It’s been a brutal week for the Mariners’ rotation and, even with reinforcements on the horizon, some hard decisions are looming.
Veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo is the only member of the original five-man unit to avoid a lengthy stay on the disabled list, but he chummed up another soul-crushing inning Saturday in a second straight 10-4 loss to the Texas Rangers.
Even Gallardo acknowledges his signature this season is "always that one inning" that wrecks an otherwise solid start.
That’s true. But it’s like falling down the steps. Laying in a heap at the bottom, it doesn’t matter that you successfully negotiated every step but one.
Gallardo gave up five straight two-out hits within a 10-pitch span Saturday in the first inning. The result was five runs. He then allowed nothing further in pitching through the fifth inning. His ERA through 14 starts is 6.30.
The Mariners clawed back to within 5-4 on Mike Zunino’s three-run homer in the sixth inning, but reliever Dan Altavilla, who replaced Gallardo, gave up three homers (three!) and five more runs in the bottom of the inning.
Altavilla had not pitched since June 11 and had trouble keeping his pitches down in the zone, which is death against the Rangers who, as Zunino noted, "handle the ball up pretty well. It was going right into their swing."
The down time is no excuse, as Altavilla himself pointedly observed. That’s the ebb and flow of being a big-league reliever. It’s not like the minors where pitchers, especially prospects, get regular work often regardless of the game situation.
The Mariners are 2-6 since climbing back to .500 and have given up 61 runs in that eight-game span. Their rotation allowed 40 of those runs in 37 innings. A rotating muster of five long relievers had to cover 16 2/3 innings.
Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are each expected to return to active duty by next weekend. It can’t come soon enough.
Three takeaways from Saturday’s loss:
***Gallardo’s status: The Mariners currently have Gallardo listed as their probable starter for their June 22 game against Detroit at Safeco Field.
That’s not unexpected even though Hernandez would be in line to start that night if he returns, as expected, from the disabled list after pitching six scoreless innings Saturday in a rehab start at Triple-A Tacoma.
Either way, the Mariners expect to activate Hernandez and Iwakuma, who will start Monday for Tacoma, by next weekend. That means two guys must come out of the rotation.
Despite their struggles this week, lefties James Paxton and Ariel Miranda are safe. That means two from the group of Gallardo, Christian Bergman and Sam Gaviglio must go.
Bergman and Gaviglio remain the likely casualties because each have options, can be sent to the minors and recalled at any time. With Gallardo, the only choice is to trade him (unlikely at this point) or release him (and eat about $7 million).
***Zunino blooming in June: By hitting a three-run homer, Zunino pushed his RBI count to 22 in June, which leads all American League players. It is also the most RBIs in a month for a catcher in franchise history.
More impressive is that Zunino was looking for a particular pitch from Texas starter Martin Perez and, when he got it, didn’t miss it.
"I was fortunate enough to finally get a changeup up," Zunino said. "He had a really good changeup today, and he kept coming after me with it. I had a feeling at 3-2, he might throw it."
***Outfield defense: The Mariners’ club ERA of 4.78 ranks 12th among the 15 American League clubs. Now, think how much worse it could be if not for, statistically, the league’s best outfield defense.
Entering Saturday’s games, the Mariners led all AL outfields with 28 defensive runs saved. Boston was second at plus-23, and the New York Yankees were third at plus-19.
A year ago, the Mariners’ outfield graded out at minus-27.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners