Mariners starter Chase De Jong faltered in the fifth inning, allowing a two-run single to former Mariner Justin Smoak and a three-run homer to Steve Pearce.
TORONTO — One more out was needed.
It didn’t have to be a strikeout. Anything caught or easily gloved would do.
But following one failed attempt after another by Mariners starter Chase De Jong to get that third out in the fifth inning, the game was out of reach for Seattle in a 7-2 loss Thursday night to the Blue Jays.
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It is an uneven, pitfall-filled, rocky path that manager Scott Servais and the Mariners must traverse given their current starting pitching situation.
How long can Servais let a starting pitcher go? When does early success become unsustainable, forcing a change? How many four- or five-inning starts can a team endure?
Thursday’s loss offered a glimpse into that un-simple decision that must be balanced. Before the game Servais admitted they would do things differently with a starting rotation that is being manned by the expected starting rotation for Class AAA Tacoma.
“You may not see the game managed in the more traditional fashion,” he said. “You may see guys getting pulled in the fourth inning kind of like we did last Sunday at home with (Dillon) Overton and (Christian) Bergman. Hopefully we can get it to the point where the game is tied or we have a lead and we go to that core in our bullpen that has been very good.”
Servais and the Mariners had a one-run lead and were trying to steal just one more out, if not one more inning, from De Jong. But it all fell apart in that turning point of a fifth inning.
In his third start of the season and third big-league start of his career, De Jong had navigated through a depleted and beat-up Blue Jays lineup for 42/3 innings, allowing just one run while his teammates provided him two runs of support and seemed likely to give him more.
“I really wasn’t as crisp as I would’ve liked to have been,” De Jong said.
And yet he was making it work well enough that his first big-league victory was within reach.
After quickly dispatching Chris Coghlan and Luke Maile to start the fifth inning, De Jong’s quest for that final out, possibly giving himself an opportunity for another inning to work, became Sisyphus-like in its frustration and results.
“He gets the first two outs in the fifth and in the back of my mind, he’s still in a really good spot, pitch-count-wise,” Servais said. “You are hoping he can get through that one and put him out there for the sixth. He was in a very manageable situation with his pitch count, and it looked like he was throwing better.”
Five good innings would have been ideal, six would have been a luxury.
Instead, De Jong issued a two-out walk to Kevin Pillar after being up 1-2 in the count, gave up a single to Ezequiel Carrera and walked Jose Bautista to load the bases.
“That at-bat to Pillar, we got ahead and just kind of picked and picked and picked,” De Jong said. “It didn’t really go our way.”
With each base runner, the Mariners bullpen stirred with activity. But it was just one more out to end the inning. It was far too early to go to one of the four setup men: James Pazos, Tony Zych, Marc Rzepczynski or Nick Vincent. Long man Overton had pitched the day before and was viewed as a possible starter Saturday. Sam Gaviglio had never pitched in a big-league game, and Zac Curtis had been on the roster for about eight hours.
The M’s just needed one more out, and Servais trusted De Jong to find a way to get it without allowing too much damage. He’d done so for the first four innings. De Jong couldn’t reward that trust.
“It got away from him,” Servais said. “They put some good at-bats together against him. He’s a young pitcher; that happens.”
De Jong hung a first-pitch curveball to former Mariner first baseman Justin Smoak, who punched it into center for a two-run single. It was a galling result for Mariners fans, who endured Smoak’s many failures in that situation and are regrettably embedded in their memory.
“It escalated pretty quickly,” De Jong said. “You get two outs relatively quick and it got away from us. The walks hurt. They hit the ball. He did his job. I didn’t do mine.”
With the Blue Jays up 3-2, the game and the deficit were manageable, which is all Servais wants or expects from his young starters.
But if you get one more out, it’s still workable.
With Steve Pearce coming to the plate, De Jong stayed in the game. Pearce, a longtime platoon player who mashes lefties but was forced into an everyday role, was hitting .189 and was 0 for 2 in the game.
Again, De Jong got ahead 1-2 in the count. The final out loomed. He tried to elevate a fastball, but the 92 mph pitch wasn’t high enough given the hittable velocity. Pearce pounced on it, slamming a three-run homer to make it 6-2.
“I shook to it, thinking we could go fastball up and either he’s going to pop it up or swing under it,” De Jong said. “I look back, and I got on top of it a little too much. I missed by probably three inches.”
After having two outs and the bases empty, the Blue Jays had scored five runs. That final out came moments later when Ryan Goins bounced out to first.
“It’s hard a lesson to learn,” Servais said. “He just didn’t finish the inning.”
The wait for that last out torpedoed Seattle’s formula for winning.
“That’s on me,” De Jong said.”