Roenis Elias lasted just 3 1/3 innings in Sunday's 13-0 loss to the Astros, allowing a career-high eight runs (seven earned) on seven hits and four walks, as Seattle fell to 28-35 and 7 1/2 games back in the American League West.
On the heels of a 2 1/3-inning outing by J.A. Happ in a 6-0 loss at Cleveland on Thursday and a stunning meltdown by ace Felix Hernandez, who lasted one-third of an inning in Friday's 10-0 whitewash by the Astros, Seattle's starters' ERA has jumped from 3.59 to 3.96 in the span of four games -- even with six innings of one-run ball by Mike Montgomery in Saturday's 8-1 win.
Elias' own ERA hiked from 2.79 to 3.67 in Sunday's short stint on a day in which he struggled with his control from the start.
"He just didn't have much command today," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "It was a tough day for him in a lot of different ways. The breaking ball was not there. Fastball command was not there. He didn't use his change. It was just a tough day.
"He'd been on a roll. He'd been pitching extremely well for us. This was a tough one."
Elias had been remarkably consistent in the past year. The 26-year-old Cuban had allowed two or fewer earned runs in 16 of his previous 19 starts, dating back to July 21, and his ERA of 2.57 in that span was second in the AL behind only Houston's Dallas Keuchel (2.12) for all pitchers with 18 or more starts.
But Elias struggled out of the gate, walking leadoff hitter George Springer and later hitting Chris Carter with an 0-2 pitch to load the bases in the first. Colby Rasmus followed with a two-run single, and Houston added an unearned run on a Kyle Seager error for a 3-0 lead.
Three more walks in the third contributed to two more runs, and McClendon finally pulled Elias after three singles in the fourth, with Elias' final two runs coming across when reliever Danny Farquhar gave up a double.
"It was a bad day," Elias said through interpreter Nasusel Cabrera. "I didn't have fastball command. Today, nothing was working. But I will keep working."
Catcher Jesus Sucre said Elias just never could dial in his usual pinpoint control.
"He couldn't get the fastball first-pitch strike," Sucre said. "The last couple outings, he was doing really well. I don't know what happened today. We tried the best we can.
"After the first inning, I think he was trying to do too much. He hit the guy with the curveball. But he was throwing good pitches, and those guys put some good swings on it."