ARLINGTON, Texas — Saturday was manager Scott Servais’ 49th birthday and, during his afternoon news briefing, he admitted the present he most wanted was a well-pitched game from Mariners starter Nathan Karns.
And, well…Karns went out and gave up three runs in the first inning to the Texas Rangers. That makes four straight games in which the Mariners found themselves trailing by three runs after one inning.
It didn’t get any better. The Rangers rolled to a 10-4 victory that ensured the Mariners of their first series loss of the season away from Safeco Field. They were 7-0-2 on the road before arriving Friday at Globe Life Park.
"First-inning woes," Servais said. "Just couldn’t get through it. You look up and you down right out of the chute. We’ll get it turned around. It’s just a frustrating stretch right now…Just not a good night."
Karns (5-2) lost for the first time since April 9 after giving up seven runs in four-plus innings, which continued a dreadful run by the rotation that stirred Servais’ birthday wishes.
The Mariners’ starters have given up 67 runs in 71 innings over the last 13 games, including — sit down for this — 30 runs in 17 1/3 innings over the last four games.
"In the clubhouse," Karns said, "everybody knows it’s not us and, eventually, it’s going to start going the other way. You’ve got to tip your cap. The Rangers are doing pretty well right now.
"Some of the ground balls are going their way. Ours are just finding them right now. It is what it is. The starting rotation does need to do a little better, but I’m not too worried about it."
For a while, the Mariners kept threatening to get back into the game against Texas starter Martin Perez, but Karns never got the Rangers under control.
"It does suck a little life out of you," Servais said. "It takes so much pressure off the other pitcher when he’s got three, four or five runs to work with. He can go to all of his pitches.
"He’s not on edge, and we like the guy to be on edge a little bit when we’re at the plate."
Perez (4-4) gave up three runs in six innings before Cesar Ramos and ex-Mariner Tom Wilhelmsen closed it out. The first-place Rangers moved two games ahead of the Mariners in the American League West Division.
On Sunday, the Mariners turn to Hisashi Iwakuma in a effort to avoid a sweep. Iwakuma had won four straight decisions and is the last Mariners’ starter who didn’t put his club in a three-run hole after the first inning.
"Unfortunately, our pitching has been struggling," designated hitter Nelson Cruz said, "but they’d been doing a good job all year long. They’re going to go up and down. It’s a long season. We’re expecting them to bounce back.
"Hopefully, Kuma is the answer."
Saturday was bad pretty much from the start.
Utilityman Shawn O’Malley started for the Mariners in center field and tried for diving catch on Jurickson Profar’s leadoff drive in the first inning. The ball skipped past O’Malley for a double.
Ian Desmond followed with a bunt single that neither Karns nor catcher Chris Iannetta pounced upon. Nomar Mazara’s sacrifice fly to left scored Profar for a 1-0 lead.
Desmond went to third on Rougned Odor’s two-out single before Ryan Rua pulled a two-run double just inside the third-base line for a 3-0 lead.
"Just a tough inning," Karns said. "I thought I was making quality pitches. You can’t do anything about Odor’s up-and-in bloop or a tightrope double down the line.
"It’s one of those things that’s tough to get through, but I’ve got to get through that. I can’t let it spill over to the other innings."
The Mariners got one run back in the second on Stefen Romero’s sacrifice fly, but Karns gave the run back later in the inning after walking two of the first three batters.
It could have been worse. Two more walks loaded the bases before Odor struck out. Karns walked four in the inning, which matched his previous season high for a game.
Cruz’s two-out homer in the third, a 427-foot drive to center, pulled the Mariners back to within two runs at 4-2. Again, Karns gave it back later in the inning.
Elvis Andrus doubled through third baseman Kyle Seager with two outs and scored on Bryan Holaday’s single to left.
The Mariners used three singles in the fourth to make it 5-3. O’Malley drove in the run. This time, Karns responded with a shutdown inning before the game got completely away in the fifth.
Karns started the inning with another walk. When Rua followed with a single, Servais went to the bullpen for Vidal Nuno, who gave up an RBI single to Mitch Moreland.
Andrus followed with the second three-run homer of his career. The Rangers led 9-3.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Here was the night condensed to one sequence: Texas led 5-3 in the fifth inning but had two runners on base with no outs when manager Scott Servais replaced starter Nathan Karns.
In came Vidal Nuno, who had a 1.02 ERA this season in 20 previous games. The Mariners then shifted their infield against Mitch Moreland, a struggling left-handed hitter with just four hits in his previous 51 at-bats.
Shortstop Luis Sardinas broke back toward second as the Rangers started their runners. Moreland hit a dribbler through the spot that Sardinas had just vacated.
Instead of a double play, a run scored.
Elvis Andrus followed with a three-run homer.
PLUS: Catcher Chris Iannetta continues to show signs of emerging from an extended slump. He had three hits, including two doubles, in three at-bats. That followed hits in his two previous games after an 8-for-57 slide…first baseman Dae-Ho Lee had two more hits and raised his average to .319…Nelson Cruz hit his 11th homer against the Rangers, his former club, since the start of the 2014 season. That matches Robinson Cano for the mist by any opponent.
MINUS: Nathan Karns gave up seven runs in four innings, which hikes his ERA from 3.43 to 4.23…Vidal Nuno had only permitted two runs in his 17 2/3 previous innings before giving up two runs in two innings…the Mariners were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They are 2-for-15 in the two losses to Texas after going 11-for-12 in Thursday’s big comeback victory at San Diego.
STAT PACK: Robinson Cano singled in the first inning and extended his career-best streak of reaching base at least once to 33 games. It is also the longest current streak in the majors.
QUOTABLE: Asked whether the Mariners had any alternatives to their current group of starting pitchers, manager Scott Servais said: "Not right now. Those are our guys. Felix (Hernandez) is out, but that’s only one day.
"The other guys have to step up and give us an opportunity. We’re not looking for shutouts. Just keep us in the game and give us a chance to win it."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners had not given up more than nine runs before Monday’s 14-6 loss at San Diego. Now, they’ve given up 10 or more in three of their last four games..Saturday’s game was the Mariners’ first scheduled 8:05 p.m. start in almost 13 years. The game started at 8:07 p.m…the Rangers now hold a 5-3 edge in the season series. The clubs conclude their weekend series Sunday and meet again next weekend for three games at Safeco Field.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners