Left-hander Danny Hultzen, who missed all of this past season following rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder, threw well in his third Instructional League outing in the last few weeks on Tuesday and now will be shut down until next spring, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.
Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft, had major shoulder surgery exactly one year ago on Oct. 1 and spent all this season building his arm back up and rehabbing at the Mariners facility in Peoria, Ariz. He capped off that effort with a 25-pitch outing in a game against young prospects in front of many of the Mariners top baseball people and reports were positive.
“They said it was really impressive,” Zduriencik said. “He feels really good and is now shut down. He’s finished for the fall. He showed an average fastball, really good curve and changeup. He was confident and his delivery is sound. So he’ll go home and come back in January and be ready for Spring Training.”
Will the 24-year-old be full go at that point?
“He should be,” Zduriencik said. “We were real cautions. There was some talk of putting him in the Fall League, but we’re going to back off a little. This kid has been through a lot this year. The fact he’s been on the mound in Instructional League is enough. There’ll be a challenge for him next year regardless of how he reports physically, where is he going to be innings-wise after missing a whole year like this.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon is maintaining a conservative approach, knowing the youngsters threw just 35 2/3 innings in 2013 and then missed all of this season. But he’s encouraged by the news as well.
“I’m excited about him,” McClendon said. “And we’ll see going into spring. Listen, is he going to make this club next year? Probably not. But is he on his way back? Yeah. And that’s exciting because this young man is as good as any of them when he’s healthy. We just have to get him back to that point where he can go out and compete every five days.
“We’re not counting on him, no,” said McClendon. “But having said that, it’s going to be pretty exciting to see him out there on that mound, no question.”
Zduriencik and McClendon met with the media in a postseason wrapup session Tuesday and talked at length about their offseason plans and needs and a bigger budget to work with in 2015. I have a full story on that up now here on Mariners.com, which of course is where you can always go for your Mariners news.
In the meantime, here’s some other newsy nuggets to come out today:
— None of the club’s Major League players are expected to need any surgeries heading into the offseason, though outfielder Dustin Ackley will be seeing a specialist to determine what might be done to help his troublesome left ankle. McClendon said outfield coach Andy Van Slyke will be having surgery to repair a knee issue that forced him to the bench in the final months as Chris Woodward took over as first-base coach.
— Left-hander Roenis Elias is doing fine after being shut down late in the season with some elbow soreness. He’ll spend the offseason at his home in Texas and do the normal offseason throwing program before reporting to camp next spring.
— Taijuan Walker will pitch a few games in the Arizona Fall League, but James Paxton won’t throw competitively this offseason after returning for the season’s final two months, Zduriencik said.
— McClendon said his entire coaching staff will be returning next year. John Stearns, who stepped down as third-base coach just prior to the start of Spring Training after having hiatal hernia surgery, will remain in the organization in a scouting role, according to Zduriencik.
— Butch Baccala, the national cross checker involved in the Jesus Montero incident in September, has been dismissed by the club. Devitt Moore, who was working as an area scout for the Mariners this season, will be promoted to take Baccala’s position.
— Montero returned to the Mariners 40-man roster on Monday as he was taken off the suspended list. Zduriencik said he’ll spend the offseason in Arizona with his wife and child.
“He’s there now going through a program that should help him in many areas, on the field and off,” Zduriencik said. “He’ll be at the complex every day. He’s working out twice a day right now and will be under our supervision most of the winter. Hopefully the negative here turns out to be a positive.”
Zduriencik said about 10 young Mariners will likely play Winter Ball in Venezuela. He doesn’t expect Montero to be one of those at this time, “but let’s wait and see. There’s other issues we need to deal with there first.
— Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who spent the past year on the Mariners restricted list, has expressed some interest in returning.
“He’s in Florida, working out. He has some interest in coming back next year. We’re going to talk to him and we’ll see what happens,” Zduriencik said. “He left in a good frame of mind. We’ll have to see where it’s at, but he’s spoken to our guys more than once about his desire in coming back next year. It would be as a non-roster player.”
Montero had to be returned to the 40-man roster the day after the end of the regular season following his suspension by the club on Sept. 1. That put the Mariners at 41 players on their Major League roster, so Hart was designated for assignment.
Hart would have become a free agent after the end of the World Series, along with Seattle’s other pending free agents, so the move just speeds up his process of being able to negotiate with teams.
Seattle’s other free agents will be pitchers Joe Beimel and Chris Young, outfielders Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia, catcher Humberto Quintero and designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez also becomes a free agent after spending the year on Seattle’s restricted list following his decision to not report to camp last February.
Hart, 32, hit .203 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 68 games after signing a one-year deal. The two-time National League All-Star spent a good part of the season on the disabled list with a hamstring strain and then knee issues after missing all of 2013 with the Brewers following microfracture surgeries on both knees.
Montero, 24, was on an injury rehab assignment with Class-A Everett for a strained oblique muscle when he got into a verbal altercation with Mariners scout Butch Baccala at a Northwest League game. The Mariners then placed him on the suspended list for the remainder of the season.
Baccala was pulled off his scouting duties at that time by general manager Jack Zduriencik and has since been dismissed by the organization.
Montero spent most of the season with Triple-A Tacoma where he batted .286 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs in 364 at-bats in 97 games. He played six games for the Mariners and had one home run and two RBIs with a .235 average in 17 at-bats.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t want to talk about his potential pitching for Monday aif Seattle forces a Game 163 tiebreaker with the A’s when he met with the media prior to Sunday’s regular-season finale, but by all logic that start would fall to rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker.
The 22-year-old would be pitching on his normal fifth day after throwing a career-best eight innings of one run ball in a 1-0 loss on Wednesday in Toronto. The A’s would definitely go with ace Jon Lester, who would pitch on normal rest. If needed, that game will be at 1:07 p.m. PT at Safeco Field.
A Game 163 tiebreaker will only be needed if the A’s lose to Texas on Sunday and the Mariners win their finale against the Angels.
Seattle’s top three current starters – Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton – all pitched in the previous three games and thus won’t be ready to throw again unless the Mariners make it to the American League Division Series starting on Thursday.
That’s all conjecture at this point, obviously, but it’s interesting conjecture. Most interesting would be how McClendon would handle the Wild Card game on Tuesday, which would either be in Kansas City or Detroit at 5:07 p.m. PT, should his team keep advancing.
The Mariners went with a bullpen day, with Tom Wilhelmsen starting, in that spot in the order in Toronto on Thursday. Veteran Chris Young might be the best option for Tuesday as he hasn’t pitched since Sept. 20, after which he was pulled from the rotation following some late-season struggles that McClendon believes were a sign of fatigue in his first year back from shoulder issues.
Iwakuma would only be available Tuesday if he was brought a day early and that seems unlikely, given he was pulled from his last start after feeling something in his side after 80 pitches.
But first things first, which is definitely the approach McClendon was taking prior to Sunday’s game.
“I’m worried about today,” he said. “That’s it. All hands on deck and we’ll see what happens. Tomorrow we’ll worry about tomorrow.”
Walker knows his turn could come Monday if the cards fall right, however, and he’s eager and ready.
“After my last start, I was, ‘Okay, two days and then a bullpen. Just be ready,’” Walker said. “Be ready for anything that happens. I kept my same routine just in case of something like this. I’m ready to keep going. I don’t want to stop pitching. I want to keep rolling.”
A scoring change by Major League Baseball giving an error to Felix Hernandez on a dropped bunt in his ill-fated fifth inning in his last start in Toronto has given the Mariners ace a chance at the American League ERA title.
Hernandez was originally charged with a career-high seven earned runs in the inning, raising his ERA to 2.34 with one start remaining in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Angels. But the scoring change removes four of the earned runs from that frame, giving him four earned runs out of the eight allowed total in Tuesday’s 10-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
Thus Hernandez’s ERA is now at 2.18, one tick behind the league-leading 2.17 of Chris Sale of the White Sox. Sale is finished for the season.
“That’s nice,” Hernandez said of his new life at the ERA crown. “That was an error, for sure. I should have made that play. It was an error.”
Hernandez had the lowest ERA in the AL in his Cy Young Award season in 2010 at 2.27 and now has a shot both at a new career low and a second ERA title. How much would having the lowest ERA in the league mean to him?
“I’m always thinking about it every year,” said the 10-year veteran. “Every year I’m trying to be one of the best in the league. I’ve got one more [start]. I’ve got to do it.”
The play in question came after Hernandez gave up a leadoff homer to Dalton Pompey and a double by Anthony Gose. Josh Thole then dropped a bunt down the third base line and Hernandez went to field it, but didn’t pick the ball up cleanly and Thole was safe at first.
Hernandez went on to allow a sacrifice fly, single, two walks, a single, a run scoring ground out and another walk before being replaced with two out. Reliever Dominic Leone gave up a two-run single to allow Hernandez’s final two runs to score.
As they do with any questionable scoring decision, the Mariners baseball operations department submitted the play to MLB for review and the decision to change it came back Saturday.
“Rightfully so,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said before Saturday’s game with the Angels. “Our guys did a good job sending that in. It’s an error. It’s a play you should make. If you ask Felix, he’d tell you, ‘Yeah, I should make that play.’ It was right there. He just came up on it. I’m happy for Felix and he’s got an opportunity tomorrow to win an ERA title.”
Without the change, Hernandez would have needed to pitch 16 scoreless innings to get his ERA down to Sale’s 2.17, which obviously wasn’t going to happen with just one start remaining. McClendon acknowledged the timing of the decision made for an interesting circumstance.
“It is,” he said. “But it was the right call. I don’t think there was any inside favors or anything. It was the right call to make and it was a pretty simple cal, really, if you think about it. And he’s got an opportunity as a result.”
With the Mariners still mathematically alive for the final American League Wild Card berth, manager Lloyd McClendon said Wednesday he expects Felix Hernandez to make his final scheduled start on Sunday afternoon against the Angels.
“That could change, but as we speak now, I fully expect him to pitch,” McClendon said prior to facing the Blue Jays in the third of four games in their last road trip of the year.
The Mariners currently have Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Hernandez lined up to pitch the final three-game series at home against Anaheim this weekend.
Hernandez gave up a season-high eight runs in 4 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s 10-2 loss to Toronto as his ERA rose to 2.34, second in the American League to Chris Sale.
Sale made his final start Wednesday for the White Sox, taking a no-decision after allowing one run in six innings in a 6-1 loss to Detroit, as he finished the year with a 2.17 ERA. Even if Hernandez throws nine shutout innings in his finale, his ERA would only drop to 2.25.
Hernandez is currently second in the AL to David Price in innings pitched at 230 2/3, surpassing the 230 mark for the fifth time in the past six years.
The Mariners ace is 14-6 with his 2.34 ERA and a league-leading 0.97 WHIP. He has the second-lowest opponent’s batting average at .203 and is fourth in the AL with a career-high 241 strikeouts.
Indians ace Corey Kluber is regarded as his primary challenger for AL Cy Young honors. With one remaining start, Kluber is 17-3 with a 2.53 ERA and a league-leading 258 strikeouts in 227 2/3 innings with a 1.10 WHIP and .235 opponent’s batting average.
Sale is certainly also in the mix, but he missed time early in the season and has made seven less starts than Hernandez. In 26 starts, the White Sox’s lefty went 12-4 with his 2.17 ERA and 208 strikeouts in 174 innings. He has a 0.97 WHIP and .204 opponents batting average.
Robinson Cano knows the Mariners have missed opportunities the last week to make a significant mark in the American League Wild Card race, but he said prior to Tuesday’s game with the Blue Jays that there’s still plenty of fight left in his club.
“We have six games and we have to get after every single game if we want to get there,” said Cano, whose club is two games behind the Royals for the AL’s final berth. “A lot of things can happen, so we just have to keep fighting and grinding.”
While many of his young teammates are in their first playoff push, Cano played 51 postseason games in seven different years for the Yankees. He knows the intensity is ratcheted up at these times and the Mariners have to respond.
“The key is you have to focus more than just regular games,” he said. “The playoffs is what we’re doing now. You can’t leave men on base, you can’t miss opportunities, you have to do the little things because these games, we’re like 2-3 games behind and we’re in a situation now where we have to win every game.”
A lot of people wondered why Cano left the Yankees for a team that hadn’t been in the postseason since 2001, but Seattle has been a contender to the end and still has a shot. His former club is two games back of Seattle and in even more dire straits.
Cano is pleased with the big picture and the progress the Mariners have made, but isn’t ready to concede anything yet.
“We have to be satisfied with this year, but we’re not out of the race until we’re eliminated,” he said. “We can win the next five or six games and anything can happen. We just have to stay focused.”
After giving up four home runs in his last start, Mariners veteran Chris Young will not be in the rotation for his next scheduled outing on Thursday, manager Lloyd McClendon said Monday prior to the opening game of a four-game set in Toronto.
McClendon hasn’t named a starter yet for the series finale against the Blue Jays, only saying Young is moving to the bullpen after some late-season struggles that the manager believes are a sign of fatigue. The 35-year-old right-hander is 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 outings and remains a strong candidate for American League Comeback Player of the Year after not pitching in the Majors last year due to shoulder problems.
But Young is 0-3 with an 8.36 ERA in his last five start and surrendered seven runs and four long balls in three-plus innings in Seattle’s 10-1 loss in Houston on Saturday. With the team in a push for an AL Wild Card berth, McClendon decided a change was needed.
“Chris has done a tremendous job for us this year,” McClendon said. “To think he’s won as many games as he’s won and gone out there as many times as he’s gone out there, coming off the type of surgery that he had, I think it’s just tremendous. I’m not sure we’d be in the position we’re in now if not for him.”
Young continues saying he feels fine physically, but the 6-foot-10 veteran has thrown 165 innings, which is by far the most he’s thrown in a year since his last fully healthy season in 2007 when he was a National League All-Star with the Padres.
“I think he’s probably out of gas from the starting standpoint,” McClendon said. “Having said that, 8-10 days from now, who knows?”
Young acknowledges he had some fatigue several weeks ago, which is why McClendon pushed back several starts to give him extra rest. But he said he felt better recently when he allowed just two runs in 11 innings to the A’s and Rangers before his poor showing against the Astros.
“I went through a little period of dead arm and I think mechanically I got a little out of sync at that point,” Young said. “I felt better two starts ago against Oakland and pitched very well and then the other night in Houston, I had a great week of throwing going into it and one of my best bullpens of the year. It’s just sometimes it’s unpredictable. I think it’s somewhat coincidental.
“I think there’s an element of fatigue to it, but I also think if I had that start in June, we don’t talk about it as much,” he said. “It gets magnified because of the situation we’re in. If we were 15 games out, the way the club has been the last few years, it’s probably a non-issue. The timing of it was poor and that’s on me. Nobody is more disappointed than I am about it. But Lloyd has to do what’s right for the club and if that’s what is best, I’ll support him and be ready to help out however I can.”
Young said he’s not yet ready to step back and look at the big picture of what he’s accomplished this year after signing with the Mariners just days before the start of the regular season after being released by the Nationals. In his mind, his work is not finished.
“I told them I’d be ready whenever and however they needed me,” he said.
The Mariners rotation has suddenly developed some cracks after posting the best ERA in the league all season. Rookie Roenis Elias was sent back to Seattle for an MRI on his elbow after his last start and while McClendon is still waiting to hear on the results, he said Elias won’t be starting any more this season.
Veteran Hisashi Iwakuma has also struggled of late with a 9.12 ERA over his past six starts. Rookie Taijuan Walker moved into the rotation to take Elias’ spot, so the only apparent options for Thursday are Erasmo Ramirez or a bullpen effort led by Tom Wilhelmsen, who made one spot start prior to the All-Star break.
Young noted that other teams are dealing with the same situation as pitchers get fatigued at the end of the six-month season.
“If you look across the league, there are a lot of pitchers going through it,” he said. “This isn’t unique to me. I still feel healthy. I still feel strong. The execution of my pitches wasn’t great the other night, but I still felt good. I can’t argue with their reasons. They have to give the team the best chance to win. But I still believe in myself and will be ready.”
Thursday would have been Young’s final regular-season start and he would have been lined up to pitch Seattle’s first or second postseason game if the Mariners stay in rotation through the end of the regular season.
When Sunday’s games conclude, there will be one week remaining in the regular season. Seven days to determine some close races. And none are closer than the American League’s Wild Card chase, where the A’s, Royals and Mariners were all within one game of each other entering Sunday’s play with two berths at stake.
“This is a sprint now,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. “This is fun. Being tired or slumping, all that stuff goes out the window. Your intensity and adrenaline level are so high because of what’s at stake.”
The Indians appear to be the one team still with a shot at pushing into the three-team race as they’re three games back of Seattle going into Sunday’s play and will finish off a suspended game on Monday before their regularly scheduled series opener with the Royals, with Cleveland holding a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the 10th.
Assuming the Indians don’t blow that lead, the Royals will lose a half-game there, so Kansas City essentially is tied already with Seattle and the Indians will be 2 ½ behind Seattle. But unless the Indians win out, they’ll be hard pressed to make up that distance if the three teams above them win even three or four of their remaining games.
Here’s how Seattle’s primary competition lines up going into Sunday’s games. Three of these clubs will make the playoffs, with either Kansas City or Detroit winning the AL Central and then two of the remaining teams taking the Wild Card spots.
Detroit (86-68): at Kansas City (1), White Sox (3), Minnesota (4).
A’s (84-70): Philadelphia (1), Anaheim (3), at Texas (4).
Royals (83-70): Detroit, at Cleveland (3), at White Sox (3), plus Monday conclusion of suspended game Royals trail 4-2 in bottom of 10th vs. Indians.
Mariners (83-71): At Houston (1), at Toronto (4), Anaheim (3).
Indians (80-74): at Minnesota (1), Royals (3), Rays (3), plus Monday conclusion of suspended game Indians lead 4-2 in bottom of 10th vs. Royals..
Yankees (79-75): Toronto (1), Baltimore (4), at Boston (3).
As the Mariners hit the final stretch run for their first postseason berth in 13 years, Dustin Ackley is feeling healthy again, as evidenced by a pair of home runs in Friday’s 10-5 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Ackley said the past three days are the first time in awhile he hasn’t had to favor his ankle.
“Just going on and off the field, going after balls in the gaps, running the bases or whatever, it’s nice to not have to worry about it,” he said. “It feels really great and I’m just hoping that continues the rest of the year.”
But manager Lloyd McClendon is being careful, knowing Ackley needed surgery on bone spurs in the same ankle two years ago and that he’s still favoring that foot to some degree. So McClendon didn’t have Ackley in Saturday’s lineup against tough Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, choosing to get Corey Hart’s right-handed bat in at DH and moving Logan Morrison to left field.
“Nobody sees the big picture but the manager,” McClendon said. “You have to realize we travel on a plane and that usually cause problems in itself when you’ve got a bum ankle or something. And it was a quick turnaround and he was limping a little bit last night. It concerned me a little. I really want him for [Sunday’s game against right-hander Collin McHugh] and he doesn’t hit this guy very well at all (0-for-7 vs. Keuchel). So it’s a chance to get him off his ankle. And we do have that turf (in Toronto at the end of the trip) and that scares the heck out of me.”
Ackley feels he’s “turned the corner” with his ankle and says it’s only sore in the mornings now when he first gets going. But he understands McClendon’s decision-making process.
“We had a meeting a couple weeks ago when he said if you’re not in the lineup, don’t let that be a surprise to you,” Ackley said. “We’ve got a lot of guys here that can play in big situations and Keuchel can be tough on lefties. But he can be tough on righties, too. So I’m just going to be ready whenever my name is called.”
McClendon also wanted to get Hart’s bat in the lineup against Keuchel, knowing he was 3-for-12 with two home runs off the southpaw in his career, so he shifted Morrison to left for the day.
“Short porch, Hart has two home runs off this guy and LoMo is probably a better defensive outfielder than Corey,” McClendon said. “It keeps Corey off his legs, but is also an opportunity to get his bat in in this short ballpark against the left-hander. It just makes sense.”
Ackley’s opposite field homer in the third inning Friday was a positive sign, but he took even more from an eighth-inning shot he yanked out to right field.
“Being able to pull the ball, that was something when it was hurting pretty bad that I wasn’t able to do,” said Ackley, who set a new career high with his 13th bomb of the year. “I wasn’t able to drive and really rotate off my backside, which is something you’ve got to be able to do. You can’t just go up there and not rotate. That’s pretty much the name of the game as far as hitting goes. To be able to do that consistently now and not have to worry about it, it’s a lot more comforting than before.”
Rookie Taijuan Walker flew ahead to Houston on Thursday as the Mariners looked to give the young right-hander a little rest for his Friday start, with Seattle not expected to arrive at its hotel in Houston until 5 or 6 a.m. on Friday thanks to a night getaway game concluding a four-game series at Angel Stadium.
Walker is returning to the rotation for the first time since July 23, filling the vacancy created by elbow tightness for rookie lefty Roenis Elias. Walker will start the series opener against the Astros’ Brad Peacock as Seattle continues an 11-game road trip that eventually wraps up in Toronto.
The hard-throwing 22-year-old is Seattle’s top pitching prospect and ranked No. 6 among all prospects by MLB.com. He made three starts earlier this season after getting a late start due to shoulder problems in Spring Training, but spent most of the second half with Triple-A Tacoma before being called up Sept. 1 to help bolster the bullpen.
Walker has a 1.93 ERA in three relief appearances this month (two earned runs in 9 1/3 innings) and is 1-2 with a 2.96 ERA in six outings for the year.
It’s been a challenging season for the youngster, who was expected to make the season-opening rotation until he arrived at camp with a sore shoulder and subsequently battled with some command issues when he did get a shot in Seattle. But he’ll have a chance now to show what he can do in at least two starts – including next Wednesday in Toronto — with the Mariners pushing for their first postseason appearance since 2001.
“Obviously with the concerns we have with Elias, it’s an opportunity for him to step up and move into the rotation,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think in a lot of ways it’s a real good experience for him. Obviously this has been a tough year for him in a lot of different ways. I think he’s starting to grow up a little bit from a mental standpoint and starting to ‘get it’, so to speak. This is good for him.”
McClendon has taken a tough-love approach with Walker this season, pushing him hard and speaking critically at times of his performances in Triple-A Tacoma. But he said he likes what he’s seen of late from Walker on the mound and with his work.
“There’s a natural progression that he needs to take and I think he’s starting to take it,” McClendon said. “Sometimes young players can believe the hype that you guys throw on them and it can get in the way of their development. I think he’s finally got to the point where he’s put that aside and he’s going out and concentrating on what is going to make him better. And that’s healthy progression, healthy growth, from a pitching standpoint.”
Elias was scheduled to pitch Sunday, but Walker has been slotted into Friday’s game since his last outing was two innings on Sunday against the A’s and this allows Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma to be pushed back to Saturday and Sunday in Houston at a time of the season when the extra day can be beneficial.
“He slots right in and the other two guys get an extra day, so it just makes sense,” McClendon said. “They need [the rest]. They all need it. This is a grind.”
Walker will be facing a familiar foe in Houston, as three of his six career starts have been against the Astros (2-0, 2.81 ERA), including his lone win this year in his season debut at Minute Maid Park in late June.
Elias flew home to Seattle for an MRI on his elbow Wednesday, but no results of the test were available yet.