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Shaky command costs Maurer in loss to Rays

Starter exits in fourth after three straight walks, and bats never heat up

SEATTLE -- Brandon Maurer lost his command, Lloyd McClendon lost his hat as well as an argument and the Mariners lost a ballgame -- and their first series in three weeks -- in a 2-0 setback to the Rays on Wednesday in an otherwise sunny afternoon at Safeco Field.

Maurer lasted just 3 2/3 innings, and Seattle's bats stayed silent for a second straight day as the Mariners experienced their first back-to-back losses since ending an eight-game skid on April 23.

McClendon was not around to see the finish after getting tossed -- and then tossing his cap twice, the last time into the Safeco stands -- following an eighth-inning checked-swing strike call against catcher John Buck that undercut what served as Seattle's best opportunity on an otherwise lackluster day.

With Dustin Ackley on second following a one-out double that stood as Seattle's second and final hit, Buck thought he had held up on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Joel Peralta. Instead, first-base umpire Lance Barksdale rung Buck up, and McClendon hustled out of the dugout when his backup catcher started barking at Barksdale.

"First and second with one out with the top of the lineup coming up is kind of where you want to be if you're trying to come back," Buck said. "So yeah, it was a big call."

With starting catcher Mike Zunino getting a rare day off, Buck did not want to get booted, so he was glad McClendon took the reins.

"That's the epitome of a player's manager, because I was on my way," Buck said. "Obviously he has a good feel for the game. We wanted to keep Zunino on his 'spa day,' if you will. He's been playing well, so we wanted him to have his rest. And in those heated moments, sometimes having a good manager who is very aware of those situations, for him to jump up like he did, I probably should pay his fine."

Or at least buy the skipper a new hat after a fan ended up with McClendon's following his second ejection of the year.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon expressed empathy for McClendon, and not just because his own club was struggling through a three-hit day of its own. With the new replay rules, managers do not have nearly as much room to argue these days.

"That's the time I get thrown out, too," Maddon said of his only ejection this year. "Check swings, balls and strikes ... it's all we have left.''

On a day the two teams combined for two runs and five hits, there was not much else to discuss in this one, either, other than the pitching. After McClendon's ejection, pinch-hitter Michael Saunders grounded out to strand Ackley at second, leaving the Mariners a meager 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position.

After putting up a season-best 12 runs against the Rays on Monday, Seattle managed just one run over its final two games of the series and was held to two hits in the finale by rookie right-hander Jake Odorizzi and a trio of relievers.

Odorizzi's lone hit allowed in his sterling start was a single by Mariners rookie center fielder James Jones with two out in the sixth. The 24-year-old right-hander walked two and had seven strikeouts in six frames while improving to 2-3 with a 4.89 ERA.

What was the rookie doing to stifle Seattle?

"I don't know. I haven't figured it out," Buck said. "He was throwing an invisi-ball, that's the best thing I've got for you. [Home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley] was very consistent today with the strike zone. He was calling that high strike that you see being called more and more nowadays. It seemed like he was pitching to that spot.

"We'd take one, and then it was like we couldn't get on top of it. We just couldn't get to that up fastball. He was elevating well, and he threw well."

Though the Rays totaled just three hits of their own, they took advantage of three walks by Maurer in a two-run fourth as they improved to 18-23 on the season.

Maurer pulled a complete reversal from his previous start, when he allowed 14 singles but did not walk or strike out a batter over 7 1/3 innings in a 6-1 loss to the Royals. This time the 23-year-old missed some bats, but he also battled to find the strike zone as he issued four walks to three strikeouts.

"He lost his command and really struggled," McClendon said. "The pitch count got up. It was just a bad day all around for us."

The Rays totaled just two runs and two hits off Maurer, but McClendon pulled the plug after 84 pitches when the youngster walked in a run with three straight bases on balls in the fourth.

Rookie reliever Dominic Leone allowed Maurer's second run to score when he unleashed a wild pitch to the first batter he faced before getting out of the jam with a 2-0 deficit.

Maurer missed most of Spring Training with a bad back, but he was added to the rotation on April 20 after injuries sidelined James Paxton and Blake Beavan. He is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in five starts.

Leone allowed just one hit with five strikeouts in his 2 1/3 innings of relief, dropping his ERA to 1.56 in 14 appearances, and three other relievers finished up with scoreless frames to keep the score at 2-0.

Seattle had gone 4-0-1 in its past five series and has still won 13 of its past 20 games to stand 20-20 at the quarter mark of the season. It is the first time the Mariners have been at .500 or better through 40 games since 2003.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Dominic Leone, Brandon Maurer