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Felix named AL Pitcher of Year by Sporting News

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle MarinersFelix Hernandez has been named the American League’s top pitcher in 2014 as part of The Sporting News AL All-Star team selected by a vote of baseball executives, becoming the first Mariners player honored since 2010.

Hernandez was also named The Sporting News AL Pitcher of the Year in 2010, which was the year he went on to win his first AL Cy Young Award. This year’s Cy Young, which is chosen in a vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, will be announced Nov. 12.

The Sporting News All-Star team selects one player at each position, plus one starting pitcher and one reliever in each league. The Mariners haven’t had a position player named to the AL All-Star squad since outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2009.

Robinson Cano was the AL second baseman on The Sporting News All-Star team the past four years for the Yankees, but saw that run end this year when the Astros’ Jose Altuve was selected at that position.

Hernandez finished the season with a 15-6 record while leading the AL with a 2.14 ERA in 34 starts. He also posted a league-low 0.915 WHIP while racking up a career-best 248 strikeouts in 236 innings. Hernandez started the AL All-Star Game after being selected to his fifth Midsummer Classic.

The only previous AL Pitchers of the Year for the Mariners as selected by The Sporting News were Randy Johnson in 1995 and Hernandez in 2010.

This year’s Sporting News AL All-Star team: catcher Salvador Perez (Royals); first baseman Jose Abreu (White Sox); second baseman Altuve (Astros); shortstop Erick Aybar (Angels); third baseman Adrian Beltre (Rangers); outfielders Mike Trout (Angels),  Michael Brantley (Indians) and Jose Bautista (Blue Jays); designated hitter Victor Martinez (Tigers); pitcher Hernandez (Mariners); and reliever Dellin Betances (Yankees).

The NL All-Star team: catcher Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers); first baseman Anthony Rizzo (Cubs); second baseman Dee Gordon (Dodgers); shortstop Jhonny Peralta (Cardinals); third baseman Anthony Rendon (Nationals); outfielders Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and Justin Upton (Braves); pitcher Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers); and reliever Craig Kimbrel (Braves).

Young named AL Comeback Player of Year

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red SoxFeeling he’d finally overcome a series of shoulder issues that had hindered much of his career, Chris Young just wanted a chance to pitch every fifth day and be part of a Major League rotation again after being released by the Nationals at the end of Spring Training.

But the 35-year-old right-hander did far more than that, putting together a strong 2014 season for the Mariners that resulted in Young being named The Sporting News American League Comeback Player of the Year on Monday.

“I am extremely honored,” said Young, who went 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 games (29 starts). “There are many deserving players who have demonstrated the commitment, dedication and perseverance to overcome similar obstacles and I am humbled to be recognized amongst them. The life lessons I have learned throughout this experience are invaluable and will stay with me the rest of my career.

“I hope that I can serve as inspiration to other players in the same manner in which I was inspired to pursue my comeback. I am extremely grateful to my teammates, coaches, the Seattle Mariners organization and my family, as each and every member contributed to my success.”

Young is the fifth Mariners player ever to earn the award and first since pitcher Gil Meche in 2003. Previous Seattle winners were Gorman Thomas (1985), Richie Zisk (1981) and Willie Horton (1979). The Sporting News has been selecting AL and NL Comeback Players since 1965.

MLB and the Players Choice Awards also name a Comeback Player of the Year, but those honors haven’t been announced yet for this past season.

Young provided a classic comeback story, having not pitched in the Majors at all in 2013 and finally solving shoulder issues that prevented him from pitching a full season since 2007, when he was an NL All-Star with the Padres.

“Chris was a big part of our success in 2014, really solidifying our rotation,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “To think he won as many games as he did, and made 29 starts, coming off the type of surgery and the injuries that he had, I think it’s just tremendous. He is a tireless worker and showed his determination with his performance. This is a very deserving award for him in every way possible.”

Young went 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA in nine Minor League starts for the Nationals in 2013, then was released by that club on the final roster cut this spring.

But after having surgery in June of 2013 to repair a nerve blockage in his chest and shoulder called thoracic outlet syndrome, Young said he finally felt at full strength for the first time in years. The Mariners signed him to one-year, $1.5 million base deal just four days before the start of the regular season and he wound up earning another $2.975 million in incentive bonuses by staying healthy and performing so well through the year.

The 6-foot-10 right-hander had the eighth-lowest opponents batting average in the AL at .234, was 21st in the league in WHIP at 1.230 and his 165 innings pitched were his most since 2007.

When healthy, Young has always been an effective Major League pitcher, owning a 65-52 record and 3.77 ERA over 10 seasons. But his shoulder problems have led to three surgeries and allowed him to make just 28 starts over the previous four seasons combined.

He exceeded that number for Seattle this year alone with his 29 starts, helping solidify the rotation for a club that finished first in the AL in ERA and improved by 16 wins to 87-75 in McClendon’s first season at the helm.

Though the increased workload finally seemed to catch up with Young at the end of the season when he went 0-3 with an 8.35 ERA over his last five outings, the 35-year-old finished third on the Mariners in wins and innings pitched behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and his 12 victories equaled his career high set in 2005 with the Padres.

“This is a tremendous and well-deserving honor for Chris,” said Mariners pitching coach Rick Waits. “He worked tirelessly and stuck to his routine to keep himself healthy and on the mound throughout the season. He had a breakthrough year making a comeback, but it wasn’t really that surprising to me. This is a testament to his resolve, patience, determination, hard work, his routine and his tireless study of opposing hitters.”

Young earned 49 votes from AL players to easily beat runner-up J.D. Martinez of the Tigers for the honor. Martinez had 22 votes, Scott Kazmir of the A’s was third with 14, followed by the Yankees’ Derek Jeter (11) and Toronto’s Melky Cabrera (6).

Miami’s Casey McGehee was the NL Comeback Player of the Year.

Taijuan Walker shuts it down after two AFL starts

TaijuanBulllpenTaijuan Walker was scratched from his scheduled Arizona Fall League start Saturday night and has decided not to pitch any more this offseason, though he is completely healthy, general manager Jack Zduriencik said Sunday.

The 22-year-old right-hander had been slated to pitch his third AFL game for the Surprise Saguaros on Saturday at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, but fellow Mariners prospect Stephen Landazuri replaced him and wound up allowing five hits and three runs in three innings to take the loss in a 9-4 loss to the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Walker had posted a 2.00 ERA in his first two AFL starts, allowing two runs and seven hits with two walks and 11 strikeouts in nine innings of work.

“Taijuan is completely healthy and was very impressive in his two outings, but made a personal decision that he needed to return home at this time,” Zduriencik said in a statement released by the club. “He will continue with his off-season program and we look forward to seeing him at Spring Training in February.”

Walker is regarded as one of the top young pitchers in baseball and was 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight games for the Mariners this season. But he missed the first two months of the year with shoulder issues and Seattle officials had suggested they wanted him to throw about 25 innings in the AFL to increase his workload before shutting things down until next spring.

Landazuri is one of six other Mariners prospects on the Surprise squad. The 22-year-old right-hander had previously thrown three games in relief in AFL action and is now 1-3 with a 10.29 ERA in seven innings of work. Landazuri went 6-5 with a 4.33 ERA in 19 starts for Double-A Jackson this year.

Two of Seattle’s top position prospects, first baseman Patrick Kivlehan and third baseman D.J. Peterson, each had doubles in Saturday’s game. Kivlehan went 1-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and two runs, while Peterson was 1-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs.

Taijuan Walker sharp again in second AFL start

Houston Astros v Seattle MarinersMariners right-hander Taijuan Walker made his second straight strong start in the Arizona Fall League with five innings of one-run ball as the Surprise Saguaros lost a 7-4 decision to Salt River on Monday in Surprise, Ariz.

Walker, regarded as one of the top young pitchers in baseball, allowed just two hits with two walks, a hit batter and six strikeouts while throwing 77 pitches.

Walker outpitched Salt River’s Archie Bradley, the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2011 Draft, as the 22-year-old Diamondbacks right-hander gave up five hits and three runs in three innings.

Walker, also 22, was the 43rd overall pick in 2010 as a compensation-round selection by the Mariners. He is expected to start six games and pitch about 25-30 innings in the AFL as the Mariners look to get him some extra work after missing the first two months of the season with shoulder issues.

Walker has a 2.00 ERA in two AFL starts (two earned runs in nine innings) after going 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight appearances for Seattle this past season and 7-4 with a 4.37 ERA in 16 Minor League outings.

Just as in his first AFL game, Walker wound up with a no-decision after turning a lead over to his bullpen. This time Surprise coughed up a 4-1 advantage as Salt River scored six times in the top of the seventh off Padres prospect Tayron Guerrero.

Surprise is now 3-3 after the first week of the 32-game season. Mariners position prospects D.J. Peterson, Patrick Kivlehan and John Hicks all played in Monday’s outing as well. Peterson was 0-for-4 and is now batting .231 as the team’s primary third baseman. Kivlehan played first base again and went 1-for-4 with a walk to put his average at .238, while Hicks was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored as the young catcher is hitting .273.

Matt Brazis, one of three Mariners relievers on the staff, replaced Guerrero with two outs in the seventh and gave up a hit and Guerrero’s final run before ending the six-run uprising with a strikeout. Brazis then retired the side in order in the eighth with two more strikeouts.

Center fielder Rusney Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72 million deal with the Red Sox out of Cuba in August, went 2-for-5 with an RBI double and leads Surprise with a .350 batting average in his first four games. Each team in the AFL is made up of top prospects from five Major League franchises.

Qualifying offer price for 2015 increases to $15.3M

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland IndiansWhile MLB narrows its focus on the field this week, with the American League Championship Series now set between the Orioles and Royals and the NLCS down to the Cardinals against the winner of the Giants-Nationals series, the business of business of baseball continues for all 30 teams as the offseason gets underway.

And one of the first orders of business was determining the new qualifying offer figure, which will be $15.3 million, as announced Tuesday, based on the average salary of the top 125 paid players in the game.

That’s another significant hike from the original $13.3 million after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement introduced the qualifying offer plan in 2013 and the $14.1 million from last year. What will be interesting now is to see how players — and teams — deal with qualifying offers this offseason after Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew turned down the $14.1M last year and then wound up having to sit out the first two months of the season before struggling upon their late arrivals.

Of the 22 players who received qualifying offers in the first two years of the system, all 22 have rejected the guaranteed one-year deal and pursued free agency. But with the Draft pick compensation tied to those players, the lower tier of those qualified free agents have discovered a tough market and Morales and Drew both paid a pretty good price for rejecting the one-year deals.

Thus it will be interesting to see how things play out this offseason, with clubs having until the fifth day after the completion of the World Series to extend qualifying offers.

This isn’t a scenario that will impact the Mariners as directly this winter, however. Offering Morales a qualifying offer last year was a no-brainer. With Scott Boras as his agent, the veteran DH made it clear he was setting a high market for himself by turning down multi-year deals with Seattle in the three-year, $30 million range. The Mariners knew he would turn down a qualifying offer, so it was an easy choice to make him that offer and give themselves a chance to recoup a high draft pick in return if he signed elsewhere.

As it turned out, Morales and Boras misread the market, he didn’t sign anywhere else until after the June Draft and Seattle wound up with no draft pick compensation. In the ultimate twist, they wound up acquiring Morales by trade from the Twins for reliever Stephen Pryor six weeks later, a move that didn’t pay great dividends when Morales hit just .207 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 59 games with Seattle.

There’ll be no repeat scenario of the qualifying offer to Morales this winter and not just because he played poorly in 2014. Players traded in-season can’t be extended qualifying offers. So Morales, one of seven Mariners headed to free agency upon conclusion of the World Series, will be free to go wherever he wants.

Morales has expressed interest in staying in Seattle, but he said the same thing last season and then turned down some pretty good offers. This time I find it extremely unlikely the Mariners will pursue Morales’ return unless his price drops dramatically and other options fall through.

The Mariners certainly will have interest in retaining some of their other pending free agents, but none fall anywhere near the salary structure that would call for a qualifying offer. Reliever Joe Beimel is a solid bet to return, but he made the team as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal last spring and won’t break the bank. Same story with outfielder Endy Chavez, who has made the team on Minor League deals the past two seasons.

Veteran right-hander Chris Young figures to be the most-pursued of Seattle’s free agents after his strong comeback season, going 12-7 with a 3.85 ERA in 30 outings. Young certainly improved his negotiating strength with his first healthy season since 2007 and will cost a lot more than the $1.5 million base salary he played on this year, but he’s certainly not a $15.3 million qualifying offer candidate with his injury history.

Seattle’s other free agents are outfielder Chris Denorfia, catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who spent the year on the restricted list. Again, none of those three are big-money targets, nor was DH Corey Hart, who already became a free agent after being designated for assignment.

So the Mariners won’t play the qualifying offer game with their own players, though it’s possible they’ll pursue other teams qualified free agents. They did it last year with Robinson Cano, sacrificing their own top non-protected Draft pick to land the biggest free agent on the market.

Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (pictured) figures to be in that boat this winter and surely the Mariners will be one of the many pursuers for his right-handed bat, though that competition — and price — figure to be steep. Do the Mariners have a chance? Sure. After seeing Cano come to Seattle a year ago, it would be foolish to think otherwise. But Martinez will have lots of options, including staying in Detroit, so its extremely premature to even speculate on those possibilities.

Who else figures to be in the qualifying offer category? It seems likely that starting pitchers James Shields from the Royals, Max Scherzer of the Tigers and Ervin Santana of the Braves will draw the one-year guaranteed offer of $15.3 million, along with outfielders Nelson Cruz of the Orioles and Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays, shortstops Hanley Ramirez of the Dodgers and J.J. Hardy of the Orioles, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Pirates catcher Russell Martin and Yankees closer David Robertson.

Others may join that list, but those 11 are a pretty solid starting point for discussion. Cruz turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer last year from the Rangers, wound up settling for an $8 million deal with the Orioles and then put up an AL-leading 40 home runs with 108 RBIs for Baltimore.

So, yeah, it’s an interesting game within the game to watch this winter. And the price of business was set at $15.3 million.

Walker throws well, Kivlehan homers in AFL opener

TaijuanBulllpenTaijuan Walker threw four innings of one-run ball and fellow Mariners prospect Patrick Kivlehan homered as the Surprise Saguaros opened the Arizona Fall League with a 5-4 loss to the Peoria Javelinas on Tuesday in Surprise, Ariz.

Walker, one of the top young arms in baseball, allowed five hits with no walks and five strikeouts in a 57-pitch start and left with a 3-1 lead. The Mariners would like the 22-year-old to get 20-25 innings of work in the AFL after missing the first half of this past season with shoulder problems that limited him to 120 1/3 innings overall, including 38 with Seattle.

Walker was 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight appearances for Seattle and 7-4 with a 4.37 ERA in 16 Minor League starts, with 14 of those coming with Triple-A Tacoma.

Kivlehan, a 24-year-old infielder who played football at Rutgers before getting drafted by the Mariners in the fourth-round in 2012, opened his second AFL season with a 1-for-4 outing that included a solo home run in the third inning off Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 Draft.

Kivlehan split this past season between Class-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, hitting .293 with 20 home runs and 103 RBIs, with 104 of his 138 games coming at Jackson. Kivlehan played first base in Tuesday’s game, with fellow Mariners prospect D.J. Peterson opening at third base and going 1-for-3 with an RBI double and a walk.

Peterson, Seattle’s first-round Draft pick in 2013, is the No. 49 rated prospect in baseball by MLB.com and was named Seattle’s co-Minor League Hitter of the Year after putting up a .297 average with 31 homers and 111 RBIs in 123 games with High Desert and Jackson.

Catcher John Hicks, the Mariners other position player on the Saguaros squad, went 1-for-3 with a walk and picked a runner off first base. Hicks, 25, split last season between Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma and hit a combined .290 with five homers and 47 RBIs in 81 games.

Right-hander Stephen Landazuri, one of three other Mariners prospects on the pitching staff, took the loss after giving up four hits and three runs in the eighth inning.  The 22-year-old was 6-5 with a 4.33 ERA in 19 starts for Jackson this year.

The AFL consists of six teams with each squad made up of prospects from five different Major League clubs, with each team playing 32 games from now through Nov. 13.

Hultzen on the mend, plus other postseason news

Hultzen, DannyLeft-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.”

Hart DFA’d to make room on 40-man for Montero

Hart, CoreyVeteran designated hitter Corey Hart was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Monday in a move necessitated by the activation of first baseman Jesus Montero off the suspended list.

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.

Walker would likely be Monday starter … if it gets there

Mariners at RoyalsMariners 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.”

Scoring change gives Felix shot at AL ERA title

Minnesota Twins v Seattle Mariners 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.”

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