TORONTO -- It had been 13 months since Christian Bergman made a Major League start and, considering the circumstances, the 29-year-old right-hander did his part to keep the Mariners close on Friday in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays.
Such is the state of the Mariners at the moment that the primary goal with four fill-in starters is to keep the game in hand for five innings or so, turn things over to a bullpen that has been very solid at the back end and count on the offense to score enough to make it all work.
That formula has fared well enough that the Mariners had won six of their last eight and pulled into second place in the American League West, but the final part -- the offensive help -- didn't partake in the plan on Friday.
Bergman didn't dazzle in his five innings, allowing the leadoff man to reach base in four of those and allowing a runner in scoring position each frame. But he limited the damage for the most part, aside from a two-run blast by Jose Bautista off the left-field foul pole in the third, and wound up allowing three runs on seven hits with a walk and strikeout in a 66-pitch outing.
"It's tough when the leadoff guy is getting on every inning," Bergman said. "So that was definitely a difficult part of the night. I did the best I could to minimize the damage, but it was a lot of uphill battle tonight."
"I don't think it was probably his best outing as far as location," said manager Scott Servais. "With how he throws, he's got to be very fine on the edges. He left the ball up to Bautista that he was able to keep fair, barely. But that happens.
"I thought he hung in there fine. If you don't score, you're not going to win. So it didn't really matter a whole lot tonight. We've got to get it back going offensively. They've pitched us a lot differently the last couple nights and that's what happens."
It's impossible to just snap the fingers -- or scan the Minor League rosters -- and replace that sort of experience. Indeed, Hernandez, Paxton and Iwakuma have combined for a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts this year (Smyly has been on the disabled list since the last week of camp), compared to a 5.35 ERA in the 19 starts by everyone else.
Bergman went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA in five starts at Triple-A Tacoma before joining the Mariners last Sunday and after four seasons as a long reliever with the Rockies, he's now 7-10 with a 5.70 ERA in 57 Major League appearances, including 16 starts.
He became the eighth Mariner starter this season, and that number likely will grow to nine when Seattle calls up another pitcher to start Saturday's game.
Bergman doesn't know exactly where his role will lead, but he knows what he needs to do when that opportunity arises.
"The command was a little off, to say the least," he said. "Going into next time, whenever that is, that's something I need to improve."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.