SEATTLE -- Veteran slugger Carlos Pena says the challenge for the Astros is finding out how well they can handle a punch, and the rough-and-tumble American League West has been treating its newest member with anything but soft hands.
The feel-good memories from the Astros' rousing win over the Rangers to start the season have slowly faded amidst a six-game losing streak against divisional foes in which Houston's offense has struggled to back up generally solid starting pitching.
The latest gut check came on Monday night, when the Mariners played before a packed house for their home opener and used 6 1/3 scoreless innings from left-hander Joe Saunders and a few timely hits to beat the Astros, 3-0.
"This is a team that's very talented, a team that has tools," Pena said. "Obviously, they haven't translated into wins. We haven't been able to materialize a win in the last few games, but we have a lot of pride, and just as much as it hurts to lose, we also take pride in being strong through adversity. We can't fold. We take pride in getting back up and coming hard tomorrow and not letting up. It's something we talk about here."
Since scoring eight runs en route to beating the Rangers on Opening Night in their AL debut, the Astros have been shut out three times. They've scored nine runs in six games, hitting .188 with one home run in that span.
"It may not be everyone at once, but I know for sure we are a much better offensive club than we displayed here early on in the year," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "We have complete confidence these guys will hit, and when it happens, you're going to start to see some crooked numbers going up there."
It can't come soon enough for a starting rotation that's done its job for the most part. Philip Humber, returning to Safeco Field for the first time since throwing his perfect game for the White Sox here nearly a year ago, turned in a quality start by allowing five hits and three runs in six innings in his second game with Houston.
"Our job is to go out there and put up as many zeros as we can," Humber said. "We know we have a talented club here, and it's just a matter of time until guys start putting some runs together, and I have confidence these guys are going to do that."
Astros starters have allowed three earned runs or less in all but one game this year.
"I don't think you're wasting it, but I think those guys are gaining confidence as they go along and as the season continues to progress," Porter said. "We knew it was an area that we wanted to upgrade. Those guys have done a tremendous job of keeping us in ballgames and pitching well, and we want that to continue. We just need things to come around."
Saunders (1-1) held the Astros to six hits and one walk and struck out five batters after getting roughed up by Oakland in his Mariners debut on the heels of a rough spring. Kendrys Morales had RBI hits in the first and third innings to score Michael Saunders, who singled and stole second base in the first and singled and advanced on a wild pitch in the third.
"There were a few balls that were hit hard that were caught, and the balls that were hit soft kind of fell in sometimes," Humber said. "It kind of happens. People say it evens out, and tonight was an example of that. I think we probably could have kept it to a one-run game. Saunders getting to second, both those times he scored, that's on me. I'll hopefully do a better job holding runners next time."
In the fifth, the Mariners twice put down bunts the Astros couldn't convert into outs -- catcher Jason Castro threw late to second on Brendan Ryan's effort, and Franklin Gutierrez put down a squeeze to score Dustin Ackley that made it 3-0.
"I was looking for a good pitch, and he threw me the first pitch right in the middle," Gutierrez said. "There's nothing better to bunt than a pitch in the middle, so I put it down."
The Astros know the season is still in its infancy and they understand there's better baseball ahead. They believe they played too well this spring to struggle like they have for much longer, but shrugging off losses isn't always easy.
"We take pride in making sure we know how to brush it off," Pena said. "It hurts. We don't like losing, don't get me wrong. We don't like losing and we don't accept it. But after you recognize that, we have to make a decision on how we're going to handle it."