SEATTLE -- When Aaron Laffey struggles to locate his fastball down in the zone it often leads to a disappointing night at the ballpark.
The veteran left-hander's velocity typically tops out around the mid-80s, and if it's not properly located, a productive game for opposing hitters usually follows.
That was the case on Tuesday night as Laffey surrendered seven runs in 4 2/3 innings en route to his worst start of the year in a 7-2 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field.
"What got me tonight was not locating the ball," said Laffey, whose ERA rose to 4.20. "Regardless if they're going to swing first pitch or not, if you're throwing quality strikes, then they shouldn't be able to put good wood on the ball.
"Just one of those days, one of those grinder games where even when you are making your pitches, they're hitting the ball."
Laffey entered the game with an overall record of 4-2 and a 2.86 ERA in his past 10 starts dating back to 2010, but those numbers took a hit against Seattle. He failed to complete five innings for the first time this year as a starter, while allowing a season-high nine hits and two walks.
One of the biggest issues is that Laffey has gotten away from using his sinker during the past two outings. That's his go-to pitch and one he uses in key situations against a free-swinging team like the Mariners.
When the sinker isn't working properly, that forces Laffey to rely more heavily on his four-seam fastball, changeup and occasional breaking ball. He tried that against the Mariners to mixed results.
"That's a pitch I need to go to, especially tonight with a team being aggressive like that early in the game," Laffey said. "Facing a team with an approach like that, I should be in the later innings with hardly any pitches.
"Usually these kind of teams are teams that I'm successful against because of their being aggressive and I can throw a lot of strikes early in the count. But a couple of balls went in their favor today, and leaving the ball out over the plate, they weren't missing the mistakes."
The 27-year-old was in trouble from the very first pitch of the game. Mariners leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley sent the opening pitch over the wall in right for his seventh homer of the year.
Laffey gave up three more runs in the second on a pair of RBI singles by Trayvon Robinson and Brendan Ryan while Ackley earned an additional RBI on a groundout. The trouble continued in the fourth with an another run before Laffey then loaded the bases in the fifth inning with two outs.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell had seen enough by that point and went to the bullpen for right-hander Brandon Lyon. That did little to change the result initially, though, as Lyon promptly surrendered a two-run single before getting out of the frame.
Laffey was charged with all seven runs, which marked the third time in his past four starts that he has allowed at least four. Despite that, he lost for just the first time since July 6 against the White Sox.
"They clearly came out with a game plan to jump on the first-pitch fastball, which they did on the first pitch of the game and a number of hitters throughout the order," Farrell said. "They went and attacked him. To their credit, they put some good swings on some pitches and they found some holes and they strung some hits together."
Toronto's high-powered offense was held in check for the third consecutive game. On Saturday, the club had the top-ranked offense in the Major Leagues, but in the three games since then, the Blue Jays have scored a total of four runs.
Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas had very little difficulty earning his 12th victory of the season. His lone blemish occurred in the third as he surrendered a pair of one-out singles -- including one to Moises Sierra in his Major League debut. Third baseman Brett Lawrie followed with a two-run double, but that was it for the Blue Jays' offense.
Vargas made it through seven innings having surrendered five hits and one walk while striking out four. With the loss, Toronto has now lost three consecutive games and will look to avoid a series sweep against the Mariners on Wednesday night.
"I started getting contact earlier," Vargas said. "I saw 60 pitches up there after the third inning and knew I had some work cut out for me. To get through seven was more than I expected."
The Blue Jays offense has been streaky for most of the year, but the recent woes have been compounded by the loss of several key players. Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia are all on the 15-day disabled list while left fielder Travis Snider was dealt away on Monday night.
That's forced Farrell to try and get by with what he's got, and for the past few games that hasn't exactly worked out as initially planned.
"In the last two weeks we've lost four middle-of-the-order bats, whether that's through injury or trade," Farrell said. "We're trying to find a combination to keep some innings alive and look to do some other things to try to build an inning where we score more than one run."