May 2014

McClendon explains right-handed heavy lineup

With Tigers southpaw Drew Smyly on the hill Saturday, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon trotted out every available right-handed batter on his club to combat a pitcher with a distinct left-right split in his career.

Left-handed hitters have batted just .122 (5-for-41) against Smyly this season compared to .286 (36-for-126) for right-handers. In his three-year Major League career, the split is .194 for lefties and .260 for right-handers.

With All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano already sidelined by a bruised hand on Cano Bobblehead Night for the 7:10 p.m. game at Safeco Field, McClendon opted for even more of a right-handed presence than normal as he started Willie Bloomquist in Cano’s place at second, put Mike Zunino at designated hitter instead of getting a day off with John Buck behind the plate, and had both his right-handed hitting outfielders – Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie – in the lineup while sitting lefties Michael Saunders, James Jones and Dustin Ackley.

McClendon, who was the hitting coach at Detroit the past seven seasons, felt that was the best approach against Smyly.

“I know Smyle’s pretty good,” McClendon said. “He’s tough on left-handers. This year they’re hitting .122 off him. That’s hard to ignore. I’m just trying to put as many right-handers in there as we can and hopefully we’re successful with it.”

As for the left-handed Chavez in center instead of the rookie Jones?

“Just to give Jones a break,” McClendon said. “He’s been grinding it pretty tough. And I think Endy probably more equipped to handle a guy like this.”

Here’s the full lineups:

 

TigerslineupMay31

Mariners will take a look at Nady on Minor League deal

Detroit Tigers v San Diego Padres

Veteran outfielder/first baseman Xavier Nady signed a Minor League deal with the Mariners on Wednesday after passing a physical exam and will report to extended Spring Training in Arizona.

Nady, 35, was designated for assignment by the Padres on May 5 and became a free agent on May 11. He hit .135 (5-for-37) with San Diego this season, with three home runs and four RBIs in 22 games.

“This guy is a professional,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. “He’s gotten off to a slow start this year and didn’t get a lot of at-bats, but I think it’s worth a look. He’s going to go to Arizona and try to get some at-bats and hopefully we can get him to Triple-A and get him up to speed and then we’ll see where we are.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” McClendon said, “but I certainly think it’s well worth it.”

The 12-year Major League veteran is a career .268 hitter with 104 home runs and 410 RBIs in 961 games. He’s played five years with the Padres, three with the Pirates, two with the Yankees and one season with the D-Backs, Mets, Giants, Cubs and Nationals.

Nady spent all of 2013 in Triple-A ball, hitting .296 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs and then struggled in his brief time with the Padres this season when he was used mostly as a pinch hitter before being released.

The Mariners are shy on right-handed hitting outfielders and also have a need at designated hitter with Corey Hart sidelined another 3-5 weeks with a strained hamstring.

Cano second in tight AL second-base race

Cano, RobinsonNew Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, a five-time All-Star for the Yankees, finds himself in a heated battle on the initial fan balloting for this year’s Midsummer Classic.

Major League Baseball released the first round of American League vote totals Tuesday and Cano is about 6,000 votes behind Detroit’s Ian Kinsler and just ahead of Boston’s Dustin Pedroia in the second-base race, which is the tightest position battle in the initial voting.

The official tally shows 356,244 votes for Kinsler, 350,293 for Cano and 343,321 for Pedroia, with Minnesota’s Brian Dozier fourth at 194,941.

Cano was elected by the fans as the AL starter at second base the past four years and was also named to the team in 2006, though he didn’t play that year due to an injury.

No other Mariners players were among the top five at their positions, or 15 among the outfielders, in the numbers released Tuesday. Seattle hasn’t had a position player selected to the All-Star team since outfielder Ichiro Suzuki earned the last of his 10 straight selections in 2010.

Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites — online or on a mobile device — using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian –  until Thursday, July 3, at 8:59 p.m. PT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field in Minneapolis on Tuesday, July 15.

Fans may submit up to 25 online ballots, but they can also earn a one-time bonus of 10 additional online ballots. To access these additional online ballots, you must be logged into your MLB.com account when you submit any online ballot. If you do not have an MLB.com account, register on the site in accordance with the enrollment instructions for a free MLB.com account.

Pitchers aren’t voted on by fans, but Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has been selected to the last four All-Star Games. He was joined by Hisashi Iwakuma last year and Michael Pineda and Brandon League in 2011.

Cano had the top batting average of all AL second basemen after Tuesday’s game at .332 and also was first in RBIs with 30. His .377 on-base percentage is second to the .379 mark of the Angels’ Howie Kendrick and his .805 OPS is third behind Kinsler (.837) and Houston’s Jose Altuve (.806).

Kinsler is hitting .330 with four home runs and 22 RBIs with his new Tigers club, while Pedroia is batting .268 with two home runs and 16 RBIs for the Red Sox.  Pedroia is a four-time All-Star who has been elected twice by fans as a starter, while Kinsler is a three-time All-Star who is seeking his first starting assignment.

Second base is a stacked position in the AL this season as Altuve is also having an excellent season, hitting .323 with two home runs, 17 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for the Astros; Kendrick is batting .303 with two home runs and 22 RBIs; and Dozier has 11 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 26 RBIs to go with a .246 batting average.

Cano has hit just two home runs to date and Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon says that fact seems to be raising a false impression that the 31-year-old has gotten off to a slow start with his new team. In truth, he’s second behind only Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (.341) among all AL hitters in batting average and leads the Mariners in RBIs while also racking up 11 doubles and a triple and playing outstanding defense.

“All you hear is Robbie is struggling,” McClendon said. “He’s [almost] leading the league in hitting and has 30 RBIs. He’s doing pretty good.”

Zunino bumped up to fifth in batting order

Zunino, Mike

After hitting eighth or ninth in the Mariners batting order for the first two months of the season, young catcher Mike Zunino was moved up to the fifth spot for Monday’s series opener with the Angels as manager Lloyd McClendon looked to spark his struggling offense.

McClendon has been hesitant to bat the 23-year-old higher in the lineup, given the heavy load he’s already carrying as the Mariners starting catcher in just his third season of pro ball. But Zunino has hit .244 with six home runs and 18 RBIs coming into Monday’s action and Seattle is shy on right-handed hitting options.

“I’m still hesitant,” McClendon said of the move. “But we have to do something to try to balance things out a little. I’m just trying to be proactive. … Just trying to shake things up and score some runs some kind of way. We’ll put him into RBI situation and see if he can click for us.”

McClendon has been impressed with the rapid development of the team’s 2012 first-round Draft pick on both sides of the plate.

 “I think he’s been great,” McClendon said. “To think how far he’s come this fast and to handle a staff the way he’s handled it, I think he’s just been fantastic. I think he’s real close to being an All-Star type of catcher. I don’t think he’s there yet, but if he continues to work, he’s got a chance to be.”

Paxton goes three innings in first rehab start; Walker to throw Wednesday in Tacoma

Left-hander James Paxton made his first Minor League rehab start Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma and allowed three runs [two earned] over three innings against El Paso as he returns from a strained lat muscle that has sidelined him since April 8.

Paxton threw 62 pitches in three frames and surrendered four hits — including three doubles — with two walks and five strikeouts.

Paxton allowed an unearned run in the first on an error, a walk and a passed ball, then was nicked for another run in the second while giving up a pair of doubles.

El Paso scored again in the third on a walk, a double and an RBI single by former Mariners catcher Adam Moore before Paxton dug in and retired the next three batters to strand runners and first and third.

The 25-year-old is 5-0 with 1.75 ERA in his first Major League starts, the lowest ERA by a Mariners pitcher in club history. He was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA this year before being shut down in the sixth inning of his second outing in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, right-hander Taijuan Walker is expected to start Wednesday for Tacoma against Salt Lake City in a 7:05 p.m. game at Cheney Stadium in what will be his first start since being shut down in mid-April during a previous rehab stint with the Rainiers.

Walker, 21, threw three innings of a simulated game on Friday and said he felt great on Saturday.

“That was one of the biggest things, to see how I bounced back today, and I feel really good,” said Walker, the No. 6 ranked prospect in baseball by MLB.com. “I’m excited to get back out there on Wednesday and be on my regular five-day routine again.”

Walker has yet to throw in a Major League game this spring after being hampered by a sore shoulder since the start of Spring Training. He said he’ll throw about 70-75 pitches on Wednesday if all goes to plan.

Walker, Paxton look strong in simulated game

WalkerSim

Injured Mariners pitchers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton each threw well in a simulated game at Globe Life Park prior to Tuesday’s contest with the Rangers as both moved closer to rejoining Seattle’s rotation.

Paxton threw 53 pitches in a three-inning stint against teammates Logan Morrison, Cole Gillespie, Stefen Romero, John Buck and WIllie Bloomquist in his second sim game while returning from a strained lat muscle behind his left shoulder. Walker tossed 35 pitches in two innings of work in his first mound action against live hitters since being shut down in mid-April during a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma.

Paxton said he’s ready for the next step, which would be going out on a Minor League rehab of his own. If he made two Minor League starts, he’d be ready to rejoin the Mariners in early June, if all went well.

Walker is slightly behind Paxton’s schedule and the club will be extra-cautious with the 21-year-old after a spring-long issue with his shoulder, but he looked strong Tuesday and finished his session by blowing a sizzling fastball past Cole Gillespie that popped the mitt of catcher John Buck.

“Everything felt good,” said Walker, who is rated the No. 6 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. “My mechanics felt good, everything was in sync, my balance point was good. One of the biggest things I’ve been working on was finishing more to keep stress off my arm and I think I did that pretty well.”

Walker is overexaggerating his throwing motion at the end of his pitches to get more extension and said the result has been encouraging. He was also happy with his off-speed pitches Tuesday.

“I threw a couple curves that kind of hung up, but for the most part it was down,” he said. “I threw a couple really sharp ones. That’s something I’ve been working on a lot and could be a huge pitch for me.”

Paxton, who went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts before going on the DL on April 8, was equally positive about what he hopes is a final step before returning to game action.

“It was a step forward with my command and making pitches,” said the 25-year-old lefty. “I feel pretty close. I think the next step is a rehab start and I feel I’m ready for it, ready to get in some games and get back. It’s time to step it up and get back into that game mode, so I was starting to let things go.”

Franklin rejoins Mariners as Hart goes on DL

Franklin, NickInfielder Nick Franklin, who has begun playing some outfield in the past few days in Triple-A Tacoma, was recalled by the Mariners and will be in uniform for Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers.

The Mariners opened a spot on the 25-man roster by placing designated hitter Corey Hart in the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring.

UPDATE: Manager Lloyd McClendon said Hart is expected to be out 4-6 weeks, which creates an interesting opening for a Mariners club that offered Kendrys Morales a $14.1 million qualifying offer last offseason, then signed Hart when Morales declined. With the Red Sox signing shortstop Stephen Drew on Tuesday, Morales is now the final unsigned player among the 14 who received qualifying offers last winter.

Franklin, 23, was inserted in the DH role for Tuesday night’s game, but McClendon acknowledged he’s not a typical DH and will play more shortstop and outfield in the coming days, as well as occasional second base when Robinson Cano goes at DH instead.

Franklin had the top batting average in the Pacific Coast League among qualified hitters at .376, with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 30 games. The 2009 first-round Draft pick also leads the PCL with a .481 on-base percentage and is third in slugging percentage at .633.

Franklin was Seattle’s starting second baseman the last four months of last season, hitting .225 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs. But he lost that job when Seattle signed Robinson Cano, and he was then beat out by Brad Miller for the shortstop spot in Spring Training.

Miller has struggled for the first seven weeks of the season, hitting .154. Franklin played 15 games at shortstop at Tacoma, nine at second base, three at designated hitter and made his last two starts in the outfield.

He started one game in the outfield for the Mariners in an brief stint with Seattle earlier this season, but was sent back to Tacoma after hitting .125 (2-for-16), as general manager Jack Zduriencik said he needed more regular playing time.

Hart was placed on the 15-day disabled list after injuring his leg while stealing second base in the fourth inning of Sunday’s 6-2 victory over the Twins. Hart flew back to Seattle for tests on Monday and was diagnosed with a Grade 2 strain by Mariners Medical Director Dr. Edward Khalfayan.

A Grade 2 strain is in the intermediate range, with Grade 3 being the worst. Hart was hoping the injury would just be a “nuisance” rather than a lengthy issue, but the Mariners determined he needed to go on the 15-day DL, retroactive to Monday.

He’ll be eligible to come off the DL by June 3 when the club opens its next road trip in Atlanta, but McClendon indicated the injury won’t be close to having healed by then.

The two-time National League All-Star missed all of last season with the Brewers after undergoing microfracture surgeries on both knees. He signed a one-year, $6 million contract in free agency with Seattle, with up to another potential $4.65 million in bonuses based on his number of plate appearances.

Hart is hitting .209 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 37 games.

McClendon talks about Miller, Franklin

Miller, Brad (2)

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has a simple answer for the many people who figure they have solutions for slumping shortstop Brad Miller. Just leave the youngster alone, says McClendon, and he’ll work his way through things and return to the productive player that debuted last season.

Miller was hitting .157 going into Sunday’s series finale with the Twins and that average is just .100 (7-for-70) over his last 23 games. But Miller hit .265 last season as a rookie and was a .334 hitter in three Minor League seasons with the Mariners after being drafted in the second round out of Clemson in 2011 and McClendon is giving him time to work through his struggles.

“Is he better than what he’s shown? Absolutely,” McClendon said. “Is he as good as his Minor League numbers? Probably not. But he’s somewhere in between there and we have to get him to that point. Right now I think it’s more mental than physical. And the one thing he’ll get when this is all over – and it will be over – he’ll be battle tested. He’s going to be a big leaguer.

“Because it happens to the best of us,” said McClendon. “I played with Barry Bonds and at the end of May he was hitting .163. But he came through it and was MVP. You have to become battled tested. Nobody likes it. I don’t like it. Fans don’t like it. I’m an idiot for playing him. All that stuff. I get it. But in the end, we’ll see.”

McClendon is trying to get the 24-year-old to clear his mind at this point and focus on looking for pitches in the strike zone, while letting his natural instincts return at the plate. The manager said he’s received calls from various scouts saying Miller is standing too erect or crouching too much or various things. And he’s having none of it.

“Everybody talks about where your hands are or is he standing straight,” McClendon said. “Good hitters make adjustments and fight through it. That’s what he’s doing. He’s fighting through a slump. Some days he’s up, other days he’s spread out. Some days his hands are high, other days they’re low. I went through it. I did it. I know exactly what he’s going through.

“It’s tough. You have to battle and fight your way through it. And hopefully he’ll come through this. But I’m not going to start analyzing if he’s standing straight up or if his legs are wide or his knees are bent. I get it. I know people care. But back off and let us do our job because the worst thing that can happen to this kid is a thousand voices start getting in his head. Everybody means well and I get it. But if you want him to do well and you want to help him, leave him alone.”

The Mariners seem intent on giving Miller every opportunity. Shortstop Chris Taylor, who was hitting .372 at Triple-A Tacoma, just went on the seven-day disabled list this week with a broken little finger on his left hand. Nick Franklin, who was beaten out in spring by Miller for the shortstop job, is hitting .376 with Tacoma, but has played in the outfield the past two games.

McClendon said Franklin has been hampered by a back injury in recent days.

“Hopefully his back is healthy and then we’ll see where we are,” McClendon said. “Obviously we need offense and he’s certainly an option. Jack [Zduriencik] and I have talked about it. We’ll see where we are in the next few days. But for him to be able to play a lot of different positions, as I’ve said before, is important. Because if he’s going to be here right now, he’s going to have to move around.”

McClendon says Cano’s power will show soon

Cano, Robinson 2

Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano passed the quarter-mark in the season on Friday with one home run, nine doubles and 23 RBIs with a .304 batting average. But while the home-run total is far below Cano’s norm, manager Lloyd McClendon said it’s only a matter of time before the five-time All-Star raises that number.

Cano doubled to the opposite field off the top of the fence in left-center in Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Twins, coming within inches of his second home run of the year. He hit the yellow line atop the fence for another double going the same way in Safeco Field on Monday.

“I’m not concerned about his power at all,” McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game. “I challenge anybody to hit that ball as far as he did yesterday. That was about 415 feet into the gap. He hit that ball pretty good, without a lot of effort, just flicking the wrists.”

Cano was on pace going into Saturday’s game to hit four home runs, 36 doubles and 89 RBIs in 162 games and McClendon believes he’ll exceed all those numbers.

“If you look at the history of this guy, when he gets hot, he really turns it on,” McClendon said. “He turns it on like you’ve never seen. I think he’s probably a little ahead of pace, really. He’s probably going to finish with 40 doubles, 25 home runs and 100-plus RBIs.

“The power numbers will come. He hit a breaking ball yesterday that was as hard a hit breaking ball as I’ve seen all year. If he’d have got that ball up, it might have left the ballpark in right field. To say he doesn’t have power, it hasn’t produced itself yet. But I can see it coming.”

McClendon said the fact Cano is producing without having hit a hot stretch yet just shows how good he is at the plate.

“The guy hits,” said McClendon. “He’s like a guy that scores 20 points in basketball. You look up and say, ‘How did he get those points?’ It’s the same thing with Robbie. You look up and he’s hitting .300 and has nine or 10 doubles and 20-25 RBIs. His home runs will come and they’ll come in bunches.

“He kind of reminds me a little of [Barry] Bonds, not in the sense of power, but a Bonds or [Miguel] Cabrera. They’re line-drive hitters that happen to hit home runs. He’s going to hit his home runs. They’ll come.”

McClendon sticking with Miller for now

Miller, Brad

Even as Brad Miller’s offensive struggles have continued, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has stuck with the young shortstop. But McClendon acknowledged prior to Wednesday’s series finale with the Rays that it’s not an easy situation.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned,” McClendon said. “He’s struggling right now and I’m trying to get him out of it. I’ve said a few times, you either play ‘em or you bench ‘em. We’re trying to play him and see if he can come out of it. I don’t have any answers. I’m being honest as I can right now. I don’t have that answer. I don’t know.”

Miller was 1-for-21 in the homestand going into Wednesday’s game and a move could be pending if the 24-year-old doesn’t turn things around in a hurry. After a solid second half last year and red-hot Spring Training, Miller has hit .156 in the first 35 regular-season games.

The only backup on the current club is veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist, who is hitting .182 and is needed as a backup at all the infield positions.

Asked if his options are limited, McClendon paused.

“As we speak, right now, yeah,” he said.

Two options are present with Triple-A Tacoma, however, with Nick Franklin and Chris Taylor splitting time at shortstop and second base and both hitting well.

McClendon has gone the extra mile to get Miller going, however, and worked with him personally in the batting cage prior to Tuesday’s game with a coach holding a folded towel in front of the plate as McClendon had Miller focus on balls in that area instead of outside the square.

“My point is hitting is hard enough,” McClendon said. “The real good hitters make outs seven of 10 times, so to try to get hits on balls outside of the strike zone is going to make it even more difficult. So we’re just trying to get a better recognition of the strike zone and where he ought to be looking.

“Right now, everybody has suggestions and everybody wants to help. But in the end, he has to clear his mind, get his focus and do what he does best. And right now that’s a struggle for him.”

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