SEATTLE -- From the moment Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson crushed a two-run homer in the first inning, Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez was working from behind.
On a night Ramirez didn't have sharp command, he battled his way through five innings to keep the Mariners close, though the bats couldn't get going in a 3-1 setback to Oakland on a crisp Saturday at Safeco Field.
Ramirez failed to record a 1-2-3 inning and gave up three runs on six hits. He struck out three and walked three while throwing 94 pitches, 53 for strikes. He allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in every inning and worked out of jams in the second, third and fourth.
"He just did not have command. I did not see command of the fastball. I did not see command of the secondary pitches," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said after Seattle dropped to 6-4 and out of first place in the American League West. "Very disappointing outing. I thought I would see better this time. For some reason he didn't really have command, and it was a tough night for him right from the start."
He ended his outing by inducing Brandon Moss to hit into a double play, earning him a pat on the back in the dugout from pitching coach Rick Waits.
"I will say this: Erasmo really battled," McClendon said. "He gave us five innings and actually kept us in the ballgame. It was an ugly five, but he kept us in it."
They couldn't take advantage because A's ace Sonny Gray was mostly in control after second baseman Robinson Cano knocked in the Mariners' lone run of the game with a groundout in the first.
Ramirez's performance allowed the Mariners to have a chance late in the game.
Trailing 3-1 with one out in the seventh, Seattle put runners on first and third when Dustin Ackley doubled, Michael Saunders grounded out and John Buck walked. With Abraham Almonte representing the go-ahead run, Gray struck him out on a low breaking ball to end the inning.
"We had opportunities," McClendon said. "We just couldn't take advantage of it."
Gray's line: seven innings, five hits, one run, nine strikeouts and two walks. With the win, he improved to 2-1 and raised his ERA, which was 0.75 entering Saturday, to 0.95 in 19 innings this season.
"At times he gets a little erratic with his fastball," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "And a lot of times, the ball has a mind of itself. It'll cut, it'll sink, do a lot of different things, and that's kind of a strength of his, too, because you never really get a good read on his fastball."
Oakland's two-run first inning was the difference, as Coco Crisp sparked the A's offense with an infield single. Donaldson followed an out later with his two-run homer over the left-field fence to give the A's the early lead.
"My body feels great. Everything about my mechanics are OK," Ramirez said. "It's just mental."
The Mariners got one back in the bottom of the inning after Almonte and Brad Miller hit back-to-back singles to put runners on first and third with no outs. Cano's chopper allowed Almonte to score.
In the third, Ramirez again struggled with his command, walking Crisp and Jed Lowrie to begin the inning. After Donaldson grounded into a fielder's choice, Moss drove in Crisp with an RBI single to left field to give the A's a 3-1 lead. On the play, Ackley made a sliding catch but dropped the ball on the transfer. Perhaps thinking Ackley completed the catch, Moss was called out after passing Donaldson at first base.
"It's just one of those things ... it was just a situation where I thought I could have got the guy going back to first on a relay," Ackley said. "It's tough. I just got to get better at that."
Ramirez eventually worked his way out of the jam thanks to a diving stop from first baseman Justin Smoak on a sharply hit ground ball from Alberto Callaspo.
Mariners rookie Dominic Leone entered in the sixth inning and pieced together the best relief appearance since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma last week. In two shutout innings, Leone gave up one hit, walked one and struck out one. He's yet to give up a run over 4 1/3 innings in three Major League appearances.
Leone combined with left-hander Joe Beimel on four shutout innings. Seattle's bullpen, which entered Saturday with the second-best ERA in the AL, has given up just three earned runs in the past 18 2/3 innings.
Leone and Beimel kept the Mariners within striking distance against the A's bullpen. With one out in the ninth, pinch-hitter Willie Bloomquist and Ackley notched back-to-back singles, but Saunders struck out and Buck grounded out to end it, as Seattle finished 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
"I thought Leone and Beimel did a tremendous job," McClendon said. "If you think about it, they really saved our bullpen quite a bit. This could have been an ugly night for it."
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.