The learning curve often demands a high price in the big leagues.
That reality took a bite out of Mariners rookie right-hander Chase De Jong in Thursday’s 7-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener to a four-game weekend series at the Rogers Centre.
De Jong didn’t have his best command — he was often behind in the count — but he nursed a 2-1 lead into the fifth inning. He then got two quick outs and jumped ahead 1-2 on Kevin Pillar by throwing two well-located fastballs.
Then De Jong got cute or, in his words, he "picked and picked."
He shifted to an off-speed pitch not once but three times in a row. He missed on all three, and Pillar reached base with a walk. And the game slipped away.
Ezequiel Carrera singled. Jose Bautista walked on four pitches. Justin Smoak lined a two-run single into center. Steve Pearce followed with a three-run homer.
"It was growing pains tonight," manager Scott Servais said. "(De Jong) had two outs and nobody on in the fifth, a 1-2 count, and then the walk to Pillar. It’s a hard lesson to learn.
"You can’t ever let your guard down in the big leagues. Not that he did, but he just didn’t finish off the inning."
This is where the Mariners are right now in a rotation that has four of its five intended members on the disabled list. The next-man-up philosophy is the only one available, but it means guys who should be in the minors are starting in the majors.
"We are (going to have nights like that)," Servais said. "We know that…We’re trying to be smart in our decision-making in how long we let them go."
The Mariners were hoping for five competitive innings from De Jong, and he came within one out of providing them. The same goes Friday night with Christian Bergman, who was summoned last weekend from Triple-A Tacoma.
The goal for now is to keep the game close until the sixth inning and then try to line things up for the bullpen’s front-line relievers: Mark Rzepczynski, James Pazos, Tony Zych and Nick Vincent as a bridge to closer Edwin Diaz.
That’s been working. The Mariners won six of their previous seven games. It didn’t work Thursday against the Blue Jays.
Three takeaways from Thursday’s victory:
***Cruz control; Cano concerns: Nelson Cruz served as a pinch-hitter in Philadelphia because, with no DH available under National League rules, the Mariners chose not to risk aggravating his ailing left hamstring by putting him in the outfield.
With the DH available Thursday in Toronto, under American League rules, Cruz returned to the lineup with a homer and a double. It’s notable that he had to test his hamstring in legging out the double and, afterward, reported no problems.
That’s a big plus.
Robinson Cano suffered a strained right quadriceps muscle Tuesday in Philly that forced his removal from the game. He recovered sufficiently overnight to play Wednesday but aggravated the ailment in running out a grounder late in the game.
This time, it didn’t recover overnight. Cano was a late scratch Thursday and remains iffy for Friday’s game. The Mariners, with their rotation in flux, need their lineup firing on all cylinders. That’s hard to do without Cano.
***Lineup holes: The bottom third of the lineup Thursday consisted of Mike Freeman, Tuffy Gosewisch and Jarrod Dyson. It was a combined 0-for-12, which dropped their averages to .074, .077 and .202.
Freeman drew the start only because of Cano’s injury, but Gosewisch is going to play regularly as the replacement for demoted Mike Zunino, and Dyson is the regular center fielder (at least until Mitch Haniger returns from the DL).
Gosewisch is 1-for-13 in five games since replacing Zunino as the partner for veteran Chooch Ruiz. Dyson is in a 4-for-34 funk that includes 11 strikeouts.
As noted above, the Mariners’ patchwork rotation heightens the need for a productive attack. A dead zone in the bottom third is a problem.
***Rotating relievers: The Mariners made 13 transactions regarding their big-league bullpen since May 2 because of the need for fresh arms. That explains Thursday’s move to recall lefty Zac Curtis from Double-A Arkansas.
Curtis pitched well for the Travelers but not well enough to merit a two-level promotion. Even so, he’s on the 40-man roster, which means he can easily be recalled when the Mariners sought to replace Dan Altavilla.
Why replace Altavilla? He hasn’t been sharp since his May 6 recall from Tacoma, but the bigger reason is he threw 37 pitches on Tuesday and Wednesday in Philadelphia. That made him unavailable for Thursday and possibly Friday.
Curtis was a fresh arm.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners