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HOU@SEA: Elias allows one run, fans six

Has the American League solved southpaw Roenis Elias?

In his past four starts, the rookie Cuban defector is 0-2 with a 4.94 ERA and opponents are hitting .277 against him. But he'll have a chance to rebound Sunday at Safeco Field when the Mariners finish a three-game series against the Tigers before embarking on a seven-game road trip.

Last week, Elias yielded a career-high five earned runs in the Mariners' 6-4 home loss to the Angels. His low point was the second inning, when he allowed four doubles before settling down to go 6 1/3 innings, striking out five and walking one.

"I think it's just a matter of efficiency. I've said this about three weeks ago. His stuff is good and it's going to play whether you've seen him once, twice or four times," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "What he's battling now is just consistent command in the strike zone. I'm not surprised. For a young pitcher, that happens. But when he throws strikes, he's pretty good."

Elias, 25, made the club out of Spring Training after spending all of 2013 with Double-A Jackson of the Southern League, earning All-Star honors.

This season, he's 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA. Sunday will mark the 12th start of his MLB career and his first against the Tigers, who lost 3-2 on Saturday night.

McClendon said Elias needs to work ahead in the count.

"His problem is when he falls behind and then he has to come in," McClendon said. "So we just need to have him command the strike zone a little better and attack a little better. He has electric stuff. When you've got a left-hander throwing 93, 94, with a good breaking ball and a good changeup, that's good stuff. I don't think he has to trick anybody. He's not that kind of lefty. He's a legit mid-90's lefty that can overpower hitters from time to time."

Elias will oppose reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, owner of a 6-1 record, 3.00 ERA and back-to-back subpar outings (12 earned runs, 20 hits and two no-decisions).

In his last two starts, he struggled with his fastball. In Tuesday's game against the A's, left-handed hitters were shrugging off his curveball, the pitch that has been his great equalizer from the left side.

Scherzer's struggles have been a microcosm of the Tigers' pitching woes over the last couple of weeks. Justin Verlander's gem Friday night in Seattle seemed to slow the trend, but Drew Smyly lasted just four innings Saturday to put more strain on a bullpen that finally had a chance to rest.

Monday's scheduled off-day allows manager Brad Ausmus to use his bullpen aggressively if need be on Sunday. He's hoping Scherzer doesn't need it.

Mariners: Cano on the mend
Second baseman Robinson Cano missed his third consecutive game Saturday with a thumb contusion after playing the first 52 games of the season.

He didn't speak to the media but relayed the message through a team spokesman that his thumb was feeling better.

McClendon said Cano was available to pinch-hit in Saturday's win, but opted to keep his durable slugger on the bench.

By sitting out, Cano missed a third game in a row for the first time since 2006. He entered Saturday with a .327 batting average (third in the AL) and 22 multi-hit games (tied for second in the AL).

Tigers: Two-headed monster
Mariners catcher Mike Zunino had a front-row seat to the power display put on by Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez on Friday night.

The pair combined to go 4-for-7 with two home runs, five RBIs and three runs scored in Detroit's 6-3 win.

Facing Hisashi Iwakuma with the game tied at 2 in the fifth, Martinez hit a three-run shot on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. Iwakuma tried to go backdoor with a slider and left it out and over the plate.

"He's just so balanced and such a good hitter," Zunino said. "He trusts himself so much. He keeps himself in at-bats and he kept himself in there long enough to get a mistake and he put a good swing on it."

Martinez, who enters Sunday batting a team-high .340 average, didn't miss.

"He's so locked in," Zunino said. "It's something amazing to see a hitter be that zoned in right now."

The Iwakuma pitch that Cabrera hit out was right where Iwakuma wanted it -- up and in. Zunino said it almost crossed the plate above the white-line on the inside of the right-hander's batter's box.

"He's got such a good swing that he's able to stay inside baseball that most other people can't," Zunino said. "It looked like a pretty good pitch. Sometimes you gotta tip your cap. Those two guys in the middle of the order -- nobody wants to face those two guys."

Cabrera entered Saturday batting .375 with 11 doubles, seven homers and 33 RBIs in May. He capped his month by adding a solo shot off right-hander Chris Young in the fourth inning of Seattle's win.

Worth noting
• Mariners right fielder Michael Saunders is hitting .318 with four doubles, two triples, two home runs and 18 RBIs with an .834 OPS in 26 games in May. He was out of the lineup for Saturday against Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly.

• Scherzer is 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA against the Mariners in six career starts.

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