Happ still in search of elusive victory

Mariners starter has not notched a win since May 8

Happ still in search of elusive victory

SEATTLE -- The Mariners have lost five of J.A. Happ's last seven starts, but in many instances, as was the case in Seattle's 6-2 loss to Houston on Sunday, the team's struggles haven't had much to do with Happ.

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The 32-year-old lefty lasted five innings Sunday, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits, striking out four and walking two. At least one Astros hitter reached base in all five of Happ's innings, but for the most part, he escaped with minimal damage.

Happ's effort was enough, said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, to keep his team in the ballgame and at least give Seattle a chance to close out its first-ever three-game sweep at home over the Astros.

"I felt fine, I felt strong. I thought I had good stuff. I'm trying not to read too much into it," Happ said of his performance Sunday. "A few things here or there and it's a different ballgame and I'm probably in there a little longer."

The defense saved Happ early on in the ballgame, converting double plays to end both the first and second innings. In the end, however, it was that same defense that cut Happ's afternoon short.

In the fifth inning, Happ allowed back-to-back singles to catcher Jason Castro and right fielder George Springer, but struck out shortstop Carlos Correa to come within an out of getting out of the jam.

After working a full count to designated hitter Evan Gattis, Happ induced what looked like an inning-ending ground ball to Brad Miller at short. The hard-hit grounder skipped through Miller's legs, however, allowing Castro to score and give the Astros a 3-1 lead. Houston did not score again off Happ, but the lefty needed 10 more pitches to get out of the inning, bringing him to 101 for the afternoon.

Castro scores on error

"He really gave us a great opportunity to win a ballgame," McClendon said. "The error was unfortunate. It extended his inning and got his pitch count up where he had to come out in the fifth inning."

Happ (3-4, 3.78 ERA) has lasted five or more innings in five of his last six starts and has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of those five starts.

On Sunday, Happ improved throughout, keeping the Astros off the board in the third and fourth innings after allowing a run and two hits in both the first and second inning. He showed better velocity near the end of his start, reaching 95 mph four times while facing Gattis in the fifth.

A notch in the win column has eluded Happ since May 8, but the lefty said he feels comfortable and is working toward better start-to-finish consistency and velocity when he takes the mound every fifth day.

"Occasionally as I go deeper and I get a little more comfortable and whatnot, I'm able to reach back for a little bit more, but we're trying to bring that out from the get-go if we can," Happ said.

Andrew Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.