Young's rough start costs Mariners in Wild Card race

With chance to tie for top spot, club half-game back of KC for second

Young's rough start costs Mariners in Wild Card race

HOUSTON -- Handed an opportunity to move into a tie for the first American League Wild Card spot by virtue of losses by the Royals and A's, the Mariners instead stumbled themselves Saturday night as veteran right-hander Chris Young got roughed up in a 10-1 loss to the Astros.

Young's late-season struggles continued as he gave up four home runs in three-plus innings as Seattle fell to 83-71. The Mariners remain a game back of Oakland (84-70) for the first Wild Card and a half-game behind the Royals (83-70) for the second Wild Card position with eight games remaining.

The Astros had hit just one home run in their previous 13 games, but Chris Carter and Alex Presley both unloaded two-run shots in the first and Matt Dominguez and Carlos Corporan hit back-to-back blasts in the fourth to give Houston a 7-1 lead and make it a short night for Young.

"I didn't pitch as well as I'm capable," Young said. "I'm disappointed. I felt good going in. I don't know what happened. I just didn't make good pitches."

The 6-foot-10 veteran has been one of the best comeback stories this season and still owns a 12-9 record and 3.65 ERA in 29 starts despite allowing eight hits and seven runs Saturday. But as his innings total has reached levels Young hasn't seen since 2007, the 35-year-old's effectiveness has diminished and he's 0-3 with an 8.36 ERA in his last five starts.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "The fact is we're down the home stretch right now, so what do you do? He's a veteran guy and he said he feels good. Tonight it just didn't come out very well."

Young is a fly-ball pitcher who has given up 18 home runs in 15 road starts compared to eight in 14 Safeco outings, but he beat the Astros, 5-2, at Minute Maid Park in July and said the ballpark was irrelevant.

"When I made good pitches, they got some broken bat or bloop base hits," he said. "Then when I made a mistake, they jumped on it. I'll look at the video and see if I can make any mechanical adjustment. Physically, I felt good. I felt better than my results. And this team needs better from me."

McClendon has tried giving Young extended rest by juggling his rotation several times and pushing back three of his recent outings, but had been optimistic after Young allowed just two runs in his previous two starts.

Young has a history of shoulder problems, but insisted he felt fine physically.

"I felt good. I felt good all week," he said. "I felt like I pitched well in my last start and carried it over into my throwing this week. I had a great bullpen in Anaheim, but it just wasn't there today. I don't know what to say. It was just one of those days. I feel like for the most part, I've given the team a chance. A couple starts this month I haven't, but I'll bounce back."

The Mariners have ridden their pitching all year with the best ERA in the AL, but lost rookie starter Roenis Elias to a sore elbow Tuesday and now must determine if Young has any gas left as they push for their first playoff berth since 2001.

Young is in line to make one more regular-season start Thursday in Toronto. With Taijuan Walker already stepping in for Elias, the remaining option is right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, but McClendon indicated he'd likely stay with the veteran Young.

"As we speak right now, yes," said McClendon.

Ramirez replaced Young in the fourth and pitched three scoreless innings before giving up a three-run homer to Jake Marisnick in the seventh as the Astros tied their season high with five home runs.

Ramirez had pitched just once in relief, throwing two innings and 27 pitches this month as a September callup, but McClendon said that wasn't the problem as he neared the end of his 60-pitch effort.

"I don't think he ran out of gas," McClendon said. "It was just the issue we've always talked about, 0-2 quality pitches. That wasn't a quality pitch, that's all."

The Mariners had one chance to get back in it when they trailed, 5-1, with the bases loaded and no out in the fourth, but Chris Taylor struck out and Austin Jackson hit into a 1-2-3 double play, with Jackson ruled out at first on interference when catcher Corporan's throw hit him in the back as he neared the bag.

Young then gave up two home runs leading off the bottom of the fourth and the drama was done. Seattle is 3-3 on its 11-game cross-country trek heading into Sunday's series finale and then will fly to Toronto for its last road series of the season.

"At this point of the year, we're in single-digit games left and obviously we know where we stand," said third baseman Kyle Seager. "Every game is magnified right now. But we can't dwell on this one. It doesn't help you tomorrow. There's no panic button."

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