That James Paxton’s poor start Friday night resulted in a 10-4 loss for the Mariners in their series opener against Texas was bad enough.
When healthy, Paxton has been the Mariners’ best starter by far. Seeing him get cuffed around for a second straight start is cause for concern.
"We’ve got to figure it out," manager Scott Servais said. "We’ve got to get Pax in a good spot and going in the right direction again. The last couple (of starts) he just hasn’t looked comfortable out there. Everything looks like a struggle.
"He’s a big part of trying to dig us out of this little hole we’ve created here."
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Instead, Paxton put extra strain Friday on a bullpen trying to cover innings for a patchwork rotation until Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly return from the disabled list.
The Mariners have, generally, managed to tread water despite their injury problems because Paxton and Ariel Miranda routinely delivered solid starts. Those two permitted the bullpen to rest while slowing the long-reliever carousel.
But Miranda lasted just four innings Thursday in a loss at Minnesota, which heightened the need for Paxton to provide a steadying influence. Instead, he worked just 3 2/3 innings and gave up seven runs.
The strain is showing.
"It does put us in a tough spot," Servais said. "You rely on those guys to get you deep into games. It allows you to give your bullpen and your long guys a break to regroup and regather. The last couple of nights have been rough."
The Mariners used a long reliever Friday for the fourth time in six games — starting with Emilio Pagan, who worked four innings last Sunday after Paxton lasted just four innings in a loss to Toronto.
Casey Lawrence replaced Pagan on the roster and pitched 3 2/3 innings Tuesday in a loss at Minnesota. Chase De Jong replaced Lawrence and worked four innings behind Miranda in Thursday’s loss to the Twins.
That forced the Mariners to drop down to Double-A Arkansas to recall Zac Curtis as a replacement for De Jong. Curtis is a short reliever, but he threw 44 pitches over three innings in Friday’s loss at Texas.
That means another roster move is likely prior to Saturday’s game to secure another fresh arm. The question is who? Pagan, Lawrence and De Jong haven’t been away the required 10 days to be eligible for a recall.
The same goes for Tyler Cloyd, who was optioned June 10 to Triple-A Tacoma.
Dillon Overton served as the long reliever earlier this year, but he threw 87 pitches Friday for Tacoma in a loss at El Paso (Padres).
That leaves Ryne Harper and Rob Whalen as candidates on the 40-man roster unless the Mariners want to rush Arkansas closer Thyago Vieira. Harper and Whalen were each promoted previously this season for brief tours.
Harper is a short reliever who threw 21 pitches on Thursday. Whalen threw 86 pitches on Tuesday as a starter.
Promoting someone not currently on the 40-man roster is unlikely since that requires a corresponding space-clearing move. In effect, doing so carries the risk of losing a player in order to promote a pitcher likely to be a short-term addition.
What the Mariners need Saturday is a strong innings-eating start from Yovani Gallardo to reset their bullpen. The patches don’t need to hold much longer. Hernandez and Iwakuma could each return to active duty within a week.
Three takeaways from Friday’s loss:
***Fixing Paxton: Asked what’s wrong, Paxton responded: "I'm trying to figure it out right now. Something is definitely not right."
The process began even before the game ended. Paxton had already taken a quick look at the tapes, consulted with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and believes the problem can be corrected in his next bullpen workout.
"Things aren’t firing at the right time right now," he said. "I think it’s a very small fix. It’s something I can work on in the bullpen."
***Gamel adds a new wrinkle: Left fielder/leadoff hitter Ben Gamel remains on a tear. He had a single and two walks in four plate appearances, which boosted his average to. 347 and his on-base percentage to .414.
Gamel also played the Mariners’ final defensive inning at first base. That’s an effort to add a little more versatility to his repertoire.
***Speed and pop: Jarrod Dyson came to the Mariners in an off-season trade after hitting just seven home runs in 1,539 plate appearances over his seven previous seasons at Kansas City.
He now has four homers this season in 230 plate appearances after rocking a 407-foot drive into the second deck Friday at Globe Life Park. Dyson is also batting .323 over his last 21 games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners