Start with this disclaimer: Yes, it’s a big if…
But if Edwin Diaz had succeeded Wednesday in holding a one-run lead and closing out a victory, the focus would have centered on Felix Hernandez and his second start since returning from the disabled list.
No, Diaz didn’t succeed in closing out a victory. He gave up two runs in the ninth inning to sad-sack Philadelphia in a stinging 5-4 loss. The Mariners have lost four in a row, including two to the Phillies, who had lost 42 of their previous 55 games.
Now about the King: He struggled early Wednesday in large part because he displayed no command of his curveball.
But it was more than that.
Even Hernandez admitted he didn’t snap out of his funk until ex-Mariners farmhand Ty Kelly hit a two-run homer in a three-run third inning that, at the time, put the Mariners in a 3-1 hole.
"The first three innings," Hernandez said, "I didn’t have a rhythm going. I wasn’t good. The thing that woke me up was the homer. After that, I was more aggressive. I was pounding the strike zone a little bit better."
Hernandez pitched through the sixth and didn’t give up a hit after the third.
"Felix got better as the game went along," manager Scott Servais said. "He struggled a bit in the third and gave up the home run, then got out of it with the bases-loaded double play.
"I thought he re-gathered (himself) and got us deep, giving us six innings with three runs. Pretty good effort by him."
This makes two solid (if not spectacular) starts by Hernandez since he returned from a 58-day stay on the disabled list after being diagnosed with bursitis in his shoulder followed an aborted start on April 25 in Detroit.
While the Mariners would love Hernandez in Cy Young form, they’ll take solid and healthy. This is a rotation again in disarray just when it seemed to be stabilizing.
The Mariners confirmed Wednesday that lefty Drew Smyly will undergo reconstructive-elbow surgery July 6 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament, i.e, Tommy John surgery. Recovery time is typically 12-to-15 months.
As recently as last weekend, it appeared that Smyly, on the disabled list since late March, was tracking to return to active duty just after the All-Star break.
The news regarding veteran right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma isn’t quite that grim yet, but concerns are growing regarding his slow recovery from what club officials continue to characterize as shoulder inflammation.
Out since May 3, Iwakuma once seemed likely to rejoin the rotation on the just-completed homestand. Instead, the Mariners recently terminated his throwing program until they get a better handle on his shoulder problems.
That doesn’t sound good.
A healthy Felix is suddenly crucial.
Three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss:
***Closing dilemma: It’s been a roller-coaster sophomore season for Diaz, who stumbled over the last two games against the Phillies.
Chided by Servais for a lack of focus Tuesday in a "get work" outing, Diaz had a chance for quick redemption Wednesday when called on to protect a one-run lead. He responded by giving up two runs.
While Servais stopped short of issuing a full confirmation that Diaz would remain the closer, that seems the likeliest decision for now — even though the Mariners have alternatives.
Veteran Steve Cishek filled that role for much of last year and has been closer throughout his career. Nick Vincent has not allowed a run in 28 of his last 29 outings and no longer seems vulnerable to left-handed hitters.
But as Servais noted after Wednesday’s loss, the Mariners constructed their bullpen as a series of component parts surrounding Diaz. Remove Diaz, and the mix becomes far more volatile.
***Back to earth: To varying degrees, three players who have been among the club’s top weapons show signs of regression to the mean: catcher Mike Zunino along with outfielders Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel.
Haniger’s slide is the most pronounced. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Wednesday and is batting .230 since returning June 11 from the disabled list. He was batting .342 in 21 games prior to suffering a strained right oblique muscle.
Zunino’s torrid June, which includes 30 RBIs, cooled to a 2-for-19 skid over the last six games. Even Gamel, who has been leading the American League in batting, is 4-for-21 in his last five games.
***The hit collector: Shortstop Jean Segura missed 30 games this season because of (first) a strained right hamstring and (then) a high right ankle sprain. But when he plays, he hits.
Segura went 3-for-5 in Wednesday’s loss and boosted his average to .336. He has multiple hits in 22 of his 50 games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners