PITTSBURGH – The start to Aaron Harang's 12th season in the majors didn't exactly go as planned.
Getting traded twice in the first three weeks of the year will do that.
Finally settled in Seattle, Harang appears ready to return to form. Two days shy of his 35th birthday, he allowed two runs in six strong innings of a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, proof his nomadic April is firmly behind him.
Harang (1-4) surrendered five hits, struck out six and dropped his ERA from 8.58 to 7.30, his second straight solid start. He picked up his first win of the season last week against Baltimore and may have been even better against the surprising Pirates.
"I had three weeks off at the beginning of the season," said Harang, who was shipped from the Dodgers to Colorado to Seattle in April. "I was trying to keep myself in a rhythm. ... We've done our work trying to figure things out and I've been where I need to be in these last two starts."
Still, it wasn't quite enough to keep the Mariners from continuing their recent surge after a slow start. Seattle came in 7-3 in its last 10 games, but couldn't get a handle on Pittsburgh spot starter Jeanmar Gomez, who was thrust into the lineup when James McDonald was placed on the disabled list with tightness in his right (throwing) shoulder just hours before the game.
While Gomez crammed for the Mariners, Seattle did the same, with miserable results. Gomez (2-0) limited the Mariners to just two hits over five innings before Pittsburgh's bullpen took care of the rest.
"We didn't have much time to prepare for him and everybody scrambled to do the best they could to get ready," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "Be that as it may, the kid pitched a good ballgame. He had a good sinker, a good slider that he kept sweeping off the plate. He threw a good ballgame."
Andrew McCutchen went 4 for 4 with an RBI-double and Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer in the eighth to pad Pittsburgh's lead. Jason Grilli pitched the ninth for his major league-leading 13th save.
Raul Ibanez provided a pinch-hit RBI-double in the seventh to pull the Mariners within a run, but Seattle couldn't keep Pittsburgh from improving to 14-0 when leading after seven innings this season.
The Pirates traded for Gomez in January hoping the 25-year-old could find a role on a pitching staff that's had trouble staying healthy.
Gomez made the roster as a long reliever, but in some ways, he's become the de facto fifth man in the rotation. He was pressed into action three batters into the game against St. Louis last month when starter Jonathan Sanchez was ejected, then took over Sanchez's spot last week against Milwaukee after the Pirates and Sanchez parted ways.
Still, he wasn't planning on working on Tuesday until the McDonald informed Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle that his right shoulder didn't feel right. McDonald has struggled with his command and his velocity all season and began the day with a 2-2 record and a 5.76 ERA while hardly looking like the pitcher who nearly made the All-Star team last summer.
Placing McDonald on the disabled list means Gomez will get another chance to start on Sunday in New York. Considering the way he handled the Mariners on short notice, perhaps the Pirates shouldn't inform Gomez until Sunday morning.
The Mariners offered little resistance during Gomez's five innings, their only real push coming with a brief two-out rally in the third when Michael Saunders singled and former Pirates All-Star Jason Bay walked. Kyle Seager lined out to left to end the threat and Gomez exited without letting anyone get to third base.
Gomez only needed 66 pitches to record 15 outs, after which Hurdle lifted him in favor of one of the National League's best bullpens.
The Pirates gave Gomez all the offense he would need in the first inning. Starling Marte led off with a bunt single off Harang then scored on Travis Snider's RBI-double. McCutchen followed with a double to left-center and the Pirates were up 2-0.
"It was two bad pitches there in the first inning, a slider to McCutchen over the middle of the plate and with two strikes I tried to make too fine of a pitch to Snider and made a mistake middle in," Harang said. "After that, I was able to execute my pitches."
McCutchen's double extended his hot streak. The All-Star center fielder is now 13 of his last 27 (.481) in his last seven games to raise his average from .216 to .276.
NOTES: LHP Francisco Liriano appears ready to make his Pirates debut on Saturday in New York against the Mets. Liriano has been on the disabled list all season while recovering from a broken right arm. He signed a two-year contract with the Pirates in the offseason ... The brief two-game set wraps up on Wednesday when Seattle's Felix Hernandez (4-2, 1.60) faces Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett (3-2, 2.57). The teams meet again in Seattle in June ... Pittsburgh C Russell Martin was scratched before the game with a neck issue and is day to day. Replacement Mike McKenry went 0 for 4.