SEATTLE -- The Yankees' bullpen was lauded as an unquestioned strength heading into the season, but it was their weak spot on Friday in the opener of a nine-game road trip.
Clinging to a one-run lead heading to the sixth inning, two Yankees relievers frittered it away. A pair of soft run-scoring groundouts eased them along to a 4-3 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field.
"We had a chance to win tonight and that's disappointing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Whether it's the first game or the ninth game of the road trip, that's disappointing."
The Yankees' frustration was evident in the face of Eduardo Nunez, who pinch-ran in the eighth inning and pulled off a daring steal of second base, only to be picked off representing the tying run.
"I feel bad. It's a big play in the inning," said Nunez, who was nabbed by Jamey Wright. "The tying run is me. To get picked off, I feel so bad. It happens."
Nick Swisher didn't have a much better night. Swisher belted a deep drive to center field in the fourth inning that seemed like a sure bet to snap his prolonged offensive funk.
He never saw Franklin Gutierrez leap against the outfield wall and bring the ball back for an out. The look of amazement on the face of Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan told Swisher everything he needed to know.
"No chance. I hit that ball really well," Swisher said. "What are you going to do? He looked like Michael Jordan out there on that play."
That helplessness seeped into the bullpen as well. A.J. Burnett needed 97 pitches to get through five innings, so Girardi wanted Boone Logan to get an out before Luis Ayala got the ball to the later innings.
Burnett said he still had a little something left in the tank, but he couldn't argue with the call.
"Those guys in the bullpen are there for a reason," Burnett said. "A lot of walks [five] and I'm sure the 97 pitches had a lot to do with it."
Logan once again couldn't fulfill his assignment, as Adam Kennedy pounced on a hanging slider, the 11th hit that Logan has surrendered to a lefty in 32 at-bats.
Ayala allowed a single to Miguel Olivo and then issued a four-pitch walk to Carlos Peguero, setting up RBI at-bats for Ryan and Ichiro Suzuki.
Ryan bounced a ball to shortstop that was too slowly hit to turn a double play, tying the score, and Ichiro followed with a RBI grounder to shortstop that gave Seattle its first lead of the evening.
"You just find a way to push them across," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "Our guys did a good job keeping them in the middle of the field. That's the separator right there. If you're hitting those balls to the corners, you're not going to score those runs."
The silent rally made a winner out of David Pauley, who hurled two scoreless innings after promising starter Michael Pineda was hit for three runs in five frames.
Seattle had scored twice off Burnett, who knew that he'd sealed his own fate by needing to wriggle free of self-created jams too often.
"I was 3-1, 3-2 on a lot of hitters," Burnett said. "At the same time, I was able to get out of it here and there. It definitely was the deciding factor in coming out, walks and a high pitch count."
It might have been a different decision, Girardi allowed, if both of the Mariners' runs off Burnett hadn't come in the fifth on RBI groundouts by Luis Rodriguez and Justin Smoak.
As Girardi knows all too well, the crop of relievers he has on his lineup card isn't exactly what he thought would be there this spring, but they must make do with few reinforcements available.
"Some guys are going to be expected to do a little bit more, that's the bottom line," Girardi said.
The Yankees saw flashes of the 22-year-old Pineda's promise but were able to run up the right-hander's pitch count and get him out after five innings.
"He had trouble with the strike zone," Girardi said. "I thought our guys were patient off him and did a good job off him. He hasn't given up a lot of runs."
Mark Teixeira accounted for New York's first run in the first, belting his 14th homer.
In the fifth, Pineda uncorked a nasty breaking ball that Alex Rodriguez waved at, but it skipped away for a wild pitch that scored Curtis Granderson standing up.
Booed as usual during his return visits to Seattle, Rodriguez then dropped an RBI single in front of a sliding Gutierrez, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
"Growing up in the Dominican, I think he heard all about the Yankees and saw all those highlights, so he was pretty excited," catcher Olivo said of Pineda. "I think he was overthrowing the fastball. But for five innings, they still only had three hits and that's amazing."
Pineda used 96 pitches in the effort, his 10th big league outing, walking five and striking out five.
"We heard a lot about him coming in," Swisher said. "I thought we did a great job getting his pitch count up. We just kind of let it slip away from us. It's a tough loss to take."