August 2012

Saunders misses sixth straight as M’s close out trip

Michael Saunders had hoped to get back into the lineup at some point during this series in Minneapolis, but the Mariners outfielder was sidelined again Thursday as Seattle closed out its four-game set with the Twins.

Saunders has been out with a strained right groin muscle since a ninth-inning collision with Eric Thames in the outfield in Friday’s 9-8 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Manager Eric Wedge said Saunders is very close to being ready, but the team will give him one more day to make sure he’s 100 percent to go Friday when the Mariners return home to face the Angels.

“We just feel like he needs a day of rest, he’s been pushing so hard to come back,” Wedge said. “The best opportunity for him to play in the outfield tomorrow and play an entire game would be to give him some time today. We plan on him being in the outfield tomorrow.”

Franklin Gutierrez was back in center field for Thursday’s 10:10 a.m. PT getaway game after sitting out Wednesday’s 10-0 loss to rest his legs as he eases his way back from a two-month absence.

The Mariners are eager to put that clunker behind them. They haven’t had many of those this season, but it happens in baseball. The club can still win the series, which would make nine of 13 series wins, and they’ve already clinched their second straight winning month. That hasn’t happened since the end of 2009, so this is indeed a good run.

Seattle finishes up its seven-game road trip today and then heads home for a nine-game homestand with teh Angels, Red Sox and A’s.

Here is Seattle’s full lineup against Twins lefty Brian Duensing (3-9, 5.28 ERA):

Dustin Ackley 2B
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Jesus Montero C
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo DH
Trayvon Robinson LF
Eric Thames RF
Brendan Ryan SS

Blake Beavan RHP

Saunders, Guti both out of lineup on Wednesday

Michael Saunders worked out under the watchful eye of trainer Rick Griffin this afternoon at Target Field, but the Mariners outfielder was not in the lineup for a fifth straight game for Wednesday night’s battle with the Twins.

Saunders strained his right groin muscle in the collision with right fielder Eric Thames on Friday night in Chicago and the club is being careful not pushing him back too soon.

“I want to be playing games in September,” Saunders said on Tuesday, “so we don’t want to try to rush it.”

Franklin Gutierrez is also not in tonight’s lineup after playing the past two games upon coming off the disabled list. We haven’t had a chance to talk to Eric Wedge yet today, so not certain on his status. But Wedge said Monday that Gutierrez would play the first two games and then be evaluated to see how he was doing.

The thought was he’d likely get a day off here at some point in this four-game series. And with right-hander Samuel Deduno on the mound today, Wedge has chosen to give him this one off so he can be ready to face lefty Brian Duensing in the day game on Thursday.

That puts Chone Figgins in center field tonight. He played there Saturday in Chicago as well, after Saunders got hurt and before Gutierrez was back with the club.

Here’s the full lineup tonight at 5:10 p.m. PT against Deduno, a 29-year-old rookie who took his first Major League loss 10 days ago in Seattle when he gave up two runs and five hits in six innings in a game the Mariners went on to win 5-1.

Dustin Ackley 2B
Trayvon Robinson LF
Kyle Seager 3B
John Jaso DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Eric Thames RF
Miguel Olivo C
Chone Figgins CF
Munenori Kawasaki SS

Jason Vargas LHP

Zunino, Franklin, Paxton head AFL roster

Catcher Mike Zunino, shortstop Nick Franklin and left-handed pitcher James Paxton – three of the Mariners top young prospects – head a list of eight Seattle Minor Leaguers who were named to the Peoria Javelinas team on Wednesday as Arizona Fall League rosters were announced.

Zunino, the Mariners top pick and No. 3 overall selection in June’s First-Year Player Draft, has been extremely impressive in his first few weeks at Double-A Jackson after being promoted from Class-A Everett this month.

Franklin, a first-round Draft pick in 2009, played in the AFL last fall as well and then has spent this season at Triple-A Tacoma.

Paxton, a fourth-round selection in 2010, has been pitching for Double-A Jackson this season.

Also named to the Peoria AFL squad were infielders Vinnie Catricala and Stefen Romero, right-handed pitchers Carson Smith and Logan Bawcom and left-hander Bobby LaFromboise.

Romero is a “taxi squad” participant, meaning he’ll be eligible only to play on Wednesday and Saturday games.

There are six different AFL teams and the Mariners are one of five Major League clubs that has representatives on the Peoria squad. The Reds also are affiliated with Peoria, which means speed sensation Billy Hamilton, who has stolen 154 bases in the Minor Leagues this season, will be on that squad as well.

Hamilton will get plenty of attention, but it’s a good chance for some of the Mariners top propsects to get additional playing time this fall as well. Last season, Danny Hultzen and Franklin were among the Seattle players who participated.

You can click here to see the full roster of the Peoria squad.


Felix putting up fabulous numbers

Felix Hernandez continued going where few pitchers have gone before with his 1-0 victory over the Twins on Monday. Thanks to Elias and Jeff Evans of the Mariners baseball information department for more fun Felix facts in the wake of his club record fifth shutout of the season:

– The five shutouts are tied for the most in a season by an American League pitcher since 1989, joining Bert Blyleven (’89), Roger Clemens (’92) and David Wells (’98).

– He joins Mark Langston (September 1988) as the only pitcher in Mariners history with three shutouts in one calendar month.

– Only two other pitchers in Major League history have had three 1-0 shutout wins in a calendar month: Carl Hubbell for the Giants (July 1933) and the Braves’ Dick Rudolph (August 1916).

– He’s the first Major League pitcher since Randy Johnson in 1998 with the Astros to record five shutouts in a 12-start span.

– Hernandez’s 16 starts of seven-plus innings with one or fewer runs is a Mariners record, breaking the mark of 15 he set during his 2010 Cy Young season.

– Going into Tuesday’s games, he had the lowest ERA in the Major Leagues (2.43), the most innings pitched (196 2/3), was third in strikeouts (184) and sixth in batting average against (.218).

Bottom line, there are a lot of really good Cy Young candidates in the AL right now between Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, David Price and Hernandez, but Felix has come from the back of that pack to definite front-running contention with a stunning two-month string of starts during which he’s gone 9-0 with 1.40 ERA.

I’ll keep saying it. When you have a two-month span during which you’re tossing complete-game shutouts against the Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and now the Twins – with a perfect game in the middle of that — it doesn’t get any better.

Gutierrez in center tonight as Saunders still out

With Franklin Gutierrez back with the team today after being activated off the disabled list, he’s sliding right into the lineup in center field against the Twins with Michael Saunders still sidelined with a tender groin muscle.

Saunders hasn’t played since colliding with right fielder Eric Thames on the final play of Friday’s 9-8 loss in Chicago, but is day-to-day and hoping to be back by Tuesday.

Gutierrez has been the hard-luck story for the past two seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do with the season’s final six weeks. Obviously the Mariners would love to see a strong finish by the 2010 Gold Glover, who still has a year remaining on his contract and figures prominently in the team’s plans … if he can stay healthy.

Tonight is Felix night as well, with Mr. Perfecto gunning for his ninth straight win. Hernandez hasn’t lost since June 12 in San Diego, going 8-0 with a 1.53 ERA over his past 13 starts. So, yeah, that’s pretty good.

He’s taking on a Twins club coming off a 2-8 road trip and sprting the worst record in the AL at 52-75. The Mariners themselves stubbed their toe with three one-run losses at U.S. Cellular Field over the weekend, so they’d like to get back on track after their eight-game streak came to an end.

Here’s today’s full lineup for the 5:10 p.m. PT start against Twins right-hander Liam Hendriks (0-6, 7.06 ERA):

Dustin Ackley 2B
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Jesus Montero DH
John Jaso C
Justin Smoak 1B
Eric Thames RF
Trayvon Robinson LF
Brendan Ryan SS

Felix Hernandez RHP

Gutierrez comes off DL; Wells sent to Tacoma

After two months on the disabled list following a concussion, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez has been activated by the Mariners and will be with the team today as it opens a four-game series against the Twins at Target Field.

Outfielder Casper Wells was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room on the 25-man roster.

Gutierrez, 29, had played only 13 games this season after coming back from a partially torn pectoral muscle when he got hit in the head by a pickoff throw to first base on June 28. After dealing with recurring headaches, he finally was able to make a rehab stint with Tacoma and hit .333 with seven RBIs and two home runs in seven games.

He’ll provide some center field options for manager Eric Wedge, with Michael Saunders having missed the past two games with a groin injury after colliding with right fielder Eric Thames in the ninth inning of Friday’s 9-8 loss to the White Sox.

Saunders said on Sunday he’s hopeful of being ready to return by Monday, but he can also play left or right field.

Gutierrez was a 2010 Gold Glove winner and is one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game when healthy, but has struggled to stay on the field the past two seasons. He played just 92 games while hitting .224 in 2011 after dealing with a digestive issue early in the year and then straining his oblique muscle in the final month.

A career .256 hitter in eight years in the Majors, Gutierrez was batting .267 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 45 at-bats this season when he was hit in the face by Boston’s Franklin Morales while going back to first base.

Wells, 27, has hit .226 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs in 74 games with the Mariners. He snapped an 0-for-16 slump with a two-run home run in the fifth inning of Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the White Sox.

Wells had lost playing time recently with Trayvon Robinson getting most of the duty in left field and Eric Thames in right. He’ll be with the Rainiers for their season-ended eight-game road trip starting in Las Vegas on Monday night, then be eligible to rejoin the Mariners after Tacoma’s season ends on Sept. 3.

Start time re-set for 1 p.m. PT after rain delay

They’re going to try to play ball at 1 p.m. PT (or 3 p.m. here in Chicago) as the tarp is being taken off  now at U.S. Cellular Field after about a 90-minute rain delay.

The forecast doesn’t look pretty today, but shows even higher rain percentages later tonight in the 7 p.m. range, so it appears they’re going to try to start shortly and see if they can squeeze it in.

Frankly, there’s not a lot of options as a later make-up date is pretty much impossible. The only common off day the Mariners and White Sox share the rest of the season is Thursday, Sept. 6. But that is in the middle of a Mariners homestand and they play a night game on Sept. 5 in Seattle against the Red Sox.

So it would be extremely difficult to fly to Chicago on the morning of Sept. 6, play a game and then get back to Seattle to resume their homestand the next day.

More likely, I presume, would be making up the game on the day after the regular season ends on Oct. 4 if it was necessary. Given the White Sox’s situation, they may indeed need to play all 162 games to figure out their playoff situation.

The Mariners? I’m sure they’d be happy to still  need to be playing at that point.

But hopefully we get this in this afternoon. Kevin Millwood is on the mound for a Seattle. He’s a veteran who has been through a few rain delays in his 16 years in the Majors.

Saunders still out, but Gutierrez close to returning

We’ve got some heavy rain falling in Chicago as game time approaches here at U.S. Cellular Field, so not looking good to get this game with the White Sox going by its 11:10 a.m. PT start time. But we did meet with Eric Wedge pregame and there is a little news to report.

Michael Saunders remains sidelined again today, out a second straight game with a sore groin muscle from his Friday collision with Eric Thames. Saunders hopes to return by Monday’s series opener in Minnesota, but Wedge said Franklin Gutierrez is also close to rejoining the club.

Gutierrez has been on the disabled list for eight weeks with a concussion. He played his seventh rehab game with Triple-A Tacoma on Saturday and went 1-for-3 with a walk and run scored. He’s hit .333 with seven RBIs and two home runs with the Rainiers and hasn’t had any further headaches or setbacks.

“I think he’s close to heading our way,” Wedge said. “He felt good again last night. We’re going to talk further about it today, but I think he’s getting close.”

Gutierrez has played just 13 games this season after missing the first several months of the season with a partially torn pectoral muscle. He was playing well when he finally got healthy, batting .267 two home runs and nine RBIs in 45 at-bats while playing his usual outstanding defense.

But the 2010 Gold Glove winner was hit in the head with a pickoff throw to first base by Boston’s Franklin Morales on June 28 and has been sidelined ever since.

Here’s today’s lineup, if we ever get this one going:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Trayvon Robinson LF
Kyle Seager 3B
John Jaso C
Jesus Montero DH
Eric Thames RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Casper Wells CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Kevin Millwood RHP

Saunders, Thames both sidelined after Friday collision

Center fielder Michael Saunders and right fielder Eric Thames were both out of the lineup Saturday after the two collided on the final play of the Mariners’ 9-8 loss to the White Sox.

Saunders injured his groin muscle slightly as the two crashed together and was receiving treatment prior to Saturday night’s 4:10 p.m. PT game at U.S. Cellular Field.

“Thames is OK. Saunders has a little bit of groin,” manager Eric Wedge said. “When they hit out there, he kind of stuck and turned in a way that was kind of funky. He’ll be a game-time decision in regard to his availability. Eric is good to go, but they’ve got a lefty in there tonight so we’ve got our other guys in there.”

Chone Figgins got the start in center field, with Casper Wells in right field.

Thames said he could have played, though he was pretty banged up. He had the ball in his glove on Paul Konerko’s smash to the right-center field fence, but it popped loose as Saunders crashed into him just as they both reached the fence.

“My pride is a little hurt, but I’m alright,” he said. “Our heads are good, that’s the scariest part. My shoulder and legs are banged up, but it’s OK. I feel like I was in a car accident. It makes me respect the rugby guys a little more. But we’re good.”

Thames was still re-living the moment a day later, calling it “a tough pill to swallow.” He said he saw Saunders at the last second, but was committed at that point to making the play.

“I don’t want to say I expected it because we were both screaming, but we couldn’t hear each other,” Thames said. “I don’t know if he’s going to get it, so I have to go for it. Then he’s about two feet away, I caught it and next thing I know we’re on the ground face down and the ball is rolling toward second base. It happened so fast, but he got the brunt of it. It happened so fast, that’s all I can say.”

What hurt more was that Konerko passed the base runner who was tagging up at first and could have been called out for a double play if Thames had held onto the ball, which would have sent the game into extra innings tied at 8.

Here’s the full lineup Saturday:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Trayvon Robinson LF
Jesus Montero DH
Kyle Seager 3B
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Casper Wells RF
Chone Figgins CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Blake Beavan RHP

Tough Friday: Mariners lose in painful fashion, Pauley suspended, Hultzen roughed up

Tough night on a couple fronts for the Mariners on Friday, starting with finding another way to drop a game at U.S. Cellular Field with a 9-8 loss that ended with right fielder Eric Thames having the ball knocked loose when he collided with center fielder Michael Saunders on a drive in the gap by Paul Konerko.

This after Seattle had rallied with six runs in the top of the ninth to take an 8-7 lead in a game they appeared dead to rights after Jason Vargas gave up three early home runs.

The Mariners took a lot of positives out of the comeback and even the last play, given the all-out effort by Thames and Saunders. But closer Tom Wilhelmsen was kicking himself for giving up the lead as the Mariners saw their record against the White Sox fall to 4-22 over the past three years and 1-6 this season.

They’ve lost 17 of their last 20 games at U.S. Cellular and this one hurt as much as any of them. Just ask Wilhelmsen.

What happened?

“They hit the pitches that I threw,” the big closer said through a grimace. “You can’t [bleeping] walk the go-ahead runner and I did that.”

The pitch Konerko hit?

“Right down the middle,” said Wilhelmsen. “That ball was driven pretty well. It didn’t look to me like either one had a shot, so I was really impressed with their effort. It was enough to get the guys in.”

And that’s how a game ended after whip-sawing back into Seattle’s favor just moments earlier with what could have been one of the most-dramatic comebacks of the season.

You can read my game story and watch a video of the game-ended collision here.

But that wasn’t the only sore point for the Mariners on Friday. Mariners reliever David Pauley, now pitching for Triple-A Tacoma, was suspended for 50 games without pay following a second violation for a drug of abuse, according to the commissioner’s office.

Pauley, who re-signed with the Mariners at midseason after being traded to the Tigers last year, had been pitching well for the Rainiers with a 3.14 ERA in 11 appearances. The suspension was not for steroids or performance enhancers, but for an unspecified recreational-type drug.

That spells the end of the season for Pauley, who had been a big part of the Mariners bullpen a year ago and might have been a candidate for a September call-up.

Then young starter Danny Hultzen went out and got roughed up for the Rainiers, lasting just two-thirds of an inning while giving up four runs on two hits and four walks. The 2011 first-round Draft pick is now 1-3 with a 5.14 ERA in nine starts since being promoted from Double-A Jackson and you have to wonder if he might get shut down soon as he appears to be running out of gas in his first year in pro ball.

On the plus side there, Franklin Gutierrez went 1-for-4 with a run in his sixth rehab game and appears on track to return fairly soon to the Mariners. Saunders was shaken up in his collision with Thames, but wasn’t believed to be injured.

If he is unable to play for a while, Gutierrez could be a candidate to return sooner than expected. Otherwise, I suspect he’ll stay in Tacoma until rosters can be expanded on Sept. 1. Casper Wells can play center as well, so the Mariners have some options if Saunders is out for a brief time.