August 2011

Lights, camera, action … in downtown Cleveland

German police cars ready for action during the filming of "The Avengers" this week in downtown Cleveland.

You never quite know what you’re going to get on road trips, particularly when it involves the Mariners heading to Cleveland.

In 2007, the Mariners got snowed out of four games here. Earlier this year rain wiped out a pair of games, which led to yesterday’s doubleheader. And during the first game yesterday, the makeup contest, an earthquake rumbled through Progressive Field.

And that was before the Indians themselves shook up Brandon League, who seems to have his own personal demons in this fine city.

But the interesting thing on this trek, from a non-baseball standpoint, was seeing downtown Cleveland turned Hollywood. My Marriott hotel is probably a mile walk from Progressive Field and each night on my way home, I had to detour around the cordoned-off area where they’re shooting “The Avengers.”

From my room on the 22nd floor, I could see the night-time shoots, with search lights circling around the adjacent buildings and every once in a while — even at 2:30 a.m. — a director on a loud speaker yelling, “Action” and then hearing the muffled screams of hundreds of extras yelling in reaction to some catatastrophe being filmed.

The scenes being shot are supposed to be in Germany, so the entire front of the building they’re using has been made over with German words. The street signs are German, the bus stop has German wording, the police cars are, well, you can see them above.

Pretty fun to see, really. Unfortunately I didn’t have a ton of time to check out the action as, well, the Mariners and Indians did play four ball games in three days and that seemed more important to my bosses than my movie sight-seeing.

But here’s the view below of the night-time shoot down the street. I’m guessing they’re using better cameras in the actual production, but what do you expect from an iPhone camera from the 22nd floor several blocks away …

Night-time shooting of "The Avengers" movie in Cleveland.

So who will Mariners go with as their fill-in starter?

The Mariners need to add an extra starting pitcher for a spot start against the Indians in Tuesday’s doubleheader in Cleveland, one of the makeup dates for two rainouts in May.

There are a couple options, but the most likely solution, in my mind, will be bringing young lefty Anthony Vasquez up from Tacoma.

Vasquez, 24, hasn’t pitched since last Tuesday when he went seven innings in a 3-2 loss to Omaha in Cheney Stadium, so he’d be fresh. He is scheduled to go tonight in Reno for the Rainiers, so it’ll be pretty obvious if he gets scratched from that start.

Then again, the Mariners already scratched him from a start for Tacoma on Aug. 1 when they were contemplating a move, but wound up that time opting to put Charlie Furbush into the rotation after originally thinking he would need some time to stretch out after working primarily out of the bullpen for the Tigers.

There isn’t any Furbush in waiting this time. There is Tom Wilhelmsen, who could be a logical candidate given he was starting for Double-A Jackson before getting recalled by the Mariners on Aug. 2.

But Wilhelmsen hasn’t started in four weeks now and just threw three innings of relief on Saturday. And even more critically, he may well be needed again as a long man out of the bullpen in this upcoming stretch.

Jason Vargas goes tonight for Seattle and he’s been erratic of late, then rookie Blake Beavan will start the first game Tuesday. So a bullpen that already had to soak up a lot of innings Saturday, when Furbush got bounced early, isn’t in great position to piece together a game with Wilhelmsen starting and needing considerable relief help, given his longest stint in a month has been three innings of relief.

One way or the other, the Mariners are going to need to add an arm for this run of games. Vasquez seems the most logical solution from Tacoma, though someone will have to be bumped off the 40-man roster if he’s elevated.

I’d figured 21-year-old Erasmo Ramirez might get a shot, even though he’s only recently been promoted to Tacoma, but he started Saturday for the Rainiers. Similarly, veteran Nate Robertson became an un-option when he went Sunday for Tacoma. And Robertson is still coming back from arm surgery this spring anyway.

There are two former Mariners who could conceivably be brought up for one shot. Left-hander Chris Seddon last  threw on Thursday, so he’d be right on schedule to start Tuesday. Seddon hasn’t been particularly effective this season, going 8-6 with a 6.43 ERA, but he does have 21 games of Major League experience at age 27, including four starts with the Marlins in ’07.

Seddon pitched 14 games of relief for Seattle last year (1-0, 5.64 ERA).

The other possibility would be Luke French, who at one point would have been the first choice as the next starter in line in Tacoma. But French hasn’t thrown well this season and was designated for assignment two weeks ago to clear room on the 40-man roster for Wily Mo Pena.

He did re-join the Rainiers after clearing waivers, however, and is in the organization and remains an option. He’s 8-8 with a 6.12 ERA this season, but hasn’t pitched since Aug. 12, a 10-day layoff. So I’d consider that one a long shot, though French does have 20 Major League starts on his resume and did relatively well (5-7, 4.83 ERA) last year for Seattle.

Most likely, in my mind, remains Vasquez. The San Antonio, Texas, native is pitching the best of all those candidates and has moved quickly up the ladder since being an 18th round draft pick in ’09 out of USC. He pitched in Class A and AA ball last year, then went 5-7 with a 3.77 ERA in 16 starts at Double-A Jackson this year and has fared even better in Tacoma (4-3, 3.21 ERA in eight starts).

Whether the Mariners make an announcement today or wait until Tuesday to make the roster move — which will require dropping someone else off the 25-man roster — Vasquez’s availability will be obvious based on whether he pitches tonight for Tacoma.

So stay tuned.

Makeover continues as Ruffin added to bullpen

The Mariners youth movement continued Wednesday as general manager Jack Zduriencik capped off his trade of Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Tigers by announcing the addition of young reliever Chance Ruffin as the “player to be named later” in that deal.

Ruffin, 22, will join the Mariners immediately and be available in the bullpen tonight against Toronto. To make room, the Mariners designated left-handed reliever Aaron Laffey for assignment.

That means Ruffin will join fellow rookies Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes and Tom Wilhelmsen in an increasingly youthful bullpen on an increasingly young team.

Ruffin was drafted last year by Detroit as a first-round sandwich pick – the 48th selection overall – and appeared in two games for the Tigers earlier this season.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Texan has 19 saves and a 2.03 ERA in 44 games this season in Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers’ farm system.

Seattle previously received outfielder Casper Wells and right-handed pitcher Charlie Furbush, both of whom are playing for the Mariners, as well as Double-A third base prospect Francisco Martinez.

At the time of the trade, Zduriencik said the club would also receive a “significant” player to be named later, with that player turning out to be the well-regarded Ruffin. Because players can’t be traded within the first year of signing their initial pro contract, Ruffin couldn’t be included in the deal until now.

He’s been pitching most recently in Toledo, posting a 1.84 ERA with nine saves in 13 appearances with 17 strikeouts and six walks in 14 2/3 innings.

Ruffin struck out 43 batters in 34 innings in Erie with a 2.12 ERA and 3-3 record in 31 games.

He pitched in two games for the Tigers in late July, with a 4.91 ER in 3 2/3 innings. The rookie allowed two solo home runs in a 1 2/3-inning debut at the White Sox, but bounced back three days later with two scoreless frames – giving up two hits and striking out two – against the Angels.

Ruffin was a standout starter at Texas before converting to a closer his junior year. His father, Bruce Ruffin, pitched for 11 years in the Major Leagues for the Phillies, Brewers and Rockies from 1987-97.

Though the Mariners didn’t like parting with Fister with three years of club control remaining, the trade appears to be paying dividends for Seattle already. Wells and Furbush have already fit in well at the Major League level and now Ruffin joins the big-league club as well.

Wells has hit home runs in four straight games going into Wednesday’s series finale with Toronto and is batting .341 (15-for-44) with 12 RBIs in 12 games for the Mariners. Furbush is 2-1 with a 4.76 ERA in four appearances for Seattle and is coming off seven innings of one-run ball in his last start against the Red Sox.

Martinez, 20, has hit .276 in 15 games for Double-A Jackson with one home run and 11 RBIs. He’s a well-regarded prospect who many felt was the key to the trade and remains one of the youngest players in Double-A this season.

Trayvon Robinson: ‘This is the best four days of my life’

Trayvon Robinson’s head may have been swirling Friday, but one thing wasn’t moving at all. The ear-to-ear grin on the rookie outfielder’s face never disappeared for a second as the newest Mariners prospect talked about the whirlwind week that culminated with his Major League debut Friday night in his hometown.

Robinson, 23, was one of two young hitters obtained in Sunday’s trade of Erik Bedard. He played just three games for Triple-A Tacoma before getting called up by the Mariners in time to play in Friday 7:10 p.m. PT series opener against the Angels.

The youngster was immediately penciled into left field and batting ninth for a Mariners’ club now full speed ahead in its youth movement.

“At the time of the trade, everything was going 100 mph,” Robinson said while sitting in the Mariners dugout prior to Friday’s game. “I was thinking about a lot of things like missing my [Dodgers] teammates that I’ve been with for six years.

“Then I landed with a great group of guys in Tacoma that I was starting to get comfortable with. A day later, I’m over here. This is pretty fast and pretty amazing. It’s the best four days of my life.”

Robinson will become the 13th rookie to play for Seattle this season, the most in the American League. He’ll also be the ninth Mariner to make his big league debut this season, the most in the Majors, joining Dustin Ackley, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, Michael Pineda, Carlos Peguero, Kyle Seager, Mike Wilson and Tom Wilhelmsen.

Robinson is regarded as a leadoff-type hitter and center-field candidate, though it remains to be seen how the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder will be used by the Mariners this season.

He played center field in his three games with Tacoma since the trade, going 1-for-9 with three walks. Prior to his acquisition, he batted .293 with 26 home runs and 71 RBIs in 100 games with Albuquerque, the Dodgers’ Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League.

Robinson stole 38 in bases in Double-A ball in 2010 and 47 while splitting time between Double-A and Single-A in ’09, but had become more of a power hitter and less of a runner this year with Albuquerque with eight stolen bases in 14 attempts.

“I don’t know,” he said of the change. “This year I started off in the seventh hole, had a couple guys on base and started doing a little better hitting there. I started hitting with guys in scoring position. I looked up and a month into the season I as batting fifth.

“I’d been batting first or second or eight my whole career. For me to be batting fifth, it was a different result. I got a lot of different results this year. It was kind of weird. But I can still run.”

As a Los Angeles native, he’ll be making his Major League debut in his hometown. Angel Stadium is about 35 miles south of Crenshaw High, where he graduated in ’05. He bought tickets Friday for eight family members who’ll enjoy his debut almost as much as he will.

“This is the longest and biggest dream I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “I can’t even express how excited and everything I was when I got the call. I’m still smiling about it. I think I’ve got about six hours of sleep in four days. I couldn’t even play my video games, I was so excited.”

Robinson is an alumnus of two MLB programs, the Urban Youth Academy and the R.B.I. program, both designed to help urban and minority youth get baseball experience and life skills and educational opportunities.

He recognizes what this chance means and what he wants to do with the opportunity.

“Embrace it,” he said. “Your first only comes once, so I’m going to remember this day. I’ll remember all you guys right here. One of my friends even told me to pick up a piece of the grass and put it in your pocket. But all I want to do is be Trayvon. Be Trayvon and just play. That’s it. Play hard.”

Wilhelmsen rejoins Mariners after Double-A stint

Right-handed pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen was recalled from Double-A Jackson by the Mariners on Tuesday and will be available out of the bullpen for Tuesday night’s game against the A’s at Safeco Field.

The Mariners had an opening on their 25-man roster because of the Erik Bedard trade on Sunday.

Wilhelmsen, 27, made Seattle’s Opening Day roster after being out of baseball from 2006-09 and never having pitched above Class A ball. His unique story, a top baseball prospect who instead worked as a bartender afer walking away from the game, garnered considerable attention. Here’s a piece I wrote on him in Spring Training as he began looking like a guy whose long-shot might come in.

He posted a 5.59 ERA in eight relief appearances with the Mariners before being optioned to Jackson on May 17.

Wilhelmsen went 4-5 with 5.49 ERA in 14 games with Jackson, including 12 starts.

The Mariners have restructured their pitching staff in recent days, trading away starters Bedard and Doug Fister as well as reliever David Pauley.

We haven’t had a chance to talk with Mariners skipper Eric Wedge yet today, but Wilhelmsen likely will be used as a reliever with the Mariners, who have announced that Charlie Furbush will move into the starting rotation on Wednesday against the A’s to take Bedard’s place.

Rookie Blake Beavan started in Fister’s spot on Monday and picked up the victory in an 8-4 victory over Oakland.

There has been talk of going to a six-man rotation in order to ease the load on young Michael Pineda, but that doesn’t seem likely at this point given the number of off days coming up in August.

The Marineres will use one of those this Thursday, for example, to push Pineda back until Tuesday in Texas. With the off day, they can keep Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and even Furbush on a five-day schedule and put Pineda at the back end of the rotation and give him an extra four days rest.

Meanwhile, here’s tonight’s lineups for the 7:10 p.m. start against the A’s:

Mariners (46-62)
51  Ichiro Suzuki (L)     RF
26  Brendan Ryan          SS
13  Dustin Ackley (L)     2B
20  Mike Carp (L)         DH
4  Adam Kennedy (L)      3B
30  Miguel Olivo          C
17  Justin Smoak (S)      1B
33  Casper Wells          LF
21  Franklin Gutierrez    CF
34  Felix Hernandez       RHP

Athletics (49-60)
19  Jemile Weeks (S)      2B
4  Coco Crisp (S)        CF
55  Hideki Matsui (L)     LF
16  Josh Willingham       DH
15  Ryan Sweeney (L)      RF
28  Conor Jackson         1B
8  Kurt Suzuki           C
36  Eric Sogard (L)       SS
29  Scott Sizemore        3B
18  Rich Harden           RHP