HOUSTON — It appears the Mariners have reached the point where they must acknowledge that Taijuan Walker’s between-starts regimen isn’t sufficient to alleviate the tendinitis in his right foot.
"Taijuan obviously still isn’t quite right," manager Scott Servais conceded. "That foot, we’re going to have to get it looked at again. He’s trying to pitch through it, but we’re going to have to reevaluate where we’re at here."
Walker made another early exit Tuesday but not before giving up three homers and putting the Mariners in a hole too big to escape in a 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
"It’s frustrating," he said, "because I don’t really know what I can do to make it better. We’ll find out more later this week. But I’ve been trying to pitch through it…it sucks."
This make three times in his last four starts that Walker failed to make it past the fifth inning. After the first two starts, the Mariners skipped his turn in the rotation in an effort to aid his recovery.
It isn’t working.
Walker fought through the discomfort in his previous start, when he pitched into the seventh inning against Baltimore, but he lasted just four innings Tuesday against the Astros.
"Same thing," he said. "The first two innings, it was good. I was able to drive. But after the second inning, I just had no legs. Everything was up, and everything was running back to the plate. I just couldn’t drive it in there."
The Mariners twice presented Walker with one-run leads but, each time, he quickly squandered the advantage.
Luis Valbuena’s booming 424-foot homer with two outs in the second erased a 1-0 edge from earlier in the inning when Dae-Ho Lee scored on Chris Iannetta’s ground out.
Then after Nelson Cruz gave the Mariners a 2-1 edge with a homer in the fourth against Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, Walker gave up a pair of two-run homers later in the inning.
"I feel like I just haven’t had my best stuff," Walker said. "My velo is down. My change-up is not as sharp. Nothing is really as sharp because I can’t really get into my legs and get after it.
"It’s probably not best for me to go out there and pitch right now because I can’t really give it 100 percent."
Jose Altuve opened the Houston fourth with an infield single and scored on Colby Rasmus’ two-run homer, a 418-foot drive to right with one out.
It got worse.
Valbuena worked a one-out walk and, with two outs, A.J. Reed sliced a 2-2 fastball over the yellow line on the left-center wall for a two-run homer. Houston led 5-2.
Walker (4-7) didn’t return for the fifth inning.
So what’s next? "We don’t know yet," Servais said. "I don’t know what we’ll do yet. We’ll have a better feel for that probably (Wednesday) or the next day."
The loss dropped the Mariners to 43-41 and left them 9 1/2 games behind first-place Texas in the American League West Division. They are two games behind second-place Houston.
Keuchel (6-9) held the Mariners to two runs and six hits in six innings before the Astros went to their bullpen for Pat Neshek, Ken Giles and Will Harris. Each pitched one scoreless inning. Harris got his ninth save.
Walker’s problem is posterior tibial tendinitis — inflammation in the tendon that attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the inside of the right foot.
The problem is aggravated in Walker’s case because he is flat-footed, which put extra stress on the arch of his foot when he pushes off the rubber while delivering a pitch.
"I felt it in the bullpen," he said. "It’s just frustrating. I really don’t know what to do. Rest, I guess. And see what’s going on with it. See my options."
Walker is tentatively scheduled to start Sunday at Kansas City in the final game prior to a four-day break for the All-Star Game. That seems unlikely to happen.
One possible alternative is right-hander Nathan Karns, who recently lost his spot in the rotation. Lefty Mike Montgomery is another possibility. He pitched four shutout innings after Walker departed.
PLAY(S) OF THE GAME: Shortstop Ketel Marte double-clutched for a split second on Jose Altuve’s leadoff grounder to deep short in the fourth inning. It was long enough for Altuve to beat out an infield single.
Altuve then scored on Colby Rasmus’ two-run homer, which gave the Astros a 3-2 lead.
Later in the inning, the Mariners asked for an umpire’s review on A.J. Reed’s two-run homer. The Mariners alleged that a fan interfered with the ball after ruling on field was no interference.
The replay ruling was that a fan did touch the ball but that it would have struck an area that would have been a home run.
So, technically, the call was overturned. There was interference. But the home run was allowed to stand.
PLUS: Third baseman Kyle Seager went 2-for-4 and is batting .464 (12-for-28) over his last eight games. His average is up to .277…Mike Montgomery has not allowed a run over 10 2/3 innings in his last four appearances. His ERA is down to 2.15…Robinson Cano went 1-for-4 and extended his hitting streak against the Astros to 15 games.
MINUS: Nelson Cruz fouled a ball off the top of his left foot in the sixth inning. He hobbled around for a moment but remained in the game. Manager Scott Servais said: "He’s sore. I suspect he’ll be in there (Wednesday), but he smoked the ball right off the top of his foot."…The Mariners were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position…reliever Mike Montgomery committed an error on a routine throw to first base after knocking down Luis Valbuena’s sharp grounder in the sixth inning.
STAT PACK: Lefty Mike Montgomery is the first Mariners’ reliever to pitch four scoreless innings since right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen on July 18, 2014 at Anaheim. The last lefty to do it was Cesar Jimenez on July 6, 2008 vs. Detroit at Safeco Field.
QUOTABLE: Taijuan Walker had 10 days of rest when he skipped a turn in the rotation prior to a June 30 start against Baltimore. He held the Orioles to one run in 6 1/3 innings but said his foot felt no better because of the rest.
"No, not really," he said. "And I couldn’t really do anything (since that start). I just tried to stay off it as much as possible. It’s just frustrating. It sucks."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners