Reliever Dan Altavilla is learning that the problem with a slider that doesn’t bite is that opponents bite back — and bite back hard enough to prompt a demotion Friday to Triple-A Tacoma.
The Mariners optioned Altavilla to the Rainiers prior to Friday’s game against Oakland one day after he surrendered a three-run homer in a 9-6 loss to the Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum.
Altavilla is in what he terms "a rut" after giving up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings over his last four outings, and the problem pretty much traces to a non-sliding slider.
"It’s not coming out right," he said. "I think everything is a little bit off. It’s just something I’m going to have to work through. A feel thing. Right now, I’m kind of in a rut. So I’m trying to work my way out of it."
That work will take place with Tacoma.
"We need Danny Altavilla to be Danny Altavilla," manager Scott Servais said. "Coming out of spring training, we felt really good about where he was at. The last few times out, he’s just really struggled command-wise as much as anything."
The Mariners replaced Altavilla by recalling right-hander Chase De Jong from the Rainiers in what projects as a space-holding move. Veteran right-hander Steve Cishek is expected to be activated in the near future from the disabled list.
Cishek made his second rehab appearance Friday by starting for the Rainiers at El Paso. He is recovering from October surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
The Mariners trailed Oakland by one run Thursday when Servais summoned Altavilla for the seventh inning. Altavilla retired the first hitter but then walked the next two batters before serving up a first-pitch homer to Trevor Plouffe.
It was the knockout blow in a 9-6 loss, and it left Altavilla searching for answers.
"I don’t know," he said. "It’s just like I’ve been a little too quick to my front side. I’m not getting into a really good load position. Something is just not clicking right. I’m in a little valley right now, and I’m trying to work my way out of it."
It was Altavilla’s slider, in tandem with an upper-90s fastball, that elevated his status within the Mariners’ bullpen. He closed the spring with eight scoreless appearances and, notably, no walks in eight innings.
He then opened the season with five scoreless outings with eight strikeouts and one walk in four innings. With closer Edwin Diaz off to a shaky start, Altavilla loomed as the likeliest candidate if the Mariners sought a temporary replacement.
Then Altavilla’s slider stopped biting, and his command turned sketchy, too; he walked five in his four-game skid. Opposing hitters were ignoring the slider and sitting on his fastball.
It’s a tough way to survive — as James Paxton learned earlier Thursday when he couldn’t command his curveball. Paxton opened the season with 23 scoreless innings but, reduced to his fastball, he gave up five runs over a 2 1/3-inning span.
While Paxton’s rough night might be shrugged off as a one-time issue, Altavilla’s ongoing "rut" prompted Friday’s roster move.
"He’s a good young pitcher," Servais said. "He’s going to help us at some point this year. We just thought the best thing to do for him was to send him to Tacoma and get him right. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon."
DE JONG RETURNS
De Jong returned Friday, at least in part, because he didn’t allow a crushing loss earlier this season in his big-league debut spill over into his starts at Tacoma after getting sent to the minors.
"You don’t really have a choice," he said. "Five days go by, and you get the ball again. I definitely learned from it to take a little more aggressive approach toward hitters when the time calls for it."
De Jong, 23, opened the season on the big-league roster as a replacement for Dillion Overton, who missed the first three games while on paternity leave.
When the Mariners ran out of relievers in the 13th inning on April 5 in Houston, they called on De Jong to protect a one-run lead. He gave a three-run walk-off homer to George Springer.
A day later, Overton rejoined the club, and De Jong was optioned to Tacoma, where he won two starts while allowing just two earned runs and striking out 10 in 10 1/3 innings.
Now he’s back in the big leagues after a long day of travel from El Paso. It was after midnight when he got the call from Tacoma manager Pat Listach to head to Oakland.
"To have the phone ring and get that kind of news," De Jong said, "it was incredible. I didn’t know how the second time would feel, but it’s the same kind of emotion. It’s really cool."
The Mariners are staying, as usual, in San Francisco, which means they were affected, like thousands of others, by a power outage resulting from a fire at a Pacific Gas & Electric substation.
Some members of the club’s traveling party, including Servais, also lost water pressure at the hotel. Servais said he used bottled water to brush his teeth before heading to the Oakland Coliseum.
There was no power outage in the East Bay.
"I hated it, man," outfielder Jarrod Dyson said. "No power. No water. But you just deal with it."
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz said, with a shrug, that he just rolled over and went back to sleep.
All stats are limited sample sizes, but here are three things to note heading into Saturday’s pitching matchup between left-hander Ariel Miranda and and Oakland right-hander Jharel Cotton:
***Miranda got a no-decision in his only previous start against the Athletics despite allowing just one run in 5 1/3 innings in a game last September at Safeco Field. Cotton also got a no-decision in his only previous start against the Mariners, also at Safeco, but he gave up four runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings.
***Chris Pinder hit a homer last year against Miranda, but Khris Davis struck out each of his two at-bats. Stephen Vogt went 0-for-3, and Ryon Healy was 0-for-2.
***Robinson Cano went 1-for-3 with a homer in Cotton’s only previous start against the Mariners. Kyle Seager and Leonys Martin were 1-for-2, while Mike Zunino struck out in both of his at-bats.
Should the Mariners ever find themselves looking for a sheer speed option this season, Double-A Arkansas outfielder Ian Miller continues to emerge as the likeliest candidate.
Miller has nine steals in 10 attempts this season in 13 games after going 49-for-52 last season for Double-A Jackson before the Mariners switched affiliations.
A key point to note: While Miller’s getting-on-base ability lagged in previous years behind his baserunning skills, he is batting .358 this season for the Travelers with a .373 on-base percentage.
Baseball America took note of Miller’s play by citing him in the Helium Watch section of its weekly Prospect Hot Sheet.
"As a left-handed-hitting, double-plus runner who plays plus defense in center field," the magazine observed, "Miller may find himself as a useful bench option in the majors as long as he continues to hit."
MOCK DRAFT PROJECTION
Even at their best, mock draft projection are little more than educated guesses, particularly in baseball. But no media outlet tracks the MLB Draft better than Baseball America, which recently offered up its second effort.
The magazine projects the Mariners will take Louisiana State right-hander Alex Lange with the 17th overall pick and offered this comment:
"Jerry Dipoto’s track record strongly favors college players at the top from his time with the Diamondbacks, Angels and now the Mariners.
"LSU’s Alex Lange has had ups and downs this spring, but he would give Seattle a potential fast mover who has a high floor as a potential closer with his aggressive demeanor and plus curveball."
Lange, 21, is 6 feet 3 and 199 pounds. He is 4-4 with a 3.27 ERA in nine starts this season for the Tigers with 69 strikeouts with 17 walks in 52 1/3 innings.
It was 24 years ago Saturday — April 22, 1993 — that Chris Bosio pitched the second no-hitter in franchise history in a 7-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox at the Kingdome.
Bosio walked the first two batters, then induced a double-play grounder before retiring the next 25 batters in order.
There have been five no-hitters in the franchise history, including four complete games: Randy Johnson (1990 vs. Detroit), Bosio, Felix Hernandez (vs. Tampa Bay in 2012) and Hisashi Iwakuma (vs. Baltimore in 2015).
Bosio, 54, currently works as the Chicago Cubs’ pitching coach. He was 94-93 with a 3.96 ERA in 309 games over an 11-year career from 1986-96 with Milwaukee and the Mariners.
The Mariners and Athletics continue their four-game series at 1:05 p..m Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum when lefty Ariel Miranda (1-1, with a 3.06 ERA) opposes Oakland righty Jharel Cotton (1-2, 5.40).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).
After the series concludes Sunday, the Mariners have an open date Monday before opening a three-game series Tuesday in Detroit. The three-city trip concludes next weekend with three games in Cleveland.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners