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SEA@TB: Saunders goes yard to right in the third

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mariners got a better effort out of right-hander Hector Noesi on Tuesday, but Seattle's hitters continued to struggle in a 3-1 defeat to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

In four straight losses, the Mariners have totaled just five runs and are 0-for-30 with runners in scoring position. That's a tough way to win ballgames and after opening this road trip with four straight wins, Seattle has fallen back to 11-14 overall with two more games remaining against the red-hot Rays.

Tampa Bay racked up its seventh straight win at home and the Rays' 16-8 overall record is the second-best start in franchise history.

The Mariners did total nine hits against four Rays pitchers, but an 0-for-5 performance with runners in scoring position negated that effort.

"We get 10 hits last night, nine tonight, that's the positive of it," said manager Eric Wedge. "But I've said it before, for us to be a consistent offensive club, we've got to finish innings off. We're just not doing that."

Rookie catcher Jesus Montero had four of the hits, raising his average to .294. Montero started behind the plate after Miguel Olivo was placed on the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day and had one passed ball, but played well on both sides of the dish.

"He's a hitter," said Wedge. "Obviously, when he woke up this morning it was a lot different than when he woke up yesterday morning. He handled himself well."

Montero was held to a single on his second-inning drive off the center-field wall, but doubled to left in his final at-bat.

"I had four good contacts today," said the 22-year-old Montero. "Everything was good tonight. I'm really happy, but I hope to win tomorrow."

Noesi saw his record dip to 1-3 with a 7.83 ERA, though he righted himself after a shaky start and allowed just three hits and three runs over 5 2/3 innings.

"He did a good job getting us into the sixth inning," Wedge said. "It's back-to-back starts he's a little bit better, and he has some positives to work on. He has a lot to learn, but it's good for him to be a little better his last two starts."

"I felt like I did a pretty good job," said Noesi. "I'm getting better every start and learning every game I throw."

Right fielder Matt Joyce did most of the damage, ripping a home run and triple in his first two at-bats with two RBIs.

Noesi, 25, gave up a pair of runs in the first on Joyce's run-scoring triple and a sacrifice fly by Luke Scott. Joyce added a solo shot in the third. But the right-hander acquired in the Michael Pineda trade then mowed down nine straight Rays until walking Carlos Pena with two outs in the sixth.

Noesi had thrown just 85 pitches, but Wedge said he wanted to get him out while he was pitching well and build his confidence. So he brought in Lucas Luetge, who walked Luke Scott, before Steve Delabar came on to strike out B.J. Upton to end that threat. Four Seattle pitchers combined to hold Tampa Bay to three hits on the night.

But the Mariners again weren't able to deliver much run support, given the lack of timely hitting. Seattle has tried playing some long ball instead, scoring 14 of its last 18 runs via the home run. They added another Tuesday with Michael Saunders' solo shot in the third.

Saunders now shares the team lead in home runs with Montero at four and is second to the rookie with 12 RBIs. He extended his hitting streak to five games. But Saunders sees the same thing everybody else sees with the current offense.

"We are getting runners on base and putting ourselves in a position to put runs on the board," he said. "But we're missing that big hit. We're going through a tough stretch right now. We've also run into some pretty good pitching."

First baseman Justin Smoak hit the ball hard twice, but had nothing to show for it in an 0-for-4 night that dropped him to .190 for the season.

Ichiro Suzuki went 2-for-4, moving into a tie for 104th with Ozzie Smith on MLB's all-time hits list at 2,460. He needs seven more to get to 100th place. But as with all the other non-home runs on this day, neither of his hits led to any runs.

"It's frustrating for everybody," said Smoak. "It's one of those things where everyone says it's still early. No, it's not. You've got to win. That's the name of the game. You have to do what it takes to win that day. If you don't, you're not going to win. That's what good teams do.

"They do what it takes to win that day. If it's getting a guy over and getting a guy in, hitting a ground ball to get yourself out to get that guy in, that's something we're not doing right now."

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