The Seattle Mariners have run into a rock in the road.
The bottom third of their batting order was made of players filling in for injuries, while the bottom third of the Colorado Rockies order – Pat Valaika, Gerardo Parra and Noel Cuevas – played like All-Stars.
Even with James Paxton pitching, the Rockies’ bottom three combined to go 6-for-9 at the plate and drove in four of the Rockies’ five runs in the Mariners’ 5-1 loss on Saturday at Safeco Field.
That’s now three loses in the Mariners’ past four games, including two in a row in this interleague series, to fall to 56-34, while the Rockies (46-43) won their fifth consecutive game and have won eight of their past nine.
“That’s where we’ve ran into trouble is at the bottom of their lineup,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “They’ve done some damage against us the past couple of days.”
Including in the Mariners’ 7-1 loss on Friday, when their catcher hit two triples.
And for the second consecutive day the Mariners’ offense was limited to nothing but a solo home run.
“We’ve been stymied offensively,” Servais said. “We haven’t done much as far as getting a big hit with a runner in scoring position or a rally going.”
Mitch Haniger was back for the Mariners, but no Dee Gordon. He injured his hip when he was tagged out at home plate the night before but Servais said he was keeping their second baseman out Saturday more as a precaution. They expect him to be healthy for Sunday.
So that left the Mariners’ with a peculiar bottom of their batting order with John Andreoli, who was playing his second major league game after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma earlier Saturday when the Mariners optioned right-hander Nick Rumbelow. Andreoli was in Seattle on Friday, as well, in case they needed to send Haniger to the disabled list with a bruised knee.
And behind him was David Freitas, who was called up on Thursday when the Mariners sent catcher Mike Zunino to the disabled list with a bone bruise in his ankle, and Andrew Romine batted ninth while taking Gordon’s spot at second base.
Gordon did enter as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. He flew out to left field.
Haniger went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks in his return. After missing the previous two games.
“We’re a little banged up right now. It happens,” Servais said. “We just got to keep grinding through it. It’s where we’re at.”
The bottom of the Mariners order struggled. The Rockies’ shined.
Cuevas had hit one home run this season. Then he got a cutter from Paxton right down the middle of the plate with one out in the seventh inning and he launched it for a three-run home run and a 4-1 Rockies lead.
“I felt really good today,” Paxton said. “Had good stuff. Felt like I threw the ball well. The cutter was good, getting ahead with the fastball and down with the curveball and throwing strikes with everything. It was all good except for that one pitch.”
Two innings earlier the Mariners had tied the game when Jean Segura got ahold of his seventh home run of the season.
Paxton’s pitches seemed sharp, throwing 98-mph fastballs in the seventh inning, but he walked Valaika (batting .133 entering the game) and Parra followed with a single before Cuevas’ homer.
Except Servais and Paxton both thought Valaika should have been called out on strikes on a check swing.
“I thought so, but Joe (West) didn’t think so,” Paxton said. “He makes the call and not me.”
Paxton’s day ended with nine strikeouts, just missing double-digit Ks for the third consecutive start.
But nothing was more impressive than what Paxton did in the third inning.
Again with the Rockies’ bottom of the order. Valaika, Parra and Cuevas all reached to load the bases with no outs – and the top of Colorado’s order due.
Paxton got DJ LeMahieu to fly out to shallow center field, too shallow for Valaika to tag up from third. He then struck out Charlie Blackmon chasing a 97-mph fastball and Nolan Arenado chasing a cutter.
“Just had to make one pitch at a time,” Paxton said. “Start giving everything I have every pitch and try to give us the best opportunity to get us out right there.”
Entering the game, Paxton was 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA since throwing his first career no-hitter on May 8.
But the Mariners offense never strung much together. They had one extra-base hit in Friday’s loss (Denard Span’s solo home run) and Segura’s homer on Saturday was their only extra-base hit of this one.
Meanwhile, Carlos Gonzales led off the ninth inning with a double off of Juan Nicasio. He later scored on Parra’s sacrifice fly for a 5-1 Rockies lead.
“I can’t remember the last time we lost the first two games of a series at home,” Servais said. “We’ve been that good at home. But we have to get back at it and finish off the homestand. Just getting a few hits with runners in scoring position will be the key for us.”
One more game in the series. Left-hander Wade LeBlanc (8-2, 3.39 ERA) starts for the Mariners against Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela (3-1, 4.44 ERA) in the 1:10 p.m. start Sunday at Safeco Field. The game will broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM radio.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill