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Smyly springs from mound to snag grounder

SEATTLE -- Drew Smyly deserves better than what he has gotten during his four weeks in the big leagues.

The Tigers, meanwhile, probably got what they deserved against the Mariners, with five losses in six games.

Take your pick which statement would've been more surprising going into the season -- one obviously a pleasant bonus, the other a shocking crutch for some. They both held to form Wednesday night at Safeco Field, where another close affair culminated in John Jaso's eighth-inning RBI single, a 2-1 Tigers loss and a return to .500.

It capped a season series between the two clubs that featured three one-run decisions, all Mariners wins. The two in Seattle came down to the final couple of at-bats, both games in which the Tigers squandered stellar starting pitching.

"They beat us," manager Jim Leyland said. "They had a winning record against us last year, and they beat us again this year. They beat us decisively, really."

Leyland could look at his rotation with optimism while scratching his head at a potent yet inconsistent lineup, which explains why the Tigers have alternated wins and losses for their past 10 games and haven't picked up consecutive wins since sweeping Kansas City in mid-April.

On Wednesday, all they got was a manufactured run from the bottom of their lineup, set up by their lone extra-base hit from backup catcher Gerald Laird.

"It's pretty much a broken record right now," Leyland said. "We're just not scoring runs."

The fact that Smyly's solid starts are becoming equally repetitive might be the most pleasant surprise of the season. He allowed one run for the fifth time in six starts, and the exception was a two-run, six-inning performance. Few would've anticipated that from a 22-year-old with just eight appearances above Class A ball going into the season.

Fewer would've anticipated any Tigers starter doing that with one win and five no-decisions to show for it.

"That's out of my control," Smyly said. "All I can hope to do is just go out and be in position to get a win. If you start trying to mess around with [personal victories], then it's not going to be good for you."

Smyly didn't allow a base hit outside of the fourth inning, when Ichiro Suzuki went to the opposite field on a single and Kyle Seager doubled off the right-field fence for a two-out RBI.

Just four other balls got out of the infield, with Ichiro's sixth-inning liner to left the only one with much authority. The Mariners swung aggressively, but Smyly and Laird used that against them to change speeds and get swings and misses.

"I think we had a good rhythm tonight," Laird said. "[Smyly] threw the ball really well. He hit his spots. He was getting ahead of hitters. That's a young team over there. They've got an aggressive team, and they play the game right. So we used that to our advantage."

Smyly lasted six innings with 93 pitches, close to the limit the Tigers have in mind. Fellow rookie Luke Putkonen (0-1) made his first outing in 10 days for a perfect seventh before Michael Saunders doubled down the left-field line leading off the eighth.

Chone Figgins' sacrifice bunt moved Saunders into position for Jaso, who sent a liner into left off left-hander Duane Below.

"We've seen that all year long," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge.

He was talking about Jaso, but he could've been talking about his team in general against Detroit.

On most nights, Smyly's outing would've given the Tigers' bullpen a lead to protect. Yet, Jason Vargas (4-2) did much the same thing as Smyly, only deeper into the game with more efficient outs.

Two weeks after Detroit homered twice off Vargas over six innings of four-run ball at Comerica Park, he needed just 90 pitches to last eight innings. He not only held Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitless, he didn't allow them to get a ball out of the infield.

But then, they had company.

"It wasn't like we were stinging the ball and hitting into bad luck tonight," Leyland said.

Their best-struck ball came off Laird, whose double to left-center leading off the sixth set up the kind of manufactured offense the Tigers haven't done much this year. Danny Worth fouled off two sacrifice bunts before singling over Laird to score on Austin Jackson's sacrifice fly.

Brennan Boesch's single moved Worth to second before Miguel Cabrera hit into an inning-ending double play.

In no other inning did the Tigers have a runner in scoring position. Jackson tried to get one more rally going with a leadoff walk in the ninth, but Boesch centered a hard-hit ball to short for a double play off closer Brandon League.

Cabrera's game-ending flyout extended his slump to 0-for-14, his second lengthy hitless streak this season. To put it all on his shoulders, however, wouldn't be fair.

But then, to ask any more of Smyly wouldn't be fair, either.

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