Do the Mariners have a Plan B to bridge the span until James Paxton and (hopefully) Felix Hernandez return from the disabled list and rejoin the rotation at some point in September?
Because the early returns on their modified piggyback plan aren’t promising.
Lefty Ariel Miranda got the hook Sunday in the fifth inning — although he had labored through 96 pitches — and reliever James Pazos promptly permitted two inherited runners to score in what turned into a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
"Painful," club chairman John Stanton said simply as he walked past the clubhouse after the game.
Wasn’t it though?
Sunday’s loss capped a four-game weekend sweep by the Angels at Safeco Field and dropped the Mariners back under .500 (at 59-60) while heightening questions regarding their ability to mount a postseason push.
"It was definitely a tough weekend for us," third baseman Kyle Seager said. "We let some games slip away from us. We certainly need to do better than that. We can’t let it become more than that. We have to keep it at a bad weekend.
"If we dwell on this, it spirals into a couple of weeks here. Our job is to turn the page and flip the script as fast as we can."
Let’s go down that road. Say it was just a bad weekend. Even a casual glance at the many contenders for the American League’s two wild-card spots readily shows that each lurched through at times rough stretches.
The Mariners appeared dead in the water in May but, conversely, entered their four-game series against the Angels on a sustained surge that carried them into sole possession of the final wild-card berth.
"We were playing good ball coming off the road," manager Scott Servais said. "We’ve got to play. The Angels played better than we did for four days. I say that and you can look back at all four games, and we were right in all four games."
What raises concern is this bad weekend comes after Paxton, the club’s emerging ace, suffered a strained left pectoral muscle in the series opener. He is expected to miss at least three weeks.
Paxton’s injury came just five days after the Mariners put Hernandez on the disabled list for the second time this season because of bursitis in his shoulder. Hernandez hasn’t yet resumed a throwing program.
Faced with few alternatives, the Mariners’ solution is to rely increasingly on what has been a strong bullpen while applying a quick hook to their starting pitchers. They did that in May, when Paxton missed time, and were able to tread water.
It sure didn’t work this weekend:
***Edwin Diaz gave up three runs Thursday in the ninth inning in a 6-3 loss after the Mariners bailed out Paxton by scoring three times in the eighth inning.
***Andrew Moore and Pazos gave up five runs over three innings Friday in a 6-5 loss. Moore gave up four two-out runs in the seventh .
***Casey Lawrence and Tony Zych gave five runs in two innings Saturday in a 6-3 loss after Erasmo Ramirez limited the Angels to one unearned run in six innings.
***All four runs Sunday were charged to Miranda, but Pazos fueled the Angels’ three-run fifth by issuing a walk that moved a runner into scoring position before Martin Maldonado grounded a decisive two-run single up the middle.
"The bullpen did struggle throughout the weekend for a number of reasons," Servais said. "For one, for a couple of days there, we gave some guys some days off who needed it. We’d been running them very hard.
"When you do that, you put other guys in positions that they’re not normally in. Guys coming out of the pen, that first hitter you face is the most important. We didn’t do a good job out of the bullpen with the first hitter."
It all played out in front of big crowds.
The attendance Sunday was 43,199, and the four-day average was 40,454. Much of that was due, no doubt, to the celebrations surrounding the ceremony Saturday to retire Edgar Martinez’s No. 11.
But part of the lure, too, is this was a big series, and the Mariners stumbled badly. Going forward, they either need a Plan B. Or for Plan A to work a lot better. Because all those fans know Stanton is right. This was painful.
Three takeaways from Sunday’s loss:
***Miranda’s struggles deepen: Miranda has one victory in last 12 starts while compiling a 5.74 ERA in that span. He also leads the majors with 30 homers allowed. And the trends are all worsening.
"It obviously hasn’t been a good stretch," he conceded. "I feel good physically and mentally. I could be a little tired in terms of the length of the season, but I feel pretty good.
"It was just a matter of not being able to make those adjustments on the fly."
Miranda gave up a season-high six walks in 4 2/3 innings and, even so, the Mariners trailed just 2-1 when Pazos entered the game.
"It comes and goes," Servais said. "You see glimpses with two of three hitters where the fastball has life and he’s landing the off-speed pitches. Then it goes. He's behind in counts. He did struggle today.
"We’ve got to find a way to get him back on the right track because it has been rough."
***Thanks and (probably) goodbye: Christian Bergman kept the Mariners positioned for a possible comeback by pitching four scoreless innings after replacing Pazos to start the sixth.
That probably means he’s headed back Monday to Triple-A Tacoma.
Bergman threw 49 pitches, which means he needs at least two (and probably three) days to recover. That rest is unlikely to come in a bullpen where the Mariners’ plan is to keep fresh arms available behind their suspect rotation.
***Owned by the Angels: The Angels (61-58) have won six and a row and 12 of their last 16, which is why they now hold the undisputed lead in the race for the AL’s final wild-card spot. The Mariners are two games back.
The biggest difference is head-to-head.
The Angels hold a 9-4 lead in the season series and have seven comeback victories, including three this weekend at Safeco Field. That doesn’t count their three-run rally Thursday in the ninth inning of a tie game against Diaz.
The two teams six more times: Sept. 11-13 at Safeco Field and a season-ending series Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Anaheim.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners