BALTIMORE — In the end Monday, it was Chris Davis’ line-drive RBI double in the seventh inning against Emilio Pagan that sent the Mariners to a 7-6 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
It was a wild back-and-forth battle. The Mariners twice held the lead. They had the tying and go-ahead runs on the base with no outs in the eighth inning. They had the tying run on base with one out in the ninth inning.
This was was a game they could have won. In losing it, they wasted a career-high five RBIs from Ben Gamel.
Even so, the overriding question for the Mariners coming out of the game wasn’t what happened (or didn’t happen) in the later innings. It was what happened (and didn’t happen) at the start.
Specifically, how much longer can they afford to keep rookie left-hander Marco Gonzales in their rotation after a fifth straight abbreviated and disappointing start?
“Obviously, they were on Marco, really, from the get-go,” manager Scott Servais said. “He gave up eight hits, a couple of walks…We’ll continue to work with him. I think he’s got a bright future. It’s just not clicking right now.”
Gonzales gave up five runs and those eight hits in 3 1/3 innings before exiting with the bases loaded. He twice surrendered leads immediately after getting them. And this isn’t new.
His ERA is up to 8.25, and Gonzales has yet to pitch as long as five innings, which means an already overtaxed bullpen gets an extra helping of stress every fifth day.
The numbers say it’s not working, although Gonzales has a different view.
“I felt I had my best stuff,” he said. “My velo was there. My breaking pitch was there. I didn’t execute late in the fourth inning. A couple of walks, a couple of bloop singles — that doesn’t help either.”
The question remains: What now?
The Mariners (66-66) have lost three in a row and now trail Minnesota by two games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. They have 30 games remaining.
Their rotation remains a patchwork quilt, which is why Gonzales is in the big leagues instead of Triple-A Tacoma, where he should be closing out what, by any measure, is a successful first season back from Tommy John surgery.
It is easy to see why the Mariners like what Gonzales offers for the future. The first season back for most Tommy John patients often amounts to a year-long rehab assignment.
The problem, though, is the here and now for a club seeking to mount a postseason push.
James Paxton and Felix Hernandez should return at some point in September from the disabled list, but it won’t be early in the month. Neither is expected to begin throwing from a mound until this weekend.
Hisashi Iwakuma’s prospects aren’t even that bright.
That positions Christian Bergman, who stranded three runners after replacing Gonzales in the fourth inning, and Sam Gaviglio as the top short-term options. Both had mixed results earlier this season during extended tours.
Bergman was 4-4 with a 5.70 ERA in eight starts. Gaviglio, who is still at Tacoma, was 3-5 with a 4.62 ERA in 11 starts.
Do the Mariners turn to one of them to bridge the gap until Paxton and/or Hernandez return? Or do they stay with Gonzales?
“We’ll see,” Servais hedged. “We’ll talk about it. I certainly like a lot of things he does. He’s just struggled at putting hitters away. When he’s not right on his spots, they had pretty good swings.”
The Mariners opened the scoring in the second inning when Danny Valencia, who started in right field in place of slumping Mitch Haniger, drove a two-out homer to center field against Baltimore starter Chris Tillman.
Gonzales helped the Orioles answer immediately by issuing a leadoff walk later in the inning to Adam Jones. Three one-out singles produced two runs. Baltimore added another run in the third inning for a 3-1 lead.
Gamel’s three-run homer in the fourth, which followed a pair of walks, put the Mariners back on top. His 414-foot drive to center was his seventh homer of the season but his first since July 22.
But Gonzales started the bottom of the inning by retiring just one of five hitters before Servais applied the hook. The Orioles led 5-4 when Bergman entered the game.