ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn't the triumphant homecoming Nathan Karns hoped for as he returned to Tropicana Field to face his former Rays teammates on Wednesday, with Seattle losing 3-2 in 13 innings, though the Mariners right-hander pitched well enough to turn a 2-1 lead over to his bullpen.But Karns
ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn't the triumphant homecoming Nathan Karns hoped for as he returned to Tropicana Field to face his former Rays teammates on Wednesday, with Seattle losing 3-2 in 13 innings, though the Mariners right-hander pitched well enough to turn a 2-1 lead over to his bullpen.
But Karns was kicking himself in the end for not getting deeper into the game, as he was pulled after 91 pitches with the tying run on second after a leadoff double in the sixth. That run wound up scoring against reliever Vidal Nuno, Karns ended up with a no-decision and ultimately the Mariners lost seven innings later when Mike Montgomery walked in Logan Morrison to bring in the winning run.
"I still had plenty in the tank, in my opinion," Karns said. "It was just one of those games. It's a close ball game. Skipper [manager Scott Servais] wanted to go to the bullpen and we have a great bullpen. It was just one of those where we couldn't get a run across late. Those games happen in baseball."
They've happened a little too frequently of late for Seattle as the Mariners have lost nine of their past 12 in falling to 34-31, now just three games ahead of the third-place Astros as Texas continues widening the gap atop the American League West.
"Right now, we're struggling," Karns said. "It's like our offense shows, then our pitching shows and vice versa. It's just one of those weird periods in the season where we're trying to get everybody back on the same page. And once we start clicking, offensively, defensively and pitching, we're going to be just fine."
Montgomery, who has taken the loss in his last three appearances, echoed the same sentiment. The Mariners built some confidence early this year and they're not about to let that just slip away.
"It's frustrating, for sure, but we still have a lot of games left and we really believe in ourselves as a team," Montgomery said. "We've been around each other for a little while now and we know we're good. We haven't been catching a whole lot of breaks here and there, but we have the talent and guys and heart to do it. If we stick with it, I think we'll be all right."
They may need some rapid reinforcements in the bullpen, however, as five relievers combined for 7 1/3 innings on Wednesday a day after the bullpen also got called on early in Tuesday's 8-7 loss when Taijuan Walker came out after 3 1/3 innings with a foot injury.
"Obviously we competed our butt off tonight," Servais said. "Just not enough to get over the hump. We used just about everybody. We'll be a little thin tomorrow. We will figure it out."
Karns hadn't got past the fifth inning in his previous two starts, so while he pitched his way out of several tough jams on Wednesday, he knows he needs to get deeper to take pressure off that 'pen.
"I just can't get the early contact," he said. "Each at-bat is like six, seven, eight pitches and that really takes a toll on my pitch count. I'm just going to try to get ahead and force outs early or just get early contact. I don't know what the problem is with all that, but I just can't get early pitch counts to certain hitters and when those add up, that's usually why I'm coming out."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.