It seems this is the formula for the Mariners now on those days when James Paxton doesn’t pitch: Muscle your way through with bullpen and bombs.
That combo produced a 6-3 victory over the Athletics on Wednesday afternoon and a sweep of their two-game series at the Oakland Coliseum.
"Our starting rotation," manager Scott Servais acknowledged, "we’re banged up a little bit. We’re going to have a shorter leash on some of these guys, certainly the third time through the (opposition’s) lineup.
"To be able to go to Emilio Pagan and Casey Lawrence, they’re huge in being able to settle the game down. If you look at our rotation, we’ve got a few guys in there where five innings is kind of what they give you."
Pagan rescued an ineffective Yovani Gallardo on Wednesday in protecting a lead through the middle innings. On Tuesday night, it was Lawrence who created the opportunity for a comeback victory after replacing a homer-prone Ariel Miranda.
"We know our role is to bridge it to the guys at the back end," Pagan said. "Anytime we can do our job, and be efficient with our pitches, that helps us out in the long run."
The bullpen delivered 9 2/3 scoreless innings in the two victories at Oakland, which boosted the Mariners to a season-best three games over .500 at 59-56. It also completed a 6-3 trip and into sole possession of the final wild-card berth.
"I think we’re going to be a good team moving forward," third baseman Kyle Seager said. "The bullpen has been phenomenal lately. If we keep scoring runs, we’ll have a good August."
Leonys Martin’s homer provided the winning run Tuesday in a 7-6 victory in 10 innings, before Seager got the Mariners started Wednesday with a three-run drive in the first inning against Oakland starter Jhrael Cotton.
Nelson Cruz added tape-measure bombs of 450 and 436 feet against Cotton in the third and fifth innings.
"I don’t know if Nelson Cruz can hit two harder balls than he did today," Servais said. "He’s just getting pitches to hit and not missing them. He’s a really smart hitter. He doesn’t get enough credit for that."
Even so, Gallardo couldn’t nurse leads of 3-0, 5-1 and 6-2 through the necessary five innings to qualify for the victory. Pagan entered the game with one out in the fifth and pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
For that, Pagan was awarded the victory. It was the first of his big-league career, which meant he underwent the ritualistic postgame shower/shampoo that typically accompanies the achievement.
"I just closed my eyes and tried to get some breaths in," he said, "as they were crushing me with everything in the bathroom. But a lot of fun."
Three takeaways from Wednesday’s victory:
***Cruz missiles: The Mariners should be used to seeing Cruz tee off, but his two homers Wednesday still left them in awe.
"That first homer he hit was about as loud as I’ve ever heard a ball hit on the field," Seager said. "The second one, he doesn’t even hit it that well. He topspins it, and it still rockets off the wall."
Cruz is batting .389 in his last nine games with six homers and 12 RBIs. He leads the Mariners with 26 homers and leads the American League with 88 RBIs.
***Rotation concerns: The two victories at Oakland can’t mask growing concern over the rotation. Miranda and Gallardo gave up a combined four homers, and nine runs over 9 1/3 innings.
Each time the Mariners scored Wednesday, Gallardo gave up a run in the bottom of the inning.
"Gallardo struggled, command-wise, early today," Servais said. "A high pitch count. But Emilio Pagan, again, kind of did what he does…He settled the game down for us, and we had enough pitching to shut it down at the end."
***Gamel’s web gem: Left fielder Ben Gamel added another amazing slam-bam defensive play to his growing resume when he tracked down Marcus Semien’s deep drive in the fifth inning.
Gamel made a leaping catch at the wall, slammed into the wall, bounced off and went to the ground while holding onto the ball. He turned that momentum in a tumble that brought him back to his feet.
Gamel threw the ball back to the infield before Matt Joyce could tag up at first and advance to second. It amounted to a reprieve for Gallardo — but only a temporary one.
Jed Lowrie followed with an RBI double that scored Joyce and knocked Gallardo out of the game. Pagan finished the inning with no further damage and pitched through the seventh inning.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners