Happ allows three home runs and lasts just 31/3 innings as Seattle loses its fourth in a row.
MINNEAPOLIS — With little to no trade value to send him elsewhere, J.A. Happ’s tenure as a starting pitcher for the Mariners is trending toward tenuous. Barring an unexpected trade, Happ’s future in the final two months of the season could be in the bullpen as a long relief man.
Another shaky outing on Thursday night in the Mariners’ 9-5 loss to the Twins didn’t quite seal his fate, but it’s looming.
With the Mariners having lost four straight to drop out of legitimate contention at 46-57, it isn’t a priority to keep rolling Happ out on the mound, particularly if he’s ineffective.
A free agent after this season, there was some hope Happ might have been dealt for a midlevel prospect. But with the deadline approaching on Friday at 1 p.m., it seems unlikely that teams are interested in a pitcher that has had up and down outings for the better part of two months. Over his past eight starts, Happ is 1-4 with a 6.42 ERA.
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How long can they continue to put Happ out there?
“I understand your question,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “But you have to have options that are reliable to run out there other than that guy. So right now, we’ll keep running him out there. He’s a part of this. He’ll be out there in five days.”
With James Paxton not expected back until September, the Mariners’ best option available to fill Happ’s spot is young left-hander Roenis Elias. But Elias also hasn’t been particularly sharp since being sent down in July when Hisashi Iwakuma returned from the disabled list. In five starts, he’s 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA and just one start where he pitched into the seventh inning.
If Elias had been pitching well might that change things?
“That would certainly help quite a bit,” McClendon said. “And we don’t have Pax, so that’s not an option.”
Vidal Nuno, who has pitched well in relief, has starting experience.
“He’s been so valuable in the role that he’s in,” McClendon said. “It would be awfully hard to take him out of there, because I don’t know what fills it.”
Still, Elias is part of the team’s plans going forward and Happ likely isn’t. If it continues, the Mariners may have no other choice.
Happ’s latest outing didn’t help him. He worked just 31/3 innings, giving up seven runs (six earned) on nine hits with a walk and two strikeouts.
“It was a beating,” he said. “It seemed whatever adjustment I tried to make, they were right on it. I made some mistakes over the plate and it cost me. It was not a good time for that after the few games we had. It was just a brutal one.”
Under different circumstances, McClendon might have made a change in the first or second inning. But with a beat-up and beleaguered bullpen, Happ had to stay in and salvage innings.
“That was what I was trying to do, just get us through some innings,” Happ said. “But it just seemed like it was a battle all night long. It didn’t seem that they were fooled by much.”
He was given a two-run lead before he even stepped on the mound, thanks to a two-run homer from Seth Smith off Minnesota starter Phil Hughes.
And that lead became a three-run deficit when Happ walked off the mound nine batters later.
Happ gave up a leadoff homer to Brian Dozier to start the inning and it snowballed from there, aided by his own throwing error to first base. Torii Hunter would come up with an RBI single and Eddie Rosario smashed a three-run homer for a five-run first inning. The entire Twins’ order came to the plate.
“The three-run homer was a bad pitch,” Happ said. “It was a backup curveball and he just stayed on it.”
It only got marginally better for Happ. Aaron Hicks hit a solo homer in the second inning to make it 6-2.
The Mariners tried to make things interesting against Hughes, who wasn’t much better than Happ. Mark Trumbo pushed across a run with an infield single in the third inning to cut the lead to 6-3.
But Happ gave the run back in the bottom of the third, giving up leadoff double to Rosario and a two-out single from Jorge Polanco to make it 7-3.
Seattle cut the lead to 7-5 in the fourth on Austin Jackson’s two-run homer.
• After the game, the Mariners optioned Chris Taylor to Class AAA Tacoma and are expected to call up top prospect Ketel Marte.
Information in this article, originally published July 30, 2015, was corrected July 31, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Mariners’ record was 46-58 instead of 46-57.