Bullpen usage is always up, Mariners reliever Drew Storen said — especially during a late-season playoff race.
But mix in the struggles of Seattle’s starting pitchers during the last several games — they’re 3-11 in the past 14 games since Aug. 21, and have pitched fewer than six innings in nine of those outings — and the bullpen is considerably more stretched.
The Mariners have cycled through 10 relievers in three games since returning home from Texas on Friday. Three of them carried the majority of the load in Saturday’s blowout loss. Starter Taijuan Walker gave up six runs early, and exited after two-thirds of an inning.
The starting staff continued to struggle Sunday, when Hisashi Iwakuma gave up two first-inning home runs in the series closer against the Angels.
“With the situations the last couple nights, giving up runs early, you want to make sure you’re covered (in the bullpen),” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
Storen, who was 2-0 with a 4.35 ERA for Seattle before he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation, was activated Sunday. He pitched one inning, allowing no hits while striking out one. The reliable right-hander has limited opponents to one run or fewer in each of his last 10 outings.
“It was pretty standard,” Storen said of his brief stint on the DL. “It was one of those situations where, early in the season, I just needed a couple days and I’d be good. But we don’t really have that luxury this time of year.”
Storen was acquired on July 26 from Toronto, where he worked primarily as a closer and pitched a lower volume of innings.
“I wasn’t throwing that much in Toronto, and then coming here, it’s kind of pedal to the metal and high leverage — all good things,” Storen said. “There’s just no way to prepare for that. If I’d been throwing a lot throughout the year, it probably would have been a different story.”
The Mariners have won two games since Storen was put on the DL on Aug. 22. They’ve won one game since reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (back) was placed on the 15-day DL. Both of the veteran pitchers, Servais said, had been tasked recently with entering games in difficult situations.
“They were pitching very regularly and doing a good job,” Servais said. “We kind of had them in pseudo roles. Tom and Drew were both kind of helping us get out of jams. When there was traffic on the bases, they were coming in to deal with that.”
Maybe the absences are correlated, or maybe coincidental considering Seattle’s recent slump, but Servais pointed to the lackluster starting pitching as a contributing factor and pressing issue.
Mariners starters have given up more than four runs in eight of their last 14 games. That includes 19 home runs — the most in the majors during that span.
“Starting pitching has struggled on the trip, and obviously the last couple nights, giving up runs early in the game,” Servais said. “Sometimes you can overcome it, sometimes you can’t.”
The latter has been true lately, which led to Sunday’s addition to the bullpen of David Rollins, who was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.
“David’s been here in the past, and David’s left-handed, so we can throw him out there in a number of different roles,” Servais said.
That might mean when the Mariners are behind the eight ball. With the season winding down, whether or not the starters continue to stumble will be a factor.
“Texas comes in here next series, very hot club, they’ve been playing very well, certainly handled us down in Texas,” Servais said. “But get them in our ballpark and try to get some momentum going. It usually starts on the mound.”
FINGERNAIL IS FINE
James Paxton’s recurring fingernail issue seems to be fixed for the time being.
The lefty tore a fingernail on the middle finger of his pitching hand during his Aug. 31 start against Texas. He has a makeshift nail made of glue and powder to replace the tear.
“It’s doing pretty good,” he said. “I threw a bullpen yesterday and it stayed on just fine, so that was good.”
Paxton said the nail will be touched up on Sunday — he joked that he’d ask whether flames could be painted on it — in anticipation of his Tuesday start against the Rangers.
“Tuesday is going to be a go,” he said.
Tacoma, which has clinched a Pacific Coast League playoff berth, won its 80th game on Sunday, rallying for four runs in the ninth to defeat Reno, 8-7, at Cheney Stadium.
The club has won 80 or more games only three times since becoming Seattle’s top affiliate in 1995. Before Sunday, the Rainiers most recently hit the mark in 2008, when they finished 80-64.
The longest game in the history of Fenway Park, which opened in 1912, was Sept. 4, 1981, when the Mariners edged Boston, 8-7, in the 20th inning.
The game had been suspended on the previous night, tied at 7-7, because of the American League’s 1 a.m. curfew. Bob Stoddard, the first-ever farm product to pitch for the Mariners, earned the win.
Later that Sept. 4, the Mariners won the regularly scheduled game against the Red Sox, 5-2.
Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz has hit 10 home runs during his last 21 games against the Angels. He has 36 homers against the Angels during his career. ... With one more home run, outfielder Leonys Martin would become the first Mariners player since Michael Saunders in 2012 to complete a season with 15 or more homers and 15 or more steals. Martin has 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases.
Texas comes to town this week for a four-game series. The 1:10 p.m. opener on Monday matches Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez (9-5, 3.48 ERA) against Angels lefty Cole Hamels (14-4, 2.91). The game will be televised on Root Sports, and broadcast on 710-AM.