Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said reports on right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma’s rehab start Thursday were that the 34-year-old pitched “okay” and he’ll make another Minor League start for Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday against Las Vegas at Cheney Stadium before a decision is made on his possible return.
Iwakuma threw four scoreless innings with three hits, one walk and four strikeouts in 68 pitches against Reno in his second rehab outing since straining the lat muscle behind his right shoulder in his third start of the season with Seattle on April 20.
“He continues to improve and move forward,” McClendon said. “His first two innings were kind of tough, a little erratic, and his mechanics were off. But he seemed to settle down and threw a little better in the fourth inning.
“He’s progressing. He’s healthy. He touched 91 mph a few times and was at 87-91, so that’s encouraging.”
If Iwakuma is deemed ready to return after his Tuesday start, he’d be line to rejoin the rotation about when the Mariners return home to start a seven-game homestand before the All-Star break. That raises an interesting situation, however, as Roenis Elias filled in extremely well for Iwakuma before hitting a rough stretch his last three outings.
Elias is still 4-5 with a 4.25 ERA in 12 starts and young lefty Mike Montgomery has been even better (2-2, 2.04) in five starts since replacing the injured James Paxton.
“That’s a nice problem to have,” McClendon said of the rotation depth. “Right now we’re still in the process of figuring out what we’re going to do when he comes back. We don’t have those answers yet.”
• Paxton played catch at Safeco Field on Friday in his first throwing session since going on the 15-day disabled list on May 29 with a strained middle finger on his left hand. Paxton will need to build up his arm after missing a month and seems unlikely to be ready until late July or August at the earliest.
• McClendon said the plan at this point is to keep all his starters in line after Monday’s off day and just give everyone the extra day off, which would mean Montgomery and Elias facing the Padres on Tuesday and Wednesday in San Diego’s two-game Interleague series, followed by Taijuan Walker, J.A. Happ, Felix Hernandez and Montgomery in a four-game set in Oakland to end the trip.
That would set Hernandez up to pitch once more before the All-Star break, on July 8 against the Tigers at Safeco Field. The Mariners ace then would be in line to pitch five days later in the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, where he seems a sure-fire choice for the American League squad with his current 10-4 mark and 3.24 ERA. Hernandez started last year’s All-Star Game for the first time in his career.
• Major League Baseball made a scoring change from Montgomery’s last start, his 7-0 complete-game victory over the Royals on Tuesday, giving Montgomery one more hit – and a five-hit shutout – and taking an error away from first baseman Logan Morrison.
Outfielder James Jones was optioned back to Tacoma on Tuesday to open a spot on the 25-man roster.
Gutierrez, 32, has hit .317 with seven home runs, 31 RBIs and a .902 OPS in 48 games for Tacoma after not playing at all in 2014 while dealing with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a nerve condition that has affected him the last several years.
Gutierrez was a Gold Glove center fielder for the Mariners in 2010, but has played primarily left field and designated hitter this season for Tacoma.
Gutierrez has appeared in 762 Major League games with the Indians (2005-08) and Mariners (2009-13). In five seasons with the Mariners he hit .255 with 45 home runs and 194 RBIs and set an American League record with 846 consecutive errorless chances from Aug. 21, 2009-Sept. 11, 2012.
After playing in 305 games combined in 2009-10, Gutierrez missed significant time on the disabled list from 2011-2013, appearing in 173 games.
Jones, 26, appeared in seven games with the Mariners after being recalled from Tacoma on June 15. He was 0-for-8 with a stolen base. In 48 games with Tacoma, Jones hit .264 with 15 stolen bases.
Robinson Cano was scratched from the Mariners lineup on Thursday with a stiff lower back and Kyle Seager was also a late scratch due to an illness believed to be food poisoning as Seattle lost two All-Star players for its Interleague series finale with the Giants.
Cano was replaced at second base by left fielder Dustin Ackley, who began his Major League career at second base and has played 281 games there, but none since Sept.13, 2013.
Veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist took Seager’s spot at third base.
Cano has been struggling offensively in his second season in Seattle, hitting .237 with two home runs and 20 RBIs in 64 games. But this was the first time he’s been sidelined by any sort of health issue.
Seager, a 2014 All-Star and Gold Glove winner, has batted .272 with 11 homers and 36 RBIs in 66 games. He’s played in 192 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the Majors.
Cano was initially in the lineup in the No. 3 spot and Seager was slated to bat fifth. Instead, manager Lloyd McClendon moved Nelson Cruz up to the third spot and put Seth Smith in the cleanup role with Mark Trumbo batting fifth.
Here’s the new lineups:
Outfielder James Jones, who played 108 games for the Mariners last year as a rookie, was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on Monday to fill the position player opening created by the weekend release of Rickie Weeks.
Jones, 26, hit .250 with a team-leading 27 stolen bases last year in 312 at-bats. He’s spent the first 10 weeks of this season in Tacoma, batting .264 with 15 stolen bases in 48 games.
Weeks was designated for assignment on Saturday, with the team initially bringing up reliever Danny Farquhar to bolster a bullpen that needed help after several short outings from starters. Farquhar was optioned back to Tacoma on Sunday after pitching in two games and Jones now takes his spot on the 25-man roster.
Jones, a fourth-round Draft pick out of Long Island University in 2009, had the second-most stolen bases of any rookie in the Majors last year behind Billy Hamilton of the Reds and his 96.4 percent success rate (27 of 28) was the second-highest mark for a rookie with 20-plus attempts since 1970 behind Quintin Berry of Detroit, who was 21-for-21 in 2012.
Jones started 72 games for Seattle last season, 69 in center, two in right and one in left, with 46 runs, nine doubles, five triples and nine RBIs.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder has six doubles, four triples, one home run and 13 RBIs with 29 runs this year in Tacoma and has been successful on 15-of-19 stolen base attempts.
Jones should provide a needed speed element for a Mariners squad that ranks 11th in the American League with 24 stolen bases this year and are last in stolen base percentage at 51 percent, having been thrown out 23 times.
The Mariners recalled right-handed reliever Danny Farquhar on Saturday to bolster their overworked bullpen and designated veteran utility man Rickie Weeks for assignment to make room on the 25-man roster.
Farquhar went 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in five appearances for Triple-A Tacoma after being sent down three weeks ago following a rough start to his season in Seattle. The 28-year-old was 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA in 20 outings for the Mariners this year after being a huge part of last season’s bullpen success.
Seattle is short-handed in the bullpen after starters J.A. Happ and Felix Hernandez combined to go just 2 2/3 innings in the previous two games, with Hernandez lasting just one-third of an inning in Friday’s 10-0 loss to the Astros.
Weeks signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Mariners just prior to Spring Training and Seattle hoped to convert the long-time second baseman into a versatile player who could platoon in left field and help out at designated hitter and possibly first base.
But Weeks struggled defensively in the outfield, never got in a game in the infield and hit just .167 (14-for-84) with two home runs and nine RBIs in 37 games.
“Rickie is a professional and went about his business in the locker room in a very professional manner and was a positive influence on a lot of guys,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It just didn’t work out on the field, for whatever reason. With the stress we had on the bullpen, it was just a move we had to make.”
Once the Mariners traded for another right-handed outfield/first base bat in Mark Trumbo, Weeks’ role was even further reduced.
“Playing time was certainly going to be diminished quite a bit,” McClendon said.
Weeks, 32, was a 2011 All-Star for the Brewers and spent his first 11 seasons in tjhe Majors playing second base for Milwaukee. The Mariners now have 10 days to trade, release or outright his contract to the Minor Leagues.
Farquhar started one game for Tacoma and pitched two-plus innings in his last three outings as the Mariners looked to give him a chance to regain the form that allowed him to post a 2.66 ERA in 66 appearances in 2014.
“He got better,” McClendon said. “We just wanted him to get out and pitch and gain his control back, get his feel for his pitches back.”
The Mariners now have an eight-man bullpen, but it remains to be seen if they’ll stick with one less position player on the bench heading into an Interleague road series with the Giants on Monday.
Fernando Rodney still isn’t ready to return to the closer’s role for the Mariners, but manager Lloyd McClendon believes the 38-year-old reliever is headed in the right direction after a pair of non-save appearances in Seattle’s last series in Cleveland.
Rookie Carson Smith has closed in the Mariners’ last two save situations, with Rodney pitching the ninth inning in a 9-3 blowout win on Wednesday and the eighth in a 6-0 loss on Thursday to the Indians.
Rodney owns a 6.75 ERA in 26 appearances and blew saves in two of his last three opportunities before McClendon made the switch to Smith, who has a 1.38 ERA in 27 games coming into Friday’s series opener against the Astros.
Rodney has been working on refining some things with pitching coach Rick Waits while throwing in lower-impact situations. He allowed two hits and a run in Wednesday’s win, then threw a hitless inning with one walk on Thursday.
“I don’t think he’s quite ready to go back to the closer’s role,” McClendon said. “We’ll use him where we think it fits the best. He’s getting better. He’s still working on things every day. It’s coming. It’s not quite there yet.”
In other Mariners news on Friday:
• Hisashi Iwakuma emerged from Thursday’s bullpen session in Tacoma without any problems and will now throw a simulated game of about 45 pitches on Monday in Everett against Class-A hitters, since both the Mariners and Rainiers will be on the road early next week.
Iwakuma, sidelined since April 23 with a strained right lat muscle, could be ready for a Minor League rehab start next Saturday for Tacoma if all goes well, McClendon said. The Rainiers play in Albuquerque that day.
• McClendon had Nelson Cruz back at designated hitter on Friday after sitting out two games with back spasms. But the skipper said he won’t hesitate to continue playing Cruz in right field and doesn’t feel that played any part in his back problem.
Cruz had started 37 games in right field and 21 at DH before being sidelined the last two games of the Indians series after feeling his back tighten during an at-bat on Tuesday.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with his play in right field,” McClendon said. “The concern about him playing right field is his hamstring. The back is just something that came up. It was a spasm. He took a funny swing and it caught him. I don’t have any concerns in that area.”
• McClendon said the Mariners are still waiting on results from the latest tests on left-hander James Paxton’s strained tendon in his left middle finger before clearing him to begin throwing. Paxton has been sidelined the past two weeks.
• Looking for a premier pitching matchup? When the Mariners return home for their next homestand on Wednesday, it’ll be Felix Hernandez vs. Giants star Madison Bumgarner in the 7:10 p.m. Interleague series opener at Safeco Field.
• Hernandez is gunning to become the first Major Leaguer to 10 wins this season as Seattle opens its three-game series in Houston on Friday at 4:10 p.m. PT at Minute Maid Park. The Mariners have a chance to pick up some ground on the AL West-leading Astros, who have lost seven straight.
“They’re important games, sure,” acknowledged McClendon. “You’d like to come out of here winning the series. That’s important for us at this stage of the season. I would say it’s probably the most-important series we’ve played to date. I can’t say it’s the biggest series of the year, but it’s important that we play well here.”
The Mariners, currently 6 1/2 games back, face the Astros in six of their next 10 games.
The Mariners recalled catcher Jesus Sucre from Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday and designated outfielder Justin Ruggiano for assignment. The move was necessary after Seattle traded backup catcher Welington Castillo to the D-Backs on Wednesday as part of a six-player swap.
Sucre opened the season with Seattle, but had been optioned to Tacoma two weeks ago after the club acquired Castillo by trade from the Cubs. Sucre hit .261 (6-for-23) with two RBIs in six games during his stint in Triple-A. He’ll again resume the backup catching duties behind starter Mike Zunino.
Sucre is regarded as a strong defensive catcher, but has hit just .067 (1-for-15) in six games this season for Seattle and .186 in 35 career games.
Ruggiano (pictured) hit .214 with four doubles, two home runs and three RBIs in 36 games after being acquired from the Cubs over the offseason for left-hander Matt Brazis.
Ruggiano, 33, was already limited in his playing time by the frequent use of Nelson Cruz in right field, so the acquisition of Mark Trumbo in the deal with Arizona figured to further reduce his role.
“Those things are never easy,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It was a very difficult decision, but you’ve got to have a backup catcher and you can only carry 25, so somebody had to go. Obviously there was going to be a tremendous lack of playing time for whoever that guy was. Hopefully this gives him the opportunity to catch on with somebody else.”
Ruggiano has hit .255 with 45 home runs and 140 RBIs in 434 career games over parts of seven seasons with the Rays, Marlins, Cubs and Mariners.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery has been recalled from Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners and will make his Major League debut on the mound in Tuesday night’s 7:10 p.m. PT game against the Yankees at Safeco Field.
Right-handed reliever Mayckol Guiape was optioned to Tacoma on Tuesday morning to make room on the 25-man roster. That puts Seattle’s bullpen back to seven relievers after Monday’s temporary promotion of Guiape, who threw 2 1/3 perfect innings in his own MLB debut in Monday’s 7-2 loss to the Yankees.
Montgomery takes the rotation spot of James Paxton, who went on the 15-day disabled list last week with a strained tendon in his left middle finger. Montgomery, a first-round Draft pick of the Royals in 2008, was acquired from Tampa Bay on March 31 for right-hander Erasmo Ramirez.
The 25-year-old was 4-3 with a 3.74 ERA in nine starts for Triple-A Tacoma. He’ll square off against Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, a veteran of 433 starts over 15 Major League seasons.
Montgomery will be the fourth Mariners starter to make his MLB debut against the Yankees. Matt Young (1983), Terry Taylor (’88) and Pat Rice (’91) went a combined 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in their debut games against the Bronx Bombers.
• Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma continued his rehab program by playing catch in the Safeco Field outfield on Tuesday afternoon and now will progress to throwing off the bullpen mound on Thursday as he recovers from a strained right lat muscle that has sidelined him the past six weeks.
Iwakuma, one of the American League’s most-underrated starters the past three years, couldn’t throw for more than a month before recently receiving clearance to begin testing the sore shoulder. Manager Lloyd McClendon said he’s progressing well now and will toss bullpen sessions Thursday and Sunday at Safeco Field, then accompany the team on its next road trip and throw another bullpen and a simulated game if all goes to plan.
If there are no setbacks for the 33-year-old, that would put him on schedule to go out on a Minor League rehab in late June and possibly be on line to rejoin the Mariners in the week or so before the All-Star break in mid-July.
• Reliever Danny Farquhar, demoted to Triple-A Tacoma last week, was scheduled to start for the Rainiers on Tuesday night. But McClendon said that was more about giving the right-hander a chance to work on his pitches rather than attempting to stretch him out as a potential starter.
“It’s to straighten him out, more than anything,” McClendon said. “Working one inning in relief it’s hard to get straightened out. Hopefully he can work three or four, get a feel for his pitches again and get it going.”
• Tacoma shortstop Ketel Marte, the Mariners’ No. 3 ranked prospect by MLB.com, fractured his left thumb on Sunday and is expected to miss about six weeks. The 21-year-old was leading the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.343) and hits (61) and was second in stolen bases (17) in 51 games,
• Left-handed reliever Tyler Olson, who opened the season in Seattle’s bullpen, has been activated off the 15-day DL (bruised right knee) and reassigned to Tacoma.
The Mariners moved to solidify their bullpen on Monday, recalling young right-hander Mayckol Guiape from Triple-A Tacoma and optioning shortstop Chris Taylor to Tacoma.
Guiape, 24, will be making his Major League debut with the Mariners as he joins the club for Monday’s series opener with the Yankees at Safeco Field. He provides a fresh arm for a bullpen that used all seven relievers in Sunday’s 12-inning, 6-3 loss to the Indians.
Taylor, 24, had been called up from Tacoma on May 4 to take over the starting shortstop duties, but he posted just a .159/.221/.206 line in 20 games and manager Lloyd McClendon had gone back to using Brad Miller more at shortstop again in the past week after initially shifting him to a utility role.
Guiape has a 4.58 ERA and three saves in 16 appearances for Tacoma, with three walks and 18 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. The Venezuela native posted a 2.89 ERA with 12 saves in 40 games for Double-A Jackson in 2014.
The Mariners still need to make another roster move on Tuesday to add a starter to take the place of injured southpaw James Paxton, who went on the 15-day disabled list last week with a strained finger tendon. They currently have an eight-man bullpen with Guaipe’s addition, so it’s likely they’ll send down a reliever now that they’ve sorted out their position-player logjam by demoting Taylor.
The midseason transition of Brad Miller from starting shortstop to super utility player has been one of the Mariners’ more intriguing storylines in recent weeks and that plot continues developing as Miller filled in for second baseman Robinson Cano in Sunday’s series finale against the Blue Jays.
Miller has now played all three outfield positions as well as second base, designated hitter and his familiar shortstop role in a one-week span. It’s a big change, but Miller comes to the park each day with an open mind, waiting to see what role awaits.
“If you embrace that, you can use it to your advantage,” he said. “Whereas if you show up and see it as a negative or pout or something, then it’s not going to help you. So I’m just kind of going with the flow right now.”
It doesn’t hurt that Miller has been one of the Mariners’ more-productive hitters, no matter where he’s been placed defensively.
“That’s part of it, not letting it affect your performance. Not letting other factors get in your way,” Miller said. “I know at the end of the day, I’ve got to play well. So whatever I’ve got to do to do that. I just want to keep it going and keep working.”
Miller has played all three outfield positions now, which is the biggest adjustment for a guy who spent his entire professional career at shortstop along with a few games at second and third. He’s spent considerable time in pregame work the past three weeks with outfield coach Andy Van Slyke and has gotten more comfortable reading the ball off the bat.
And, like any player with a mitt and a wall, he enjoys the leaping attempts at the fence, which he nearly pulled off earlier this week in Baltimore trying to pull back a grand slam by Steve Pearce.
“All me and Andy do the last 10 minutes of batting practice is home run robberies,” Miller said. “I knew the wall in Camden is shorter than Safeco. It’s crazy when it happened. It’s such an adrenaline rush and I’m just going. It ended up being probably two rows too deep. But honestly, my attitude out there is I’m just trying to go get everything. Not really think about anything, but whatever I see just go and get it.”
• Cano moved to designated hitter on Sunday as manager Lloyd McClendon looked to give his legs a break in the midst of six straight games on artificial turf in Toronto and Tampa Bay. Cano is hitting just .253 with one homer and 11 RBIs in Seattle’s first 42 games, a far cry from his normal production.
McClendon said Cano worked on some mechanical issues in Baltimore and believes he’s close to getting back in a groove.
“I’m sure he’s frustrated. He’s probably a little embarrassed,” McClendon said. “That’s only natural. But the fact is, he’s going to hit. He hasn’t gotten results here, but I see better positioning at the plate. I see his hands in a better position. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went out today and got three hits. He’s real close. He’s going to hit.”
• Austin Jackson went 3-for-5 with a double in Triple-A Tacoma’s game at Iowa on Saturday and is now hitting .310 in seven rehab games as he returns from a sprained right ankle. McClendon said a decision is looming on the veteran center fielder.
“He’s feeling a lot better. I think he’s real close,” McClendon said Sunday morning. “We’ll see how he feels after today’s game and go from there.”
It’s possible Jackson could rejoin the Mariners as early as Monday in Tampa Bay.