ARLINGTON, Texas — If the situation had arisen the day before, the decisions about the pitchers used would have been different because, well, there would’ve been better pitchers in the Mariners’ bullpen.
But hours before the Mariners took the field at Globe Life Park for Wednesday night’s series finale with the Rangers, they watched as two of their best relievers — left-hander Roenis Elias and right-hander Hunter Strickland — packed their bags and readied themselves for relevant baseball.
They’d been traded to the Nationals.
And a bullpen that had suddenly shown some viability over the past 10 games was weakened considerably.
So when manager Scott Servais wanted to keep a one-run deficit in place so his team could rally to extend its winning streak, his options were more than limited.
This isn’t new in this “step-back” season where the bulk of the arms in the relief corps are unproven and inexperienced for a variety of reasons, including talent and ability to execute.
Add in some injuries to Strickland, Austin Adams and Brandon Brennan, and the outcome was sort of expected.
After a scoreless inning of work where he looked dominant with two strikeouts, right-hander Matt Magill returned to pitch the seventh and never finished it, giving up three runs and turning a one-run deficit into four.
That proved to be the difference in a 9-7 loss to the Rangers.
The defeat snapped Seattle’s six-game winning streak, which was tied for its longest of this season.
With Strickland and Elias both traded, the Mariners called up Gerson Bautista from Class AAA Tacoma and selected the contract of right-hander Zac Grotz out of Class AA Arkansas. Bautista has struggled this season while Grotz has never pitched in the big leagues and spent all of last season in the independent leagues.
With Sam Tuivailala unavailable and Cory Gearrin already used, Servais decided to push Magill for a second inning, something he’d done once since being acquired by the Mariners, but multiple times early in the season with uneven results. A leadoff walk to Willie Calhoun followed by a double to Rougned Odor started the problems. Logan Forsythe dumped a soft single to center, allowing both runs to score. He would later score on Jeff Mathis’ one-out single that ended Magill’s outing. A workable deficit for a comeback was lost.
“Matt threw awesome in his first inning,” Servais said. “I think he threw 10 pitches and had a couple of punchouts. And then he went out for the seventh and was a totally different guy. That happens in once in a while. I like what I’ve seen out of him. But having that multiple-inning guy there is going to be really important for us.”
Servais admitted the situation would’ve been different with Strickland and Elias in the bullpen. It probably would’ve been veteran Anthony Bass pitching that inning instead.
“Oh yeah, there’s no question,” Servais said. “We are in a different situation now. We’ve got some inexperienced guys and we are a little light on bodies. There will be a lot less experience and guys you’ll have to be patient with, but the biggest thing for us has been strike-throwing. Lately we haven’t walked guys, but you go back to that seventh inning and it all started with a walk.”
So when Keon Broxton hit his first homer as a Mariner and fifth of the season, the two-run blast only trimmed the lead to 9-7.
Neither team got stellar outings from its starters. Seattle’s Wade LeBlanc pitched just 4 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on 10 hits with a walk and two strikeouts. Meanwhile Texas starter Mike Minor, who seemed destined to be traded to a contender before the afternoon deadline, didn’t get moved and made his scheduled outing, pitching five innings and giving up five runs on seven hits with three walks and five strikeouts.
“You have to be able to get the ball on the ground here, and I wasn’t able to do that tonight,” LeBlanc said. “There was no finish, no life on the pitches, which is really frustrating. But I will keep trying to figure it out.”
Down 3-2 going into the fourth inning, the Mariners took the lead, loading the bases against Minor and getting a run-scoring infield single from Mallex Smith and a laser of a two-run single off the bat of J.P. Crawford to go up 5-3.
But LeBlanc couldn’t hold it in the fifth inning, serving up three-run homer to Willie Calhoun on a line drive over the wall in the right-field corner for a 6-5 Texas lead.
“They were on him all night,” Servais said. “He had a hard time getting any soft contact or missing bats.”