April 2013

Michael Saunders back in leadoff role Monday

SaundersMichaelMichael Saunders was activated off the disabled list and immediately installed by Mariners manager Eric Wedge as the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for Monday night’s series opener with the Orioles.

Saunders’ return is critical for a Mariners team that also has center fielder Franklin Gutierrez on the 15-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain.

Wedge said he likes Saunders in the leadoff spot even against lefty Zach Britton.

“He hangs in there tough against left-handers,” said Wedge. “He brings a dynampic up top that we like. The plan all along was him and Gutierrez up there, but with Guti being out I still like him up there.”

To make room on the 25-man roster, outfielder Carlos Peguero was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.

Saunders has been on the disabled list since April 11 with a sprained right shoulder after crashing into the right field wall at Safeco. In nine games this year, he’s hit .286 with one home run and five RBIs.

In three rehab appearances with Tacoma over the weekend, Saunders went 2-for-11 (.182) with two runs, one double, one triple and two RBIs.

Saunders said he was able to cut loose with his shoulder and passed all the necessary tests to make sure he was ready.

“You get out there and your competitive nature takes over,” he said. “You’re not so tense. I learned in ‘08 [when coming back from labrum surgery in his shoulder] that the last 5-10 percent is mental and just trusting that you’re healthy and ready to do it. Once I was at the plate, I took hard swings and it felt good to let it go.”

Saunders said he would play the same aggressive way he did before slamming into the wall tracking down a Jose Altuve line drive.

“There’s no point in playing scared,” he said. “I’m out there to play hard and that’s the way I’ve always played. That was one of the tests, to make sure I felt like myself.”

Here’s tonight’s full lineups:


Andino replacing Ryan as starting shortstop

AndinoRobertBrendan Ryan is regarded as one of the premier defensive shortstops in baseball, but his continued lack of offensive production has finally led Mariners manager Eric Wedge to go a different direction.

Wedge said Wednesday he’s going to give Robert Andino a run as the starting shortstop going forward, essentially flip-flopping the roles of the two infielders. Andino, 28, was acquired from the Orioles in a trade for Trayvon Robinson over the offseason.

Andino hasn’t hit well in the early going for Seattle either, carrying a .161 batting average in 31 at-bats into Wednesday’s series finale with the Astros. But he’s a career .235 hitter in eight seasons with the Marlins and Orioles and Wedge is willing to take a shot after seeing Ryan continue his offensive struggles.

Ryan has just one hit in his last 25 at-bats as his average has dropped to .143 in 56 at-bats. After hitting .194 last season, that isn’t enough to make up for his stellar defense.

“I’m going to take it day-by-day, week-by-week and month-by-month, quite frankly,” Wedge said. “I’m going to give Robert a chance to play and see where he takes it. I like what I saw with his work and his approach this spring. I don’t feel it’s been as good in-season, but it’s been a little better here the last week in the cage.”

Andino hit .263 as the Orioles starting second baseman in 2011, but Baltimore was willing to part with him after he batted .211 in 127 games last season.

“It’s an opportunity for Andino to go out and take it,” Wedge said. “He doesn’t have to get four hits today, he just needs to go out there and be a good big-league player and let the rest take care of itself.”

As for Ryan? Wedge isn’t closing the book. He just wants the 31-year-old to work on things to make a permanent improvement in his hitting approach.

Wedge intimated that he’d have made a change last year if the Mariners had a better option. Munenori Kawasaki was the backup infielder last year, but he wasn’t much of an offensive threat either.

“We stuck with him last year because we felt we’d give him every opportunity,” Wedge said. “And quite frankly, we had an opportunity to give him every opportunity, if that makes any sense. But you can’t expect change by doing the same thing every day. You have to change your habits and the way you go about doing things. It’s as simple as that.

“We’re going to give him a chance to work with [hitting coach] Dave Hansen and take a step back, hopefully to take two steps forward. It’s up to him.”

Peguero recalled as Gutierrez goes on DL

Peguero_CarlosWith newly-injured Franklin Gutierrez joining Michael Saunders on the disabled list Tuesday, the Mariners recalled Carlos Peguero from Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday to bolster their outfield situation.

Peguero, 25, was hitting .246 with two home runs, 14 RBIs and a .351 on-base percentage in 17 games with Tacoma.

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Peguero isn’t a candidate to play center field in place of Gutierrez, but he can fill a corner outfield spot. Peguero has hit .191 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 63 games in limited duty with Seattle over the previous two years.

Endy Chavez figures to handle center field duties, with Jason Bay available as a backup option until Saunders returns. Bay has played 38 games in center field in his Major League career, but none since 2005 while with the Pirates. He did play two games there this spring in Cactus League games for the Mariners.

Saunders is eligible to come off the 15-day DL on Friday, though he just began throwing Monday for the first time since spraining his right shoulder on April 11 and may need a little more time.

The other outfielders on the 25-man roster are Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez.

Gutierrez is making his fifth trip to the disabled list in the past three seasons. He played only 132 of 324 games in 2011-12 because of a stomach disorder, a strained oblique, a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion.

This year he’s been hampered by sore legs that he said apparently have been caused by a pelvic problem. He started just four of the last 10 games, but indicated before Monday’s contest that he was feeling better and looking forward to playing regularly again.

But he lasted just four innings before straining his right hamstring diving for a bloop single by Chris Carter. The 2010 Gold Glove winner was hitting .259 with four home runs and 10 RBIs while filling the leadoff role when healthy.

Guti back in lineup, says he’s staying positive

GutiCageThe on-again, off-again season of Franklin Gutierrez is back on Monday as the injury-plagued center field returned to the starting lineup after sitting out Sunday.

Gutierrez, 30, has started just three of the last nine games while dealing with leg issues, but said he’s feeling better and is hopeful of getting some consistency going forward.

“I’m working on it,” he said. “I’ve been having some issues with my legs. It’s not a secret. I’ve been working just to get better and try to be in the lineup every day. Having a day off obviously helps, so I feel better today.”

Gutierrez has missed 192 of the 324 games in the past two seasons due to a stomach disorder, a strained oblique, a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion, all of which put him on the disabled list for extensive periods. But this latest injury is another new one.

“I have some issues with my pelvis and I’m trying to fix it,” Gutierrez said. “Some days it’s the groin, some days the hamstrings. It’s different, but I’m working on it. I’m doing a lot of things just to get strong in that area and avoid any injury.

“It’s the first time I’ve had this, but what I can say? I’m just working to get better. It just started in Spring Training. I don’t know why. I’ve never felt that before. I’m doing treatment and working on it and it seems like every day I’m a little better.”

And, yeah, it’s frustrating, but Gutierrez is trying once again to stay positive.

“The last two-to-three years have been really tough on me and I’m trying to be positive and focus on the things I need to do to be on the field,” he said. “Nobody wants to be injured. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be an every-day player and be ready to play.”

This was the first time we’d had a chance to talk to Gutierrez since he got robbed of a home-run saving catch by a fan in Rangers Ballpark on Saturday night, so I asked about that and he said, indeed, he thought he was going to bring that one back.

“I’m pretty sure I could catch that ball,” he said. “I don’t understand how they let those people go in there doing the games. I got a little mad at it, because I knew I could catch that ball. I think I hit his glove.

“I was focused on the ball,  I didn’t know the guy was there. As soon as I climbed the wall and put my glove out I felt like I hit something. I turned around the guy was jumping around.”

And if he thought that was crazy, wait until these three upcoming games at Minute Maid Park, where there’s a hill in center field and crazy outfield walls that can lead to some bizarre bounces.

Here’s the full lineup for today’s game , the Mariners’ first visit to Houston since 2007, as Felix Hernandez takes another shot at his 100th career victory.

Right-hander Brad Peacock (1-1, 5.27 ERA) is on the mound for the Astros.

Franklin Gutierrez CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Dustin Ackley 2B
Jesus Montero C
Endy Chavez LF
Brendan Ryan SS

Felix Hernandez P

Some pregame thoughts as Guti back on Saturday

Looks like Eric Wedge is going back to as close to his normal lineup as possible for tonight’s 5:05 p.m. PT game with the Rangers in Arlington, with Franklin Gutierrez back in place in center field.

Gutierrez started only two of the last seven games, but his troublesome legs were feeling better yesterday and apparently he’s good to go.

Wedge also has shortstop Brendan Ryan back at shortstop after replacing him with Robert Andino last night and Jesus Montero getting the start at catcher instead of Kelly Shoppach.

The Mariners need to get into some rhythm offensively and it certainly would help to break loose a little today against Texas rookie Nick Tepesch (1-1, 3.46), who lost a 3-1 decision at Safeco Field a week ago.

It is early and all, but at 7-11 the Mariners need to show more signs of life than they have initially. Five runs scored in the past four games isn’t going to cut it. This road trip to Dallas and Houston provides a couple good hitter’s parks to help spark the offense. Yu Darvish was tough last night, but the Mariners need to take advantage of the next five games to get a little confidence and momentum with the sticks.

They could also use a solid start from their own rookie right-hander Brandon Maurer, who will be going for his second big league win tonight after topping Texas 4-3 in his last outing in Seattle.

Here’s the full lineup:

Franklin Gutierrez CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Raul Ibanez LF
Jesus Montero C
Dustin Ackley 2B
Brendan Ryan SS

Brandon Maurer RHP

Wedge explains why Guti, Ryan aren’t in lineup

Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez wasn’t in the Mariners starting lineup for the fifth time in the past seven days on Friday and manager Eric Wedge said he’s continuing to deal with the same leg issue that has hindered him since Spring Training.

Gutierrez started nine of the Mariners’ first 11 games and came off the bench in the other two, but he’s been limited to just two starts and one late-inning relief appearance in seven games since.

“We’re still trying to help him with his lower half,” Wedge said before Friday’s series opener with the Rangers. “I think it stems from his hips, where he gets a little out of line and that’s what affects his legs. He didn’t feel very good yesterday. He feels better today, so we’ll see how his [pregame] work goes out here and go from there.”

Health issues aren’t new for Gutierrez, who had four different stints on the disabled list over the past two seasons when he played just 132 of the 324 games. Wedge acknowledged it makes for a difficult situation, not knowing his availability on a consistent basis.

“We’re trying to manage it,” Wedge said. “It’s tough. But I talked to him again today. We’ll just keep communicating with him, the trainers keep working on him and we’re hopeful we can get on the good side of this.”

Shortstop Brendan Ryan also wasn’t in the lineup, but for a different reason. Ryan is just 2-for-28 over his last 10 games as his average has plummeted to .167 after a good start.

“He should be our best bunter,” said Wedge. “He’s got to get the bunt down. We just need him to turn the corner. We’ve talked about it before. He gets in his own way too much. He has to get beyond that somehow.”

Thus Robert Andino started Friday, even though the veteran utility infielder is hitting just .154 himself (4-for-26 even after going  2-for-3 on Thursday when he started at third base for Kyle Seager.

“I want to get Robert in there a little more,” Wedge said. “He did some things yesterday and Ryan has had his struggles. So I’m just trying to put the best team out there right now. To help get Robert on track, we’ve got to play him a little more.”

Gutierrez not in lineup again Friday

Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez isn’t in the lineup for a second straight day on Friday as Seattle prepares to open a three-game series against the Rangers in Arlington.

We don’t get access to the clubhouse or manager Eric Wedge until later, but Gutierrez has been slowed by a tight hamstring muscle that seems to be getting more problematic, given he will now have started just twice in the last seven games.

Endy Chavez is in center field and leading off again. The veteran played well in Thursday’s 2-0 victory over the Tigers, but the Mariners would obviously like to see Gutierrez get healthy enough to play on a regular basis.

They’ll face Yu Darvish for the second time in the past seven days in tonight’s 5:10 p.m. PT start. That would normally be bad news, but for some reason the Mariners have handled Darvish well in five meetings since he signed with Texas last year.

Darvish is 2-3 with a 6.21 ERA against Seattle, but 16-7 with a 3.41 ERA against the rest of baseball.

Joe Saunders is on the mound for Seattle, having not allowed an earned run over 13 1/3 innings over his last two starts. On the flip side, Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six starts at Rangers Ballpark while with the Angels.

Here’s tonight’s full lineup:

Endy Chavez CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Kendrys Morales 1B
Michael Morse RF
Justin Smoak DH
Raul Ibanez LF
Kelly Shoppach C
Dustin Ackley 2B
Robert Andino SS

Joe Saunders LHP

Wedge indicates Shoppach to get more playing time

SchoppachSecond-year catcher Jesus Montero will be back behind the plate Wednesday against the Tigers after sitting the previous two games, but manager Eric Wedge acknowledged he’s looking to play veteran Kelly Shoppach more in the coming days.

Montero started seven of the team’s first nine games, but Shoppach got the call in four of the last six prior to Wednesday. Montero is batting .211 with a .237 slugging percentage in 38 at-bats, while Shoppach is hitting .389 with a .667 slugging percentage in 18 at-bats.

“We’re going to mix-and-match with that for awhile and hopefully keep Shopp going, but also help to get Jesus going,” Wedge said.

Is that a change of direction from the original plan coming out of Spring Training?

“A little bit,” Wedge said. “But really, what I wanted to do was play him a little more early on and see where it goes from there. But also it’s the physical and mental demands that I talked about from Day 1. We pushed him a little early, we’re backing off a little now, and let’s see where it goes.”

Last year Montero started only 55 games at catcher, but was at designated hitter for 77 more games and wound up hitting .260 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs. The difference this year is he won’t get time at DH when he’s not catching, which could make it difficult for him to stay in an offensive rhythm if his catching gets reduced.

“That’s where we are as a team,” Wedge said. “We’re a better club now and we have more weapons. Those DH at-bats just aren’t there, so we’ll have to see.”

That’s just one of the things to watch going forward. The Mariners need to see Dustin Ackley turns thiings around as he’s of to a .114 start at second base and Justin Smoak certainly hasn’t lived up yet to the hope coming out of a strong spring.

Here are the full lineups for tonight’s game:


Morse, Gutierrez back in lineup Tuesday

Good news on the Mariners’ health front this afternoon as both center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and right fielder Michael Morse are back in the lineup for tonight’s game against the Tigers’ Doug Fister.

Morse missed the last three games of the Rangers series with a fractured little finger on his right hand after getting hit by a pitch by Texas reliever Tanner Scheppers. Gutierrez sat out the last two games due to a sore hamstring.

The impact is obvious for the Mariners. Morse still shares the American League lead in home runs with the Orioles’ Chris Davis with six apiece and has hit .293 with nine RBIs.

Gutierrez is not only a key defensive cog in center field, but has hit .270 with four home runs and a team-leading 10 RBIs while batting at the top of the order.

The Mariners also made a roster move before the game, recalling right-hander Yoervis Medina from Triple-A Tacoma to fill the bullpen spot opened up when Stephen Pryor went on the 15-day disabled list yesterday with a torn lat muscle behind his right shoulder.

Here are the full lineups for tonight:


Mariners to control new regional sports network

The Mariners and DIRECTV Sports Network announced the formation of a new regional sports television partnership on Tuesday that will give the baseball team a controlling interest in the year-round broadcast network.

DIRECTV Sports Network is the Mariners’ long-standing television rights holder, but the team will now hold a majority stake in the new venture.

The regional sports network will continue to operate under the ROOT Sports brand and will provide year-round coverage of the Mariners as well as other professional, college and high school sports programming.

The agreement provides that the network will televise the Mariners through the 2030 season.

DIRECTV Sports Networks, which owns and operates two other regional sports networks based in Denver and Pittsburgh, assumes a minority position and will continue to oversee management of the Northwest network.

“This is great news for the Mariners and for sports fans in the Northwest,” said Bob Aylward, Mariners executive vice president of business operations. “We are excited to continue our partnership with DIRECTV Sports Networks in this new way.

“We are investing to own a majority share of the new venture, and committing our rights well into the future, confident that this will maximize the value of our television rights and, more importantly, provide the resources to remain competitive on the field for many years to come.”

Steve Greenberg, a member of the New York investment bank Allen & Company that advised the Mariners on the transaction, said the move will help the club compete in the evolving Major League landscape.

“With the formation of this new regional sports network partnership, the Mariners have taken a significant step forward,” Greenberg said. “MLB clubs that own a substantial stake in their own RSN’s tend to be among the strongest and most stable franchises in the league.”