DENVER – As the disconsolate Mariners shuffled out of the clubhouse late Sunday afternoon, it was as if all their pre-existing momentum had been lifted up by one of the tornadoes hitting the Denver area and sent careening out of sight.
Or maybe it just settled in the clubhouse of the Colorado Rockies, who are hoarding Big Mo at the moment.
Their 7-1 victory over Seattle – interrupted for 55 minutes in the top of the sixth by a tornado warning – completed a three-game interleague sweep and extended the Rockies’ winning streak to 11 games.
The Mariners arrived here from Baltimore having reached the .500 mark, caught the Angels for second place in the American League West, and prepared to take a run at the first-place Rangers.
They left Denver wondering what hit them. With the Angels pulling off their own weekend sweep against San Diego, the Mariners are three games behind them and 5 1/2 behind the Rangers, heading south instead of north.
“It’s frustrating to lose, period, not just getting swept,” Ken Griffey Jr. said. “It’s tough. Any time you lose, it’s not a good feeling. To get swept is three times as bad. The good thing is we can come back Tuesday (in San Diego) and start a new one.”
But not if the Mariners don’t improve an offense that managed just six hits off four Rockies pitchers. And not if they don’t shore up a rotation that’s suddenly in flux.
Jason Vargas had been one of the unexpected bright lights of the starting staff, bringing a 2.35 earned-run average over six starts into the game. But he lugged out an ERA that was more than a point higher (3.56) after giving up seven earned runs over 4 2/3 innings, getting battered for 12 hits. Six of them were doubles, tying the most two-base hits ever given up by a Mariners pitcher.
Since a gem against the Angels on May 29 (6 1/3 innings, four hits, two runs), Vargas in three starts has given up 27 hits in 15 2/3 innings.
“He hasn’t looked as crisp,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Our job is to kind of figure out what was different about that game in Anaheim, where he was as good as you can get.”
Wakamatsu thought Vargas went off his game plan by not throwing enough changeups. The pitcher agreed.
“The changeup has been a good pitch for me, and I should have been smarter than that and shake to it,” he said. “I probably could have gotten out of that (fifth) inning.”
Instead, the fifth turned into a disaster as the Rockies erupted for five runs, three of them coming on Chris Iannetta’s bases-loaded double.
“The last couple of starts, later in the game I’ve had to work a little bit harder,” Vargas said. “I would like to get back on that same page and go back to executing, getting ahead, and putting guys away.”
Vargas will now have at least a week off until his next start, which is tentatively scheduled for Sunday but might be pushed back a few days beyond that. Vargas missed all of last season after hip surgery, and the Mariners believe he might need a short respite.
“With the way things have been going, I think a couple of extra days to work on a few things is going to be good,” he said.
Seattle’s lone run came in the first inning. Jose Lopez’s sacrifice fly brought in Ichiro Suzuki, who led off with a single, extending his streak of games reaching base to 43. That matches Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman for longest in the majors this season and is four off Alvin Davis’s club record.
Despite struggling through a three-inning start Saturday, Brandon Morrow will take the mound again Thursday in San Diego. Jarrod Washburn, who was scheduled to start Thursday, had his back “lock up” again Saturday, and he’s walking very gingerly. His start has been pushed back to Friday. … Reliever Shawn Kelley, on the disabled list since May 6 with a strained oblique, threw a 25-pitch bullpen session before Sunday’s game and experienced no pain or restrictions. He will throw again Tuesday.