ARLINGTON, Texas — It’s getting harder to dismiss the nightly meltdowns in the Mariners’ rotation as a cyclical hiccup that inevitably occurs over the span of a six-month season.
And concern is spiking into the red zone — or should be — at the ongoing implosion of Taijuan Walker, the long-viewed heir apparent to Felix Hernandez at the head of the rotation.
Walker is now winless in his last seven starts after wobbling through five innings Friday night in a 7-3 loss to Texas at Globe Life Park. He put the Mariners in a quick three-run hole and, this time, there was no comeback.
"It’s just being intense," Walker said, "and going out there and going right after them with conviction. I haven’t really done that in the last couple of starts. I’ve really got to get out there and get after it from pitch one."
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Maybe the Mariners were spent after overcoming a 10-run deficit Thursday night in a 16-13 victory at San Diego and arriving around 5 a.m. at their Metroplex.
More likely, they are beginning to fray at the need to bolster a struggling rotation that has allowed 60 runs in 67 innings over the last 12 games. Somehow, the Mariners are 6-6 in that span.
"All you can do is support them," second baseman Robinson Cano said. "You’ve got to stay with them. We all go through that. There were times when we just scored one or two runs.
"We’ve just got to stay together as a team, keep competing and fighting."
Walker’s struggles top the rotation’s problem list. He is 0-6 with a 5.77 ERA in his last seven starts after giving up six runs and nine hits in five innings. This collapse follows a 1.44 ERA in his five April starts.
"He’s in developmental mode right now," manager Scott Servais said, "and it’s hard to do at the big-league level. He’s just having a hard time finding a secondary pitch that’s going to work for him.
"Tonight he got hurt on a couple again. A slider, a change-up. It continues to happen over and over. A very talented guy. We certainly think he has a very high ceiling, but right now he’s in a little bit of a rut.
"He’s got to find a way out of it."
Walker (2-6) put the Mariners in a three-run hole in the first inning just as Wade Miley and James Paxton did in the preceding two games in San Diego.
Ian Desmond flicked one-out single to right and stole second. After Walker walked Nomar Mazara, he yielded a three-run homer to Adrian Beltre — a 384-foot drive to left.
That was ominous since the Rangers had won their 14 previous games when gaining a lead of more than one run.
Make it 15.
The early lead made it easy for Texas right-hander Yu Darvish, who gave up three runs and six hits over 5 2/3 innings in his second start since returning from reconstructive-elbow surgery.
The Rangers’ bullpen took it from there.
"When I got off the mound," Darvish said, "it was `Man, I gave up three runs.’ When I got back to the clubhouse, I realized they have a good lineup and have been scoring a lot of runs. I guess I pitched well."
The victory gave Texas a one-game lead over the Mariners in the American League West Division. The two clubs play five more times over the next nine days.
The Mariners got one run back in the third inning on Seth Smith’s sacrifice fly, but Walker ran into more Beltre trouble later in the inning. Again, it came after Desmond singled and Mazara walked.
Beltre then split the right-center gap for a two-run double and a 5-1 lead. Beltre tried to score from second on Ryan Rua’s one-out single, but Nori Aoki made a strong throw for the out.
Texas stretched its lead to 6-1 with two outs in the fourth when Jurickson Profar pulled an 0-2 fastball from Walker into the upper deck in right field. A 415-foot drive.
Dae-Ho Lee’s leadoff single in the fifth inning led to a run, and Mariners closed to 6-3 in the sixth when Robinson Cano led off with a double, and Kyle Seager delivered an RBI single.
But that was it.
"I’ve just got to figure it out," Walker said. "Once everything starts clicking again, it’ll be fine."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Texas second baseman Jurickson Profar, in addition to hitting a homer, made a diving catch on Seth Smith’s two-out line drive in the fifth inning with a runner on third.
PLUS: Kyle Seager went 2-for-4 and raised his average to .299…Dae-Ho Lee also went 2-for-4 and raised his average to .310…Steve Clevenger had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances…Robinson Cano extended his streak of reaching base at least once to a career-high 32 games with a leadoff double in the sixth inning. It is also the longest active such streak in the majors…Cody Martin saved the rest of the bullpen by working three innings after Taijuan Walker departed.
MINUS: Beyond Taijuan Walker’s problems, Nelson Cruz and Adam Lind were each hitless in four at-bats…the Mariners were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position after setting a club record Thursday by going 11-for-12 in their comeback victory over the Padres.
STAT PACK: Kyle Seager is batting .400 (50-for-125) since the start of May. He has hits in 27 of his last 32 games…Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre is 7-for-13 with four extra-base hits and eight RBIs in his career against Taijuan Walker.
QUOTABLE: Robinson Cano dismissed the suggestion that a late flight from San Diego — the Mariners got to their Metroplex hotel just before 5 a.m. — played a factor in the loss.
"You can’t blame it on anything," he said. "You lose because you lose. You’ve got to give credit to (Texas pitcher Yu Darvish). He pitched really well."
SHORT HOPS: Home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, the crew chief, made a delayed call in the Texas third inning when Adrian Beltre tried to score from second on a single. Cederstom finally called Beltre safe, but the call was overturned…the Rangers now hold a 4-3 lead over the Mariners in the season series.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners