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SEA@TEX: Zunino hits a massive homer to center field

ARLINGTON -- When Roenis Elias defected from Cuba four years ago, there had to be a million things on his mind as he boarded a boat with 30 others and escaped to Mexico.

But the 25-year-old left-hander's dream all along was to pitch in the Major Leagues, and the biggest part of that goal was realized with his first victory for the Mariners in a 7-1 win Monday over the Rangers at Globe Life Park.

"I came here to make it to the big leagues," Elias said, with bullpen coach Mike Rojas serving as his interpreter. "I knew I could pitch in the big leagues."

Elias allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings with five hits, two walks and five strikeouts in an excellent 104-pitch outing. After making the jump from Double-A ball this spring, he's now 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA in three starts.

"This was big," said Elias, who hasn't seen his parents since leaving Cuba. "I'm very happy my companions got the win. I dedicate this to my wife and my child. My wife's not here, she's in Mexico, but I saw my son today and it encouraged me all day."

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Elias has shown tremendous maturity since arriving at Spring Training as a non-roster Minor League invitee and nothing has changed now that he's facing Major League lineups and pitching in front of crowds like the 23,180 at Monday's game.

"He came off of a boat," McClendon said. "I don't think facing Prince Fielder is really going to scare him that much. He was fighting for his life trying to make it to this country. He's shown a lot of poise."

Elias helped his cause with three double-play grounders and didn't allow a run until the seventh. Two of the double plays came on changeups, as he kept the Rangers off-balance all night by working his offspeed offerings around his 92-94 mph fastball.

"He obviously has a good breaking ball, but this is the first time he's been able to command it for a strike," said catcher Mike Zunino. "He worked on in it his bullpen the other day and it looks like he's gotten a little more comfortable with it. That, mixed with the changeup, is a good combo and he was able to command both those."

"He had good stuff and good command," said Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. "He throws changeup, curveball and fastball and he located all three. It's always tough facing a guy for a first time. You don't know his location and his pitches."

The Mariners are now 5-2 on the road and 7-5 overall after dropping back-to-back games for the first time this season in concluding their opening homestand on Sunday against the A's.

Seattle's offense emerged from its recent funk to support the rookie starter. Zunino ended a 21-inning scoreless streak with a solo blast off Colby Lewis in the fifth and the Mariners exploded for six more runs in the sixth, helped by six hits and a successful replay challenge on a play at the plate by McClendon.

The Mariners had scored just one run over their previous 24 frames when Zunino connected with his third homer of the season, a 422-foot blast that ties him for the early team home run lead with Corey Hart and Brad Miller.

Seattle then broke things open with six runs in the sixth on an RBI triple by Michael Saunders and RBI singles by Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Zunino, as well as a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano following McClendon's challenge of what would have been the second out of the inning on a force play at the plate on a Miller groundout.

"We hadn't been scoring a lot of runs, so we wanted to come into this road trip and relax and swing the bats like we know how to," Zunino said. "We pieced together some good at-bats early, drove the pitch count up and were able to tack on some runs in that sixth. I think that's what we're going to need to do, drive pitch counts up and take advantage of mistakes we get."

The replay reversal helped as Miller slapped a bases-loaded chopper back to pitcher Pedro Figueroa, who threw home for the force play to J.P Arencibia. But the catcher bobbled the ball as he came off the plate and was unable to throw to first to complete the double play.

McClendon successfully challenged that Arencibia didn't have secure possession of the ball on the transfer, which allowed the run to score and led to Rangers manager Ron Washington's ejection when he came out to question that replay decision.

Saunders went 2-for-5 after entering the game in the bottom of the first when starting right fielder Logan Morrison felt his right hamstring tighten up.

"Even in the role I'm in, this was more unexpected than normal," said Saunders, who has been coming into many games as a late-inning defensive replacement. "It just shows you have to be ready at all times, especially mentally."

Seager raised his average from .121 to .162 with a 2-for-4 night and was also hit by a pitch as he continued his excellence in Arlington. The young third baseman has hit .379 (39-for-103) with 17 RBIs in 25 career games at Texas.

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