The familiar swap-out, sub-in game of musical chairs for the Mariners rotation unfolded again Sunday.
And when the music stopped, it was right-hander Chris Heston’s turn to get a shot at contributing to the team.
In 2015, Heston won 12 games and posted an earned-run average under 4.00 for the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants. He threw a no-hitter that season.
On Sunday, Heston — who started this season in Triple-A Tacoma — walked three of the first five hitters he faced and gave up five runs before the first inning was over.
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The outburst buried Seattle immediately, and the Chicago White Sox won, 8-1, in front of 36,782 at Safeco Field.
Now the Mariners travel to Washington, then Boston and, finally, Colorado — all early-season playoff contenders — while on a three-game skid. They were outscored, 26-3, in those three games.
“Guys are frustrated and disappointed … not being in the game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We know we are in a tough stretch right now.”
It isn’t going to get any easier, either.
The good news is the offense should get second baseman Robinson Cano (quadriceps) back from the 10-day disabled list during the trip.
In Cano’s absence, the hitting has been putrid. In the 11 games he has missed, Seattle has hit .214 as a team and averaged 2.7 runs per game while going 3-8.
“We can’t get any rhythm to our lineup,” Servais said. “Putting the big guy (Cano) back in the 3-hole will certainly help.”
But before the Mariners could get a chance to swing away at former AL West nemesis Derek Holland on Sunday, they were down big.
Heston could not locate his sinker at all in the first inning, loading the bases after he walked Todd Frazier.
“It was running on me,” Heston said.
He got behind Yolmer Sanchez in the count, and the second baseman lined a soft two-run single into right field for a 2-0 lead.
Then things got a little unlucky for Heston.
Tim Anderson swung away at the first pitch, and it trickled toward no-man’s land at second base for another RBI single.
Two batters later, Kevan Smith did the same thing with a check-swing bunt that traveled slowly and stayed fair near the third-base line for another RBI single to push the White Sox lead to 5-0.
“(Heston) certainly didn’t get any breaks,” Servais said.
Heston lasted three innings, giving up seven runs. His ERA is 21.60.
But these are the guys Servais has available to insert into the injury-depleted rotation.
Some of them, such as Christian Bergman and Sam Gaviglio, have given the Mariners more than anybody expected coming up from Tacoma.
Others, such as Chase De Jong, and Heston on Sunday, have tried to do too much by working the edges of the plate, and been bitten by it.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to trust your stuff,” Servais said. “You’ve got to throw over the plate, because the walks and getting behind the count will absolutely bury you.”
Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz hit his 11th home run in the seventh inning off his former teammate — a blast that carried 392 feet over the left-center wall.
Other than that, Holland — who made his 26th career appearance against the Mariners, and won his 13th game, the most against any opponent — kept Seattle’s hitters at bay for eight innings.
“He had been pitching pretty well, and he was throwing strikes early, and then (he) gets you to chase breaking pitches,” Cruz said.
“We are in a tough stretch (with the injuries). … That is who we are. There is nothing we can do about it.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: Which seeing-eye, swinging-bunt RBI infield single did in the Mariners the most? Both of them — by Anderson and Smith — were big contributors in Chicago’s five-run first inning.
PLUSES: If right-hander Steve Cishek is going to be a trusted, late-inning reliever again, he took a step in the right direction, striking out two in a scoreless seventh inning. Both strikeouts came on sliders.
MINUSES: Heston got his first crack in the Seattle rotation, and gave up seven runs in three innings. He walked four batters. He was the 11th starting pitcher used this season by the Mariners, the most in the majors.
STAT PACK: Cruz hit his 11th home run in 33 games. Three of them have come in the past seven games. … Seattle lost three consecutive home games for the first time since last May 27-29 against Minnesota.
SHORT HOPS: Servais said the MRI test on first baseman Danny Valencia (left wrist) came back positive. Valencia will take anti-inflammatory medication over the next couple of days, and could return Wednesday. … Servais said Cruz will start in right field Tuesday at Washington for interleague play, and hopes to see him in the lineup for at least two of the games against the Nationals.
QUOTABLE: “Any loss is a loss. We cannot focus on the negative stuff.” — Cruz.