McCullers outduels Iwakuma; Giles notches 2nd save
By Brian McTaggart and Greg Johns
HOUSTON -- Brian McCann and Marwin Gonzalez both belted opposite-field homers, and Lance McCullers Jr. held the Mariners to five hits and one run in six innings in his first start since Aug. 2 to lead the Astros to a 2-1 win over Seattle on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros' first two hits against Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma were home runs -- an opposite-field shot by McCann in the third, and Gonzalez's blast to left to lead off the sixth. That allowed McCullers, who missed the final two months of last season with an elbow sprain, to pick up the win.
"It's looking good so far," Gonzalez said of the 2-0 Astros. "We have been playing good baseball. The pitchers are outstanding. Let's keep going."
Iwakuma held the Astros to four hits, two runs and three walks in six innings for his third consecutive quality start against the Astros. For the second game in a row, Astros closer Ken Giles worked the ninth to get the save.
The Mariners have totaled just 10 hits and one run in dropping their first two games to their American League West rivals.
"We're not stringing any good at-bats together," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "Their pitching has been very good, and we've chased some balls out of the strike zone and got away from controlling the zone a little bit. It happens. McCullers had very good stuff tonight, like he always does. But I thought Iwakuma threw the ball great. We've just got to tighten it up a little bit offensively."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Gonzalez for the Mar-Win: Gonzalez, the Astros' steady utility man, got the start at first base in the second game of the year in part because of his success against Iwakuma. He is 12-for-27 in his career against Iwakuma after sending an 85-mph splitter 359 feet over the wall in left field, according to Statcast™, to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth. He has 38 career homers (34 solo homers).
"I wasn't looking to hit a homer at all," Gonzalez said. "I was just trying to get good contact and put the ball in play and get on base for my teammates. ... It was a good moment. Lance kept us in the game. He threw a really good game, and the relievers were outstanding, too, like yesterday. That was the ballgame right there, with the pitchers."
Still searching for offense: Seattle was 13 innings into its season before finally crossing the plate when rookie Mitch Haniger doubled, advanced on a grounder and scored on Danny Valencia's infield single to tie the game in the fourth. But McCullers avoided further problems when he got catcher Mike Zunino to ground out to short with two out and the bases loaded. The Mariners, who were third in the AL in scoring a year ago, wound up 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and are 1-for-14 through their first two games.
"It's early," Haniger said. "We're just going out there and trying to stay within ourselves. I'm sure we'll bounce back. Hitting comes and goes, but it's just about grinding out at-bats, trying to hit the ball hard and swing at good pitches."
"They know it's coming, he knows it's coming, and he still finds a way to beat them. " -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch, on McCullers' heavy curveball use More >
"We play in the same yard they're playing in. It happens. You can't get caught up in it. I'm sure we'll find a few in there the next few days as well." -- Servais, on the Astros hitting both homers into the short porch in left field
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Giles is the third Astros pitcher to record a save in each of the team's first two games -- Billy Wagner (1997) and Dave Smith (1987).
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Servais made his first challenge of the year in the first inning and was rewarded with an overturned safe call at first on a Jose Altuve grounder to shortstop Jean Segura. After watching the play on the big screen, Seattle's infielders had already walked off the field by the time official word came and Altuve was ruled out to end the inning.
WHAT'S NEXT Mariners: Hard-throwing lefty James Paxton makes his season debut in Wednesday's 5:10 p.m. PT game at Minute Maid Park. The 27-year-old is 1-2 with a 4.88 ERA in four career outings against Houston. Two of those came in his last three starts of 2016 and he went 1-1 with 3.33 ERA in those two games, striking out 15 in 12 innings.
Astros: Right-hander Charlie Morton makes his Astros debut in Wednesday's 7:10 p.m. CT game. This is the first big league appearance for Morton since April 23 of last year, when he tore his hamstring running the bases while playing for the Phillies, which led to season-ending surgery.