OAKLAND, Calif. — Another early exit by a starting pitcher has the Seattle Mariners scrambling both in the bullpen and the division standings just one series into the season.
The Mariners dropped their third in a row to the Oakland Athletics, 6-2, on Thursday afternoon, after capturing the series opener. Starting pitcher Doug Fister lasted just four innings, forcing the bullpen to once again pick up multiple frames of work at a time when several relievers could use the rest.
Seattle earlier in the day purchased the contract of long reliever Jesus Colome and made room for him by designating outfielder Ryan Langerhans for assignment. The addition of Colome, who flew here before the game and took the mound in the fifth inning, marks the end of Seattle’s experiment with a six-man bullpen.
The Mariners had hoped that breaking camp with one fewer bullpen arm would allow them to keep Langerhans and bolster them with an extra left-handed hitter off the bench and an above-average backup center fielder.
But the lack of a true long reliever in the bullpen had left the Mariners’ relievers teetering on the brink of disaster after three close games to start the series. The brief outing by Fister comes on the heels of a five-inning performance by Ryan Rowland-Smith on Wednesday that stretched the bullpen to its limit.
Seattle now heads into Texas for a weekend series against one of the better hitting clubs in baseball, knowing the relievers will be tested once more if starter Jason Vargas can’t get through the middle innings Friday night.
The Mariners are already two games behind in the AL West standings. And while it’s too early in the season to gauge anything, they can’t afford to get blown out by Texas and give up too much division ground as they try to tread water this month in the hope that injured starter Cliff Lee can return by early May.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu entered Thursday’s contest without the services of two of his top three bullpen arms — Mark Lowe and Brandon League — because both had been used on consecutive days already.
Wakamatsu was also reluctant to use Kanekoa Texeira again, because he’d thrown 40 pitches on Tuesday and the manager wanted to give him two days off if possible. With Sean White limited to one-inning duty because of arm troubles last year, the Mariners were running out of relievers capable of picking up multiple innings if needed.
That’s why the arrival of Colome could not have come at a better time.
Colome worked three innings, getting through a nine-pitch fifth, but then yielding a run-scoring double to Cliff Pennington and an RBI single to Daric Barton in the sixth that put Oakland ahead 4-0. Texeira wound up pitching the eighth inning, giving up two more runs, but the rest of the bullpen got a day off and should be fairly rested heading into Texas.
The A’s had scored a run in the third of Fister, who was charged with a balk call, then gave up a run-scoring double by Ryan Sweeney. Oakland added a second run in the fourth inning when, with two on and two out, Barton blooped a single that dropped in to center field.
A’s starter Brett Anderson handcuffed the Mariners on two hits the first six innings. But he was pulled in the seventh after a leadoff single by Chone Figgins and a walk to Franklin Gutierrez. But the Seattle offense floundered from there, with reliever Chad Gaudin striking out Milton Bradley, then getting Mike Sweeney on a foul pop out and Jose Lopez on a lazy fly ball to right.
Seattle didn’t score until Mike Sweeney singled off Jerry Blevins in the ninth to bring Gutierrez home. Matt Tuiasosopo also singled that inning to score a second run, but Casey Kotchman grounded into a game-ending double play.