Elias pitching for his rotation spot

Elias pitching for his rotation spot

OAKLAND -- Roenis Elias didn't pitch well enough to win on Thursday night, though he only allowed three hits and three runs over six innings in the Mariners' 4-0 loss to the A's. But the question for the young southpaw now is whether he pitched well enough to keep his spot in Seattle's rotation with Hisashi Iwakuma's return looming.

The A's scored twice off Elias in the first, snapping a string of 21 consecutive scoreless innings by Seattle's starters spread between Felix Hernandez, Mike Montgomery and Taijuan Walker. A two-out walk to Ben Zobrist started the trouble, with Billy Butler then hugging a double over the third-base bag and Josh Phegley driving in two runs by dumping a bloop double down the first-base line.

Elias needed 32 pitches to get through that inning, but then settled in and retired 12 straight before a two-out homer in the fifth by A's shortstop Marcus Semien. Those were the only hits Elias allowed in a 104-pitch, seven-strikeout outing that earned the lefty a quality start, but dropped his record to 4-6 with a 4.27 ERA.

"It was just a bad day," Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. "I obviously gave up the walk [that led to the first-inning trouble] and that's the only one I gave up. It just didn't work out today. I got a little more rhythm as the game went along. I hadn't pitched in seven or eight days, so I was just getting back into rhythm and I felt more like myself as the game went along."

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon wasn't oozing praise afterward despite the course correction, however.

"He threw the ball OK," said the skipper. "I wouldn't say it was a great groove. Anytime you throw 105-106 pitches in six innings, you're not quite cruising."

The 26-year-old Cuban was terrific early in the season filling in for the injured Iwakuma, posting a 2.79 ERA over his first nine outings. But he's 1-3 with an 8.55 ERA over his last four starts.

"I just think probably command of his secondary stuff, making mistakes up in the zone has cost him," McClendon said.

That's bad timing for Elias, with a decision by Mariners management looming as Iwakuma appears ready to return following a 10-week stint on the disabled list because of a strained lat muscle. Elias initially figured to have the inside track on staying longer, because James Paxton has gone on the DL as well, with a strained finger tendon.

But rookie left-hander Montgomery has been sensational while replacing Paxton the past month, posting back-to-back shutouts to put his ERA at 1.62 in six starts. Thus, Elias now seems the logical candidate to return to Triple-A Tacoma, given he still has Minor League options and is riding a rough patch at the wrong time.

That, however, is something Elias said has not been on his mind.

"Not at all," he said. "I just go out there and focus on what I have to do. The decision is not mine. They've seen what I can do and what I have done. I control what I can."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.