Happ allowed six runs (five earned) and eight hits with three walks and three strikeouts in the Mariners’ 6-4 loss to the San Diego Padres but was satisfied with his pitch count.

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PEORIA, Ariz. — J.A. Happ has heard the line used by his fellow pitchers hundreds of times. He knows it isn’t what people want to hear, and really it isn’t what he wants to say.

But after failing to get out of the fourth inning of his start Tuesday at Peoria Stadium, it was one of the positives he could take from it.

Happ allowed six runs (five earned) and eight hits with three walks and three strikeouts in the Mariners’ 6-4 loss to the San Diego Padres.

Padres 6, Mariners 4

Notable: At Peoria Stadium, Mariners starter J.A. Happ was less than stellar in his outing, failing to make it out of the fourth inning and giving up six runs (five earned) and eight hits with three walks and three strikeouts. He left with two outs in the fourth inning. ... Austin Jackson had a double and an RBI single. ... Endy Chavez came off the bench and ripped an RBI double to left-center. ... Relievers Mark Lowe, Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen and Joe Saunders combined to pitch 51/3 scoreless innings, with four hits and no walks,

Player of the game: Seth Smith, acquired from the Padres in the offseason, drove in the Mariners’ first two runs. He singled home Austin Jackson in the first inning and hit a solo homer in the third inning off San Diego starter Andrew Cashner.

Quotable: “He probably fatigued a little bit, but this is spring training. He didn’t look good. But he got the pitch count to 80, which was good.” — Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, on Happ.

On tap: The Mariners (9-10-2) host the Chicago Cubs at Peoria Stadium on Wednesday night. Right-hander Taijuan Walker will get the start for Seattle, and the Cubs will send lefty Travis Wood to the mound. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV and broadcast on ESPN 710 and mariners.com.

Ryan Divish

“I got the pitches in,” Happ said of his pitch count. “And I hate saying that. And that’s not what I want. But when you look at it, that’s what I have to take from this.”

It was far from a meltdown. The Mariners made two errors behind him, and there were a couple of marginal plays that, if made, could have helped.

“The result was ugly,” he said. “They poked a few through, and then they got the big hit. I don’t think it was an absolute disaster. I certainly could have been sharper.”

The big hit was Justin Upton’s two-run homer in a three-run third inning. Happ already had allowed three runs in the second on three hits, a walk and an error.

“I think I got a little mechanical when I started off not as sharp,” he said. “I think I need to go the other way and go more athletic and just let your body take over. But that’s something I have to be able to adjust to quicker.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon tried to maintain perspective.

“We got the pitch count up (to 80) — that’s the positive,” McClendon said. “It’s spring training. It wasn’t pretty, but I think we all know he’s better than that.”

Mariners fans don’t necessarily know that. They are wondering why Happ was guaranteed a spot in the rotation along with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and presumably James Paxton, while Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez have to fight it out for the last spot.

It comes down to roster spots and service time. The M’s wanted to add veteran starting pitching depth to a thin 40-man roster. They acquired Happ from the Blue Jays, who also picked up around half of Happ’s $6.7 million salary this season, in an offseason trade for outfielder Michael Saunders.

Like any veteran pitcher, Happ has no minor-league options. Meaning, if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster or is removed from it, he would be designated for assignment and the Mariners would lose him. Both Walker and Elias have minor-league options. With Ramirez also likely to be gone come the beginning of the season, that would leave the Mariners with just five established starters with big-league experience on their 40-man roster.

Since 1900, only five teams have started and finished the season with the same five starting pitchers making all the starts. Whether it is injury or poor performance, there is a need for more than five capable major-league starting pitchers in an organization.

The Mariners found themselves fighting these issues last season when Iwakuma and Walker began the season on the disabled list and lefty Randy Wolf opted out of his contract. Elias already was being asked to make the jump from Class AA to the big leagues, and the M’s were forced to sign Chris Young on the last day of spring training. It was quick Band-Aid to a wound that opened even wider when Paxton went on the DL because of a strained latissmus dorsi.

That lack of depth forced them to start Ramirez 14 times, Brandon Maurer seven, Blake Beavan once and reliever Tom Wilhelmsen twice. In those 24 starts, the Mariners went 8-16.

With the loser of the Walker-Elias battle going to Class AAA Tacoma to get regular work as a starter, the M’s thus have some flexibility if injury or atrophy takes a toll.

Opening lineup?

McClendon wouldn’t give any hints, but Tuesday’s batting order against the Padres sure looked like the likely opening-day lineup. The Mariners face the Angels and right-hander Jered Weaver on April 6 at Safeco Field.

This order sure seems to be what McClendon has hinted to and discussed this spring:

1. Austin Jackson,CF

2. Seth Smith, RF

3. Robinson Cano, 2B

4. Nelson Cruz, DH

5. Kyle Seager, 3B

6. Logan Morrison,1B

7. Mike Zunino, C

8. Dustin Ackley, LF

9. Brad Miller, SS

Of course, McClendon, who was in a playful mood, wouldn’t confirm that, leading to this exchange:

Is it the opening-day lineup?

“I can’t answer that,” McClendon said.

Does he have any questions about his day-to-day lineup going forward?

“I haven’t decided that yet,” he said.

Does he like the lineup for today’s game?

“Today’s lineup?” he said. “Yeah. I like that lineup. Yeah.”

Is it a candidate to be the opening-day lineup?

“I don’t know, maybe,” he said, smiling.


• McClendon wants to see Willie Bloomquist play a few more innings of shortstop before the regular season. With a split squad Thursday, Bloomquist likely will start one of those games.

• C Jesus Sucre’s sore right hip is coming along. He could return in the next few days, and McClendon said it isn’t a serious issue.