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Originally published May 24, 2013 at 10:29 PM | Page modified May 25, 2013 at 3:36 PM

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Mariners battered again

For the Mariners, having Joe Saunders on the mound at Safeco Field seemed like a promising slump-busting scenario. After all, the veteran...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Mariners vs. Rangers, 7:10 p.m., ROOT

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For the Mariners, having Joe Saunders on the mound at Safeco Field seemed like a promising slump-busting scenario. After all, the veteran lefty had never lost at the venue in 13 career starts.

But Safeco Joe was a no-go as the Rangers jumped on him for six runs — five of them via homers — in five innings. And the skidding Mariners saw their losing streak extended to seven games with a 9-5 loss, despite banging out 14 hits and scoring in each of the first three innings.

"When the team comes out and scores runs like that, you want to put zeroes on the board and get us right back in the dugout," Saunders said. "This one's on me. It's my fault.

"This game can be frustrating, to say the least, at times. You just have to keep your head up. We're a way better team than what the results have been. It's freakin' frustrating. I know I can do better, especially on the road this year. It's time for us to turn it around and throw some W's up there."

Before the game, manager Eric Wedge had lamented that "people have really short memories" when it comes to the growing angst over the Mariners struggles. He pointed out that a week earlier, after Seattle won a series against the Yankees in New York, "everyone was flying high."

But it's getting harder to put a happy face on the M's, who have been outscored 28-6 in their last three games. They dropped into sole possession of fourth place for the first time since April 27, falling out of a tie for third with the Angels.

Saunders' troubles was just the latest struggling effort by the back end of the Mariners' rotation, and the short outings are taking a toll on the bullpen. Texas broke it open with a three-run seventh off Danny Farquhar — who was making his Safeco debut — and Lucas Luetge.

"Our starters have been struggling the last week, and you see the results of it," Wedge said. "But we have to handle it. We have guys who need to step up here. We have a lot of guys offensively who look like they're heading in the right direction, so we're on the upswing there. I want to be more consistent with that."

Saunders' dominance at Safeco had been remarkable — a 9-0 career record with a 1.72 earned-run average overall, and 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA in four previous starts this year. But the magic began to fade in the second inning when the Rangers' Jeff Baker launched a two-run homer to right field. Saunders called it "in my opinion, my one bad pitch."

Saunders was victimized by an even bigger blow in the third — a three-run homer into the left-field corner by veteran Lance Berkman.

"Berkman kind of ambushed me on a cutter inside," Saunders said. "I knew he was going to be aggressive there. You tip your cap. He hit a good pitch, kept it fair. That seemed to be enough."

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The Mariners, meanwhile, had eight hits through the first three innings off Texas starter Justin Grimm before their offense fizzled. They were held scoreless on three hits over the next five innings before scoring two in the ninth.

The game featured an eventful major-league debut by catcher Jesus Sucre, called up from Tacoma to replace Jesus Montero and thrown right into the starting lineup. Sucre said before that game that when he was told on Thursday he was coming up, "I said, 'Oh, my God.' Those were my first words. It was great news."

Sucre hit into two double plays in his first three at-bats. The first one was bizarre. With two aboard, he grounded to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who fired to second for the force. Meanwhile, Grimm, racing over to cover, converged with Moreland. Replays showed that while Moreland was stretching for the relay, Grimm actually grabbed the return throw while he was well off the bag.

But first-place umpire Jeff Nelson called Sucre out, and Wedge lost the ensuing argument. Wedge said it appeared from the dugout that Moreland had caught the ball, and the manager was arguing he had pulled his foot. It wasn't until later, when the Mariners were able to see the replay, he realized Grimm caught the ball.

"It would have been a much bigger argument if I had known that at the time," he said.

Leading off the ninth, Sucre lined a solid single to right off reliever Joe Ortiz for his first big-league hit — and his first standing ovation from what remained of the crowd of 22,053.

"That was amazing," Sucre said. "The fans started yelling for me. I was feeling really excited about it."

He raced around to score on Ryan's second double of the game. That raised Ryan's average to .202, the first time he's been on the right side of the Mendoza line since April 13.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

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