August 2013

Walker, Almonte promoted from Tacoma

The Mariners added right-hander Taijuan Walker to their roster as expected Friday, but also selected Abraham Almonte from Triple-A Tacoma to bolster their outfield depth.

Both players will join the team for Friday night’s game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Walker, 21, is scheduled to make his Major League debut on the mound in the 5:10 p.m. PT game.

Almonte, 24, was also promoted after hitting .314 with 11 home runs, 50 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 94 games. He was acquired from the Yankees for reliever Shawn Kelley last spring. He also will be making his Major League debut Friday against the Astros as manager Eric Wedge immediately penciled him in to right field and eighth in the batting order.

The Mariners already had one open roster spot created by outfielder Michael Morse’s trade to the Orioles for Minor League outfielder Xavier Avery earlier in the day.

They opened a second spot by optioning right-handed starter Erasmo Ramirez to Tacoma in what essentially is a paper move, since he will be able to be recalled in time for his next start for the Mariners after the Rainiers season ends on Monday.

Ramirez started Thursday’s game against the Astros, improving to 5-1 with the victory. He will be able to rejoin the Mariners in time for his next start Tuesday in Kansas City.

Almonte was expected to be called up when rosters can be expanded in September, but Friday’s  move gives the Mariners an extra outfielder for the weekend and provides him a couple extra days in the Majors. The Dominican native started this season in Double-A Jackson, where he hit .255 with four homers, 18 RBIs and six stolen bases in 29 games.

He’s blossomed in Tacoma, hitting .333 with six doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 RBIs in 28 games in August.

The moves put the Mariners at 39 players on their 40-man roster. Here is tonight’s full lineup against the Astros:

LineupAug30

Morse traded to Orioles for outfield prospect

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With his playing time in Seattle diminishing in the final weeks of an injury-plagued season, outfielder Michael Morse was traded to the Orioles on Friday for outfielder Xavier Avery.

Avery, 23, hit .223 in 32 games for the Orioles in 2012, but has spent this entire season in the Minors. He is a speedster drafted in the second round out of high school in 2008 who is currently rated the Orioles’ No. 10 prospect by MLB.com.

Avery has batted .259 with 29 stolen bases in 120 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season in the Orioles’ system. He will be assigned to Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners.

The Orioles claimed Morse off waivers on Wednesday, then finalized a deal with Seattle right as the waiver deadline expired Friday.

Morse hit .226 with 13 home runs and 27 RBIs in 76 games for Seattle while playing mostly right field. The Orioles are looking to beef up their designated hitter options on a club that is 3 ½ games out of a Wild-Card playoff berth going into Friday’s games.

Morse, 31, will be a free agent at the end of this season and is still owed about $1.1 million on this year’s $6.75 million contract. He is a career .284 hitter with 83 homers and 272 RBIs in 561 games with the Mariners and Nationals.

The Mariners needed to move an outfielder to create a spot on their 25-man roster for pitcher Taijuan Walker, who will make his Major League debut Friday night against the Astros. The club released veteran right-hander Aaron Harang on Monday, but temporarily filled his roster spot by activating outfielder Franklin Gutierrez off the disabled list.

That left them with six outfielders and Morse became the odd-man out after struggling at the plate in recent weeks.

Morse was acquired from the Nationals in a three-team trade in January in which the Seattle sent catcher John Jaso to the A’s.

The Mariners hoped the big slugger could add some needed pop to their lineup after hitting 49 home runs with 157 RBIs over the previous two years with the Nats. And, indeed, he had a big Spring Training as he led the Cactus League with a Mariners record nine home runs in 20 games and then opened the year with six home runs in the first 10 regular-season games.

But in that 10th game on April 11, Morse broke the little finger on his right hand when he was hit by a pitch by Rangers reliever Tanner Scheppers. And while he sat out just three games, the finger continued to bother him and he didn’t come back with the same kind of production, then ran into further health problems when he strained his right hamstring running the bases in late May.

Morse tried to play through that issue before finally going on the disabled list for five weeks from June 21 to July 30.  But since returning from the DL, he’s batted just .167 (12-for-72) with two home runs and four RBIs with 20 strikeouts in 18 games.

After hitting .293 with six homers and nine RBIs in the season’s first 10 games, Morse wound up hitting .215 with just seven more homers and 18 RBIs in his final 66 games with Seattle after breaking his finger.

The Mariners’ outfield now consists of Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Raul Ibanez, Endy Chavez and Gutierrez, while other players can be brought up from the Minor Leagues on Sunday when rosters can be expanded in September.

Taijuan Walker: ‘I’m pumped to be here’

WalkerTaijuanCatch

Top Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker arrived at Minute Maid Park and said “I’m pumped to be here” after playing catch with a football in the outfield prior to Thursday’s series opener with the Astros.

The young right-hander won’t officially be added to the club until shortly before he makes his Major League debut on Friday and can’t be with the team during Thursday’s game since he isn’t on the 25-man roster yet

But Walker, who turned 21 two weeks ago, took in the stadium and visiting clubhouse and got an early lchance to picture what it’s going to feel like for his first big-league start.

“I couldn’t help but smile,” Walker said of his first steps out onto the Minute Maid turf. “It’s a nice park, too. I’m excited to have a big crowd in there and pitch in a big-league stadium. But it’s really going to hit me when I’m the mound tomorrow right before my first pitch.”

Walker was the Mariners’ first selection in the 2010 Draft as a supplemental first-round selection (43rd overall) out of Yucaipa High School in California. And while he’s been on the fast track, that journey has seemed slow at times for the youngster.

“I’ve been working hard, especially this year,” he said. “Getting sent back down to Double-A, I knew I had a lot of stuff to work on. So I’ve been trying to go out there every day with a purpose, with something new to work on. It’s been going good for me. This year has been going well. Just to finally get the call up, it feels like all the hard work I’ve put in is finally paying off.”

The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is regarded as one of the premier young right-handers in the game, having pitched in the past two All-Star Futures Games and been listed as the Mariners top prospect and the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball by MLB.com.

Walker went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA in 25 starts last year for Double-A Jackson and was 4-7 with a 2.46 ERA in 14 starts for Jackson this season before getting promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, where he went 5-3 with a 3.61 ERA in 11 games.

In 141 1/3 innings this season, Walker has 160 strikeouts and 57 walks with a 1.196 WHIP. He was the youngest player in the Pacific Coast League this year and will be the fifth-youngest player in Mariners history to make his debut as a starting pitcher at 21 years and 17 days.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has set about a 160-inning limit for Walker this season, which means he’ll likely only start about three games with Seattle before being shut down. But he’s not worrying about that right now.

“I’m just going to go out there and take it day by day, one start at a time,” he said. “Whenever they decide to shut me down, they will. But as of right now, I’m going to prepare like I’m going to pitch the rest of the season.”

When Walker found out he was getting promoted on Wednesday, he immediately called his mom in California to break the news.

“She’d already found out through Twitter,” Walker said with a grin. “She’s always on Twitter, really active. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I called her, but it was still exciting. We face-timed and my brother and sister were there. I got on the phone and they just started screaming. It was awesome.”

Walker said his mom, dad and lots of family members are flying to Houston to be in attendance.

The only younger Mariners starters in club history have been Felix Hernandez, who debuted at 19 in 2005, and a trio of 20-year-olds in Mike Hampton (1993), Gil Meche (1999) and Bill Wilkinson (1985).

Orioles’ pursuit of Morse makes sense for both sides

MorseCage1The Mariners need to move an outfielder before Friday night’s game against the Astros in order to add Taijuan Walker to the 25-man roster and it appears Michael Morse could be part of the solution.

Morse has been claimed off waivers by the Orioles, as first reported by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, which means the Mariners could just let him go to Baltimore and save his remaining month’s salary, or work out a deal to bring some compensation in return.

Or they could pull him back off waivers. as they’ve apparently done with Kendrys Morales after he was claimed earlier in the week.

Making a move with Morse is far more likely than the Morales’ situation, however. The Mariners currently have six outfielders — one more than normal — after activating Franklin Gutierrez off the disabled list on Monday when they designated Aaron Harang for assignment.

Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Raul Ibanez, Endy Chavez and Morse are all fighting for playing time at the moment and one of those outfielders will need to be moved off the 25-man roster when Walker is activated Friday for his Major League debut that night against the Astros.

Morse hasn’t been hitting since coming off the disabled list in late July. In fact, he really hasn’t swung the bat well since the first month of the season. After hitting .248 with nine home runs and 14 RBIs in the first 25 games, Morse has plummeted after breaking his right pinkie finger and then injuring his hamstring.

In 51 games since May 1, Morse has added just four home runs and 13 RBIs while batting .214.

But Morse still carries the threat of a power right-handed bat and the Orioles are trying to add a designated hitter, having also claimed the Twins’ Josh Willingham. The Orioles are 4 1/2 games back of Oakland in the AL West wild-card race and trying to hang in after losing five of their last eight games.

Whether Baltimore works out a deal for either player remains to be seen, but Morse — who loved playing on the East Coast for the Nationals — definitely is a candidate and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a deal finalized by Friday.

On Felix’s struggles and Taijuan’s arrival

FelixPoint2We’re in Houston today and the Mariners should be glad to get out on the road after a horrible homestand in which they went 0-6, losing twice in Felix Hernandez starts.

Felix continues to be an enigma against the Rangers, who knocked him out after three-plus innings yesterday with 11 hits and nine runs (eight earned) in one of the worst starts of his career.

Hernandez has gone 0-4 with a 7.57 ERA in five starts against the Rangers this season, but 12-4 with a 2.19 ERA in 23 starts against everyone else. Clearly Texas takes a good approach against him, waiting out his nasty changeup and making him elevate and throw strikes.

And when they get him up in the zone, they’ve been able to hit him hard.

A year ago, it was the Angels who had his number when he went 0-3 with a 6.25 ERA in five starts against them and 13-6 and 2.56 in 28 starts against the rest of baseball.

But ponder this, as well. Felix was 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA against the Rangers last year. And he’s 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA on four starts vs. the Angels this season, even including the one meltdown in Anaheim when he lost a seven-run lead. So, yeah, sometimes this stuff is hard to figure.

The one common demoninator with Texas and Anaheim is that both are AL West rivals and clearly teams that sees Felix four or five times a season can gain some advantage in knowing how to face him.

He’s 12-20 with a 4.18 ERA in 39 career starts against Texas and 8-13 with a 3.95 ERA in 34 career starts against the Angels. Those are the two teams he’s faced the most, by far. But he’s 15-6 with a 2.60 ERA in 28 starts against the A’s, so it’s not just about seeing him a lot. It’s about how those teams attack him.

Seattle is done with Texas for this season and if Hernandez stays on schedule, he won’t face the Angels again this year either. He does line up for six more potential starts, including one against the A’s in the final game of the regular season at Safeco Field if he continues pitching every fifth game.

WalkerTaijuanBIt remains to be seen if Seattle stays on a regular rotation, however. Change is obviously afoot there with top prospect Taijuan Walker’s promotion.

The hard-throwing 21-year-old will make his MLB debut Friday against the Astros and that should be quite an event for a Mariners club that could use a boost here in the final month.

But Walker only figures to get about three starts at the Major League level if the Mariners stick with their plan to keep him around 160 innings this season, since he’s already thrown 142 at Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma.

This is about getting Walker a taste of the Majors in anticipation of him being part of the rotation next year, which makes sense. Beyond Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners rotation needs answers. Walker figures to be a key figure next year, so why not get his feet wet now and let him know what he’s working toward this offseason and next spring?

Pitching one month now won’t change anything in terms of his arbitration clock, presuming he was going to start the season with the big club next year anyway. So this is just bonus time for one of the youngsters we’ve been waiting to see.

Add him in with Mike Zunino’s impending return behind the plate and the early arrival this year of Nick Franklin and Brad Miller and this definitely has been an increased push with the youth movement. Pushing the pace on that seems the smart thing to do in a season that otherwise is just playing out September.

Guti describes medical issue as he returns again

GutiCageThe on-again, off-again career of Franklin Gutierrez was back on again Monday as the Mariners recalled the veteran outfielder from his latest rehabilitation assignment in Triple-A Tacoma and placed him immediately in the lineup for the series opener against the Rangers.

Gutierrez, 30, has played just 150 of the Mariners’ 453 games over the past three years due to a variety of disabilities. The Venezuelan native said Monday he’s been diagnosed with an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis, which he’s been receiving medicine for over the past three months.

Here’s a description of the disease from the Mayo Clinic website.

“It’s something genetic,” Gutierrez said. “I started dealing with this the last couple years, starting with my stomach and some other things. It’s been happening for three years now. I think it’s all connected. So I’m glad that finally they found out what was going on with me, because I didn’t know what was happening and it was tough for me to play like that.”

Gutierrez hit .267 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in 18 games for the Mariners this season. He’s batted .211 in 47 games during several rehab stints with Tacoma to deal with hamstring issues, including just .179 (7-for-39) over his last 10 games. But the Mariners want to give him another shot and are hopeful his right-handed bat can help as they line up against left-handed starters the next three games.

The Mariners designated starting pitcher Aaron Harang for assignment to make room on the 25-man roster. They’ll need to add another pitcher to their rotation by Friday in Houston, but for now are going with six outfielders.

“It’s a bit of a traffic jam, but it’s a good problem to have,” manager Eric Wedge said of his congested outfield. “We’ll continue to try and put the best lineup out there. The last couple days we’ve struggled a bit offensively, so hopefully a little bit different look in the lineup helps us out a little bit;  getting Gutierrez back in there helps us out a little bit. We’ll see what happens.”

Wedge immediately inserted Gutierrez into the third spot in the order and flip-flopped Nos. 1 and 2 hitters Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, wanting to put the lefty Miller between the switch-hitting Franklin and right-handed Gutierrez.

Gutierrez will play right field, which Wedge hopes puts less pressure on him physically than his normal center field. Gutierrez was an American League Gold Glove winner in center field in 2010, but hasn’t played consistently since.

“It’s not much different,” Gutierrez said of his right-field role. “I’ve played there before in Cleveland. It is what it is right now. I’m trying to get my legs back. It’s not 100 percent that I’m there, but the medicine is working right now and there’ll be a time when I feel completely good.”

Gutierrez missed 70 games in 2011, first with a digestive issue and then with a strained left oblique muscle. He missed 122 games in 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle and later with a serious concussion.

He’s had two extensive disabled list stints this season, both due to right hamstring strains. After returning the first time in June, he hit a home run and a double in his first game back, but re-aggravated the injury in his second game.

“It’s been a long time, but I’m really happy to be coming back again and try to help my team,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I’ve been battling with this the whole year, but right now I feel like I’m back again in my normal body. I’m just trying to concentrate and get ready every day and help the team any way that I can.”

Gutierrez is in the final year of a four-year, $20.25 million contract that is paying him $7 million this season. The Mariners have the option of renewing his deal for $7.5 million next year or buying out the 2014 option for $500,000.

Struggling Morse sits out series finale in Texas

Right fielder Michael Morse got the day off on Sunday as acting manager Robby Thompson gave Endy Chavez the start in the series finale against the Rangers.

Thompson is looking to give the big slugger time to regroup after a rough couple weeks.

Morse has hit just .161 (9-for-56) in 14 games since coming off the disabled list following a month-long issue with a strained hamstring. He’s 2-for-16 on the current road trip.

Thompson said opposing pitchers have found a weakness in Morse’s swing and are going to continue hammering away at that until he adjusts.

“They’re pounding him in,” Thompson said. “A lot of those balls he’s getting jammed on are actually balls. I think they’re off the plate, in. So if he lays off those or can pull them foul with authority, then maybe they’ll stay away from trying to get in there. But right now, he does need to make the adjustment in there or they’re just going to continue pounding him.

“He knows that and [hitting coach] Dave Hansen and he are looking at film, trying to get him going. They’re doing all the work in the cage and pregame work. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time before he can kind of get back to where he was earlier in the season before he got hurt.”

Morse got off to a strong start this season, hitting .248 with nine home runs with 14 RBIs in his first 25 games. But a broken finger and subsequent hamstring issue took away that momentum and he’s hit .222 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 45 games since.

“Each time he steps up to the plate, you’re thinking big things can happen,” Thompson said. “It just hasn’t happened of late .So he’ll get the day off today and we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow.”

Smoak on hitting higher in lineup: ‘My time will come’

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First baseman Justin Smoak has been putting up increasingly good numbers all season, but continues hitting sixth or seventh in the lineup as the Mariners stick with veteran sluggers Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse in the heart of the order.

Smoak, who will be hitting sixth in Saturday night’s 5:05 p.m. PT game, said he’s fine wherever he hits as long as he’s producing.

“I’ve always hit in the middle of the order all my life, so it’s not a big deal for me,” he said. “Last year I hit in the four-spot a lot. It is what it is. We’ve got some veteran guys in the middle of the order now. My time will come.”

Going into Saturday’s game, Smoak had hit .345 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in the last 15 games. He’s hit .304 with a .938 OPS since coming off the disabled list on June 18, raising his season average to .273 with 14 home runs and 34 RBIs.

Smoak has always hit well in Arlington, where he began his career before being traded to Seattle in 2010. He said it’s fun playing well against the Rangers, though that factor is diminishing with time.

“I’ve been in Seattle now for 2-3 years and it’s definitely not the same as the first time I came back,” he said. “But I know a lot of the guys over there and the staff. It’s hot here and I like playing in the heat. There’s always a little something extra to go with it [playing his former team]. But the big thing is doing what it takes to win a ballgame and last night we were able to do that and hopefully we can get it done tonight, too.”

Franklin working through tough rookie stretch

After getting off to an outstanding start with the Mariners, rookie second baseman Nick Franklin has hit just .199 in 33 games since July 1 going into Friday’s 5:05 p.m. PT series opener with the Rangers.

But acting manager Robby Thompson has stuck with Franklin in the No. 2 spot in the lineup despite a noticeable drop in the youngster’s confidence level.

“This game will humble you in a hurry,” Thompson said. “Just when you think you’ve got it made up here, it can come back and bite you in a hurry and sometimes it bites you hard and long. He’s kind of finding out a little bit about that right now.

“Even as confident as he was down below, he was confident up here earlier and he’s lost a little bit of that. He’s lost a little of his swagger. But he’ll get it back. He’s a young kid and it’s part of the growing pains and learning situations he’s going to have to go through.”

Part of the learning curve is dealing with off-speed pitches, which have come with increased frequency as Franklin’s struggles mount. He struck out the first three times in Thursday’s 7-1 loss to the Rays, the third coming with the bases loaded on a 3-2 changeup by Alex Cobb.

“There were times through the entire game where he was just throwing me a lot of curveballs,” Franklin said. “I was looking for that the pitch before and he threw me a changeup for a ball. I thought for sure he wouldn’t throw it twice.”

Welcome to the big leagues.

“When young guys get up here, you’re going to be tested to see if you can hit a fastball,” said Thompson. “If you can’t, you’re going to keep getting them. Well, he’s a pretty good fastball hitter. Now all the sudden, word gets out and they’re throwing breaking balls in fastball counts and he has not really made that adjustment yet. That should come with time.”

Franklin is hitting .242 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 64 games, but is just 5-for-49 (.102) since July 31.

Wedge could return for next homestand

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Mariners manager Eric Wedge has missed nearly a month since suffering a minor stroke on July 22, but acting manager Robby Thompson said Wedge could be ready to return to the club when it gets back home on Aug. 23.

“He’s doing really good,” Thompson said prior to Thursday’s series finale against the Rays. “He’s doing outstanding. I talked to him yesterday. He’s passing everything with flying colors, he’s feeling much better. And there’s a real good chance that he’ll rejoin us when we get back. That’s kind of where it stands right now.

” We’re not 100 percent sure on that, but that’s what we’re hoping. He sounds great. Each and every day he’s feeling better. He’s following all the rules and guidelines of what he should be doing and he’s determined to get through this thing and get back in it and continue where he left off.”

General manager Jack Zduriencik has said he doesn’t want Wedge returning until he’s ready to run the team on a full-time basis, but Thompson said no plan has been finalized for how things might be run on the 45-year-old’s initial return.

“We’re going to talk about it,” Thompson said. “We’ve talked briefly. I’m sure through the doctors he’s trying to come up with a game plan for easing back into it. We’ll talk again in Texas and Oakland and then have something based off what Eric wants to do. We’ll have an answer to that before he comes back on the homestand.”

After finishing off the Rays’ series, the Mariners fly to Arlington for three games and then finish off their road trip with a trio of games in Oakland. The club has gone 9-12 with Thompson working as acting manager.

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