half.
But with some solid pitching and talented young position players, the Pirates are making believers out of people after 20 years in baseball’s wilderness.
Leadoff man Marte showed some of that talent right off the bat, drilling an 0-2 pitch by Saunders into the right-field corner in the first inning. Marte turned on the jets and made it safely into third base with a triple despite two strong throws back in that nearly nabbed him.
From there, he scored on an ensuing ground out and the Mariners were never in the game again.
Locke improved to 7-1 with a 2.06 earned-run average.
Mariners place Gutierrez on DL; recall Ackley
Oft-injured Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring Tuesday, two days after coming off the 60-day DL for the same thing.
Dustin Ackley was called up from Triple-A Tacoma as Gutierrez’s replacement.
The 30-year-old Gutierrez has played in just 18 games this season, hitting .267 with four doubles, five home runs and 11 RBIs. He had been on the disabled list from April 23-June 21. He came off Saturday and hit a home run in his first at-bat.
Ackley, the second pick in the 2009 draft, was sent to Tacoma on May 26. He hit .365 with eight doubles, two home runs and 14 RBIs in 25 games there. He’s been a second baseman most of his major league career, but also played the outfield at Tacoma.