One bad inning hurt the Mariners on Saturday and one really bad inning hurt them on Sunday in a 12-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians that closed out a disappointing 4-6 trip that included stops in Oakland and Detroit.
The Indians scored eight runs Sunday in the third inning against rookie starter Chase De Jong (who probably deserved better) and veteran reliever Casey Fien (who didn’t).
It was still just 3-1 when right fielder Ben Gamel lost a fly ball in the sun. It was still just 5-1 when Fien replaced De Jong and gave up a walk, a two-run double and a two-run homer before ending the inning.
The Mariners had once chance to make it interesting. They rapped six straight hits in the sixth inning against Indians starter Josh Tomlin and reliever Boone Logan, which got the tying run into the on-deck circle.
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Taylor Motter then struck out, and Chooch Ruiz lined into a double play. The Indians erased all doubt with a three-run seventh inning.
Three takeaways from Sunday’s loss:
***Staff in flux: De Jong drew the start, the first in his big-league career, because of an injury to Felix Hernandez. Does he get another one after allowing six runs in 2 2/3 innings?
Or do the Mariners turn to Dillon Overton? He saved the bullpen Sunday by pitching five solid mop-up innings. Or do they grab someone else off the Triple-A Tacoma roster?
And what about Fien? Does he retain a spot after his ERA soared to 15.00? Dan Altavilla will be eligible for a recall prior to Tuesday’s game against the Angels at Safeco Field. Plus, Steve Cishek could be ready to return from the disabled list.
Changes on the pitching staff are likely prior to Tuesday’s game. The questions are how many and who?
***Hobbling but still hammering: Nelson Cruz has five homers in his last six games and has boosted his average to .315 while going 16-for-34 in a 10-game hitting streak. All despite a sore left hamstring over the last several days.
Cruz said he felt better each of the last two days after missing Friday’s game. And the open date Monday should help, but he’ll be watched closely. As manager Scott Servais said: "We’d hate to lose him for an extended period of time."
One consequence of Cruz’s condition is the Mariners will, almost certainly, operate with a standard four-player bench for a while. That means carrying seven relievers, one fewer than they’ve had for much of the season.
***Fewer hair flips: Even Taylor Motter realized he wasn't likely to continue his torrid early pace. His average is down to .225 after striking out Sunday in both of his at-bats.
Motter is in a 5-for-32 slide with 10 strikeouts over the last nine games. Opposing pitchers are eating him up by working him away because he sets up off the plate, which means he needs to reach to get the outside pitch.
It will be interesting to whether he adjusts his stance in the upcoming homestand. His primary value remains unchanged, though. Motter has shown he can play solid defense anywhere on the diamond. That skill provides immense roster flexibility.
What happened over the just-completed road trip is the Mariners might want to pump the brakes in terms of viewing him as an everyday player, say at first base, and counting on him to be a consistent offensive contributor.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners