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Elias headed home for MRI, could be done for year

Elias, RoenisRookie southpaw Roenis Elias will fly back to Seattle on Thursday to have an MRI test on his left elbow after experiencing some stiffness in his last start and likely is done for this season, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon indicated on Wednesday.

Elias has tigntness in his flexor bundle, according to the club, which hopes to learn more after the 25-year-old returns to Seattle.

Elias said he felt some discomfort after throwing a changeup, but didn’t call McClendon to the mound. Instead, the manager and trainer saw something of concern and his night was done. Now the final two starts of Elias’ season are in jeopardy with McClendon saying Wednesday he’s “most likely” finished.

Elias is 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 29 starts and his 163 2/3 innings are the third-most of any rookie in the Majors this year behind the 165 of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura and Tampa Bay’s Jake Odoorizzi. He’s 3-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break, but the Mariners had been carefully monitoring his workload and giving him extra rest whenever possible.

“He’s had a heck of a year,” McClendon said. “He’s had a tremendous second half. He’s done a wonderful job and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s everything we thought he was going to be.”

Elias had been slated to start again Sunday in Houston, but McClendon said he’s not sure yet who’ll fill that spot and indicated the rotation could be juggled following the Angels series finale Thursday. Rookie Taijuan Walker, the Mariners top pitching prospect, is the logical fill-in as he’s been working in the bullpen since being added as a September callup.

Walker has thrown three games in relief since Sept. 1, allowing three runs and 10 hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over 9 1/3 innings to put his season ERA at 2.96 in six outings. The Mariners wouldn’t necessarily have to wait until Sunday to slot Walker in since he’s fresh, having thrown just two innings since Sept. 7.

It’s possible they could pitch Walker in any of the upcoming games in Houston and give the other starters an extra day of rest as the club sets up for its final stretch run.

McClendon says M’s will fight through current funk

McClendon LloydDespite a three-game losing streak and just two wins in their last eight games during the most-crucial stretch of the season, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Tuesday his young club isn’t pressing in the wake of Monday’s 8-1 loss to the Angels to open an 11-game road trip.

The Mariners certainly could use some timely hitting as they’ve gone 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position in their last two games heading into Tuesday’s battle with an Angels club whose magic number for clinching the American League West is down to three games.

Seattle entered the night two games back of the Royals for the final AL Wild Card spot, but McClendon said there’s no cloud gathering over his club.

“They’re not tight. They’re just going through a funk,” he said. “We just have to keep battling and fighting our way through it. The Oakland A’s went through it and we didn’t think a thing about it. We were happy about it. And I’m sure they’re happy about our little funk. It happens. We just have to keep fighting and grinding it out and we’ll come around.”

The Mariners were 71-91 last season and haven’t been in the postseason since 2001, so they’re in new territory heading into the final two weeks of the season with a playoff berth in sight.

“Given what Seattle was going through the last 10-12 years, if I’d have said leaving Spring Training that on Sept. 16 we’d be two games out of the Wild Card, would you take it?” McClendon said. “I don’t think there’s anybody associated with the Seattle Mariners who would have said, ‘No, we don’t want that.’

“You have to keep things in perspective and look at the big picture. My guys have had a fantastic run,” he said. “We don’t want to look back down that road because it was a little shaky at times, but we can see the finish line and we’re going to keep charging ahead.”

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who’ll take the ball in Thursday’s series finale against Jered Weaver, said the players are certainly in step with McClendon’s belief that Monday was a bad game, but just needs to be forgotten as the focus shifts forward.

“We’ve got a good feeling,” Hernandez said. “Yesterday we got killed, but today we’re ready to play. We’re fine. We just have to continue fighting and we’ll be okay.”

Felix is Mariners nominee for Clemente Award

Felix smilingFelix Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for the past decade, but the Mariners hurler also has had significant impact in the community, a fact recognized by his nomination for the 2014 Roberto Clemente Award.

Hernandez is the Mariners nominee for the prestigious award, which recognizes a Major League player who best represents the game through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.

Wednesday will be the 13th annual Roberto Clemente Day in MLB, honoring the 15-time All-Star and Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972 while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Beginning Wednesday, fans can participate in the process of selecting the national Roberto Clemente Award winner by visiting ChevyBaseball.com to vote for one of the 30 club nominees. Voting ends on Sunday, Oct. 6 and participating fans will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to the 2014 World Series, where the national winner of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet will be announced.

In his 10 seasons with the Mariners, Hernandez has been selected to five All-Star Games and was named the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner. He’s having one of his best seasons yet this season, posting a 14-5 record and 2.14 ERA while helping the Mariners challenge for their first playoff berth since 2001.

Hernandez is a popular figure among players in the game and has also played a large role off the field as well. Since arriving in Seattle as a teenage phenom, Hernandez has been active with the Make-A-Wish program as well as the Mariners anti-domestic violence program known as Refuse To Abuse.

This year, Hernandez partnered with Grammy Award-winning Seattle recording artist Macklemore on the #Change the Game anti-bullying campaign that asks students to “be kind, stay positive, and support each other,” and to sign an anti-bullying pledge.

Hernandez is an advocate for the Humane Society of Seattle/King County, a non-profit animal welfare organization, and has supported numerous other local charities and non-profit organizations in the Pacific Northwest, including: Esperanza, South Park Community Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Special Olympics of Washington, Boys & Girls Clubs, The Martinez Foundation and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The winner of the fan vote will receive one vote among those cast by the selection panel which includes Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred, MLB Goodwill Ambassador and wife of Roberto Clemente, Vera Clemente; and representatives from Chevrolet, MLB Network, MLB.com, ESPN, FOX Sports and TBS, among others.

The Mariners have produced three Clemente Award winners: Harold Reynolds in 1991, Jamie Moyer in 2003 and Edgar Martinez in 2004.

Ackley back in lineup Monday as ankle feeling better

Ackley, Dustin 2After sitting out six of the last seven games with a sore left ankle, Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley was back in action for Monday’s series opener against the Angels and hopes he can continue playing the rest of the stretch run.

Ackley missed four games, then went 0-for-3 in Friday’s 4-2 win over the A’s before being held out of the final two games of that set. The Mariners went 1-5 in the games he missed and manager Lloyd McClendon hopes the 26-year-old is good enough to go now.

“He needs to be operational,” McClendon said. “The fact is, nobody will be 100 percent this time of year. There are going to be nicks and bumps and bruises, but you’ve got to be able to play both sides of the ball and I think he’s capable of doing that.

“I saw his BP and it was cleaner, it was better. He was getting off his backside and not hitting flat-footed, so I think he should be fine.”

Ackley said he’s back to feeling as good as he has all season with the ankle, which has been somewhat troublesome since 2012 when he needed postseason surgery to remove bone spurs.

“The last couple days I’ve felt ready,” Ackley said. “I know he probably wanted to [use me] as a last resort and didn’t do it, but the last two days I felt the best it’s felt in a long time and I’m assuming today isn’t going to be much different. It’s pretty good right now.”

Ackley has hit just .045 (1-for-22) in six games in September after batting .318 (61-for-192) in July and August. McClendon believes some of those recent struggles were related to the ankle.

”I think the last couple days where his swing got slow and he wasn’t able to catch up to the ball,” McClendon said.

Ackley says he’ll play the rest of the way as long as he feels he’s helping the club.

“Unless it’s a situation where like that last game, I was able to play, but I wasn’t able to perform like I wanted to or drive off that foot,” he said. “As long as I’m able to do that and compete and feel like I’m helping the team out, I’ll be in there as much as I can. If I feel like a liability, I’ll definitely take that into consideration.”

Rookie Carson Smith becomes newest bullpen weapon

Houston Astros v Seattle MarinersWith a fully rested bullpen that ranks first in the Majors in ERA, Lloyd McClendon had a lot of choices when starter James Paxton was pulled after six innings Thursday with a 4-2 lead against the A’s. Following a Wednesday off day, the Mariners had all their weapons ready to go in a critical game as they push for the playoffs.

So who did McClendon opt for? How about rookie right-hander Carson Smith, a September callup with all of three innings of big-league experience. And the 6-foot-6 Texan retired five straight A’s before walking a batter and being replaced with two out in the eighth.

Smith, an eighth-round Draft pick in 2011 out of Texas State University, thus becomes the latest power arm in the Mariners ‘pen as he joins a group that has posted a 2.39 ERA while going from the 29th lowest ERA in the Majors in 2013 to the best in 2014.

“He certainly adds to it,” McClendon said before Saturday’s rematch with the A’s. “He did a nice job for us yesterday. That was pretty impressive. … I just liked his sinkerball in that situation. My plan was to send him out there for one inning, but he kept pounding and getting the easy outs. It’s kind of hard to take him out.”

Smith, 24, had 10 saves and a 2.93 ERA in 39 appearances for Triple-A Tacoma this season, but this was a slightly bigger situation with a crowd of 29,090 roaring and playoff positioning riding on the outcome.

“The adrenaline was going, the crowd was going,” said Smith. “It was a good time, playing against the Oakland Athletics. It’s safe to say you call them a rival right now in this playoff push. It was a big moment and I was happy to get the job done.”

The big right-hander faced four lefties in his six-batter stint as A’s manager Bob Melvin went to his bench for a pair of pinch hitters, but that didn’t faze him either.

“I have the same confidence against lefties and righties,” Smith said. “I get to mix my changeup in a little more to lefties, so it actually gives me a little more confidence knowing I have three pitches to use instead of just two. But I know my go-to pitch is my slider and that’s going to be more effective against right-handed hitters.”

So add another weapon to McClendon’s bullpen arsenal, which has been a force all season long. Clearly the skipper isn’t afraid to use Smith in any situation, outside of the closer role held down by Fernando Rodney.

“They told me I’d be in anywhere from the third to the eighth inning,” Smith said. “I’m just going to be ready everyday if they call me. That’s my job.”

Saunders pumped to be back in thick of playoff chase

Houston Astros v Seattle MarinersAll the Mariners are enjoying being in the thick of the playoff race as the season hits the final stretch run, but none more so than outfielder Michael Saunders.

After spending nearly two months on the disabled list – first with a strained oblique muscle and then with a viral infection – the 27-year-old Saunders rejoined the club Monday and has been in the starting lineup every game since, including Friday’s series opener with the A’s even with Dustin Ackley returning from a four-game absence with a sore ankle.

Saunders has gone 2-for-8 with three walks and a run scored in his first three games and provides a strong defensive presence in right field.

There’s no assurance how much Saunders will play in the final 17 games, with Ackley back and manager Lloyd McClendon also having the option to go with veterans Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia in right field. But Saunders is thrilled to be part of the mix again with the season on the line.

“It’s extremely fun. It’s like being a kid again,” Saunders said prior to Friday’s game. “It’s not like it’s not always fun during the season when you’re healthy, obviously, but when you take so much time off and then come back right in the heat of a playoff race for the first time, it’s a lot of fun coming to the clubhouse.

“That first game back, I was getting all nervous in the morning. It was like Opening Day for me again. I was extremely frustrated with what I’ve gone through, then knowing how hard I’ve worked to get over that and come back and finally be able to suit up again and go to right, really meant a lot.”

Saunders is hitting .275 in 68 games on the season and says he’s felt right at home stepping back into the lineup despite his extended absence.

“I feel great,” he said. “I would never have come back in the situation we’re in if I wasn’t ready. It’s not about one guy. These games are meaningful to get to the postseason. If I wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t be out there.”

Thirteen years later, Bud Selig’s memories of 9/11

SeligCommissioner Bud Selig was at Safeco Field on Wednesday and one of the things he was asked about was his memories of 9/11 when baseball — and most of the world — stopped for a week following the terrorist acts in New York and Washington, D.C.

Since today is the 13th anniversary of that difficult day, it’s interesting to hear his recollections:

“I remember it all too well. We had an owner’s meeting in Milwaukee. That morning was sorrowful. It was stunning. Two things come to mind. I debated long and hard when to come back. I did talk to [NFL commissioner] Paul Tagliabue quite a bit. We came back the following Monday and I was nervous. Oh man, was I nervous. I drove home, had a little dinner and went upstairs and had the television set on. I take seriously the whole social institution. This was so important. I turned on the Cardinal-Brewer game and there was Jack Buck reading a poem that he had written. When he read it, he got an emotional standing ovation. And I cried. I don’t mind telling you that, because I was that nervous. One of the things in the midst of that was should we be here tonight and the crowd roared.

 “I called Jack [the next day] and he was overwhelmed. He’d written that poem on a piece of cardboard. He sent that to me and I have it in my office. It was so emotional. And then of course the World Series in New York. Game 3, I’ve seen a lot of games in my lifetime with a lot of emotion, but I’d never seen anything like that. The crowd chanting USA and President Bush was there. It was so emotional. I kept saying to myself, in our own little way – and little way, I want to be careful there – I hope we helped the nation to recover from an unspeakable tragedy.”

Miller putting together strong finish at shortstop

Miller, BradJust a few weeks ago, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon was looking at Brad Miller as his new utility player, the replacement out of necessity for an injured Willie Bloomquist after losing his starting shortstop role to rookie Chris Taylor.

But Miller never hung his head and instead continued working and regaining his confidence at the plate after a rough first half. And as the season hits the final stretch run, the 24-year-old Florida native has found himself increasingly in the mix while producing positive results and a .273 batting average since the All-Star break.

Miller has batted .429 (12-for-28) with six runs, three doubles, a triple, two home runs and eight RBIs over his last 10 games, including seven starts, as he hiked his season average from .198 to .217 in that span.

“I tried to just prepare the same way and be ready,” Miller said. “Just go with the flow, keep playing and things kind of work themselves out.”

Taylor has performed well also, batting .295 in 33 games since his promotion in late July. But the youngster is 2-for-15 in his last five games and McClendon has leaned toward using Miller against most right-handed pitchers in September.

McClendon says he’ll continue using both shortstops, depending on what matchup he feels gives him the best chance to win each day. But he acknowledged that Miller seems to have found himself again after letting things slow down a bit during his time on the bench. And that doesn’t surprise him, as McClendon felt from the start that Miller had a chance to be a very good offensive shortstop.

“You look at his Minor League numbers, this guy has done things that Robinson Cano didn’t do in the Minor Leagues,” McClendon said, referring to Miller’s .334/.409/.516 line in 219 games from Class-A to Triple-A over the three prior years. “That’s not just something you shake your head at. I knew there was something there.

“And I believe that,” said McClendon. “I think he’s going to be an offensive force in this league for a long time. It’s taken him a little while and there’s still a lot of learning to do. He’ll get better. I think he’s the type of guy who should hit 25 home runs in this league. He’s got that kind of juice in his bat.”

Miller didn’t enjoy being benched in midseason, but tried turning it into a positive.

“I think it all helps,” he said. “Just getting experience and playing, whatever role it is. It’s a long year. I haven’t been through a full year in the big leagues and you learn. You learn through the ups and downs. I’m definitely more aware of the type of player I am and what I have to do to be successful now.”

Saunders returns straight to lineup as Ackley still out

SaundersMichaelOutfielder Michael Saunders was activated from the 15-day disabled list by the Mariners on Monday and immediately inserted into the lineup to face the Astros in the opener of a three-game series at Safeco Field.

Saunders has been out since straining his left oblique muscle on July 10. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on Aug. 7 and hit .257 in 10 games, but then was sidelined by a viral infection on Aug. 19 and hasn’t played in a game since.

“It’s been extremely frustrating,” Saunders acknowledged. “I was ready to go with my oblique and then I got sick. That couldn’t have come at a worse time. But that’s behind me. I’m focusing on what’s ahead for September. It’s fun. These games mean something. We’re looking at one goal and that is to make the playoffs. Things are looking good.”

The sixth-year veteran has been working out and playing in simulated games at the team’s Minor League facility in Peoria, Ariz., the last week.

“We did the best we could do,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He took some batting practice, ran, threw. From a conditioning standpoint, he’s ready to go. I don’t know if he’s game ready or not, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hopefully he can jump start us.”

With left fielder Dustin Ackley ailing with a sore left ankle, Saunders was penciled into the lineup in right field for Monday’s game against the Astros, with Endy Chavez shifting over to left.

Ackley was scheduled for an MRI test on a sore left ankle, but said he doesn’t think the situation is anything serious after sitting out his second straight game after being removed midway through Saturday’s 4-2 win.

“It’s a little better than it was the other day, but they want to get it checked out and see if it’s inflammation or whatever and go from there,” he said prior to Monday’s game. “I don’t know a whole lot until they get in there and look at it, but it doesn’t seem like it’s anything crazy.”

McClendon still debating Young’s next start

Manager Lloyd McClendon and pitching coach Rick Waits watched a pregame bullpen session by veteran pitcher Chris Young on Wednesday morning at O.co Coliseum and now will make a decision whether he makes his next start Saturday in Texas.

McClendon has expressed concern whether Young is fully healthy after he lasted just two-thirds of an inning in his last start while giving up five runs to the A’s in a 6-1 loss on Monday. The veteran has allowed 11 hits and eight runs with seven walks and two strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings over his last two starts and was given three extra days rest before his last outing as the club looks to keep him fresh after he missed almost all of 2013 with shoulder issues.

Young is 12-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 27 games this season and has been a big part of the Mariners success, but top prospect Taijuan Walker is lined up to pitch Saturday if needed as he threw six innings of one-run relief following Young’s departure Monday.

McClendon said he’ll sit down with general manager Jack Zduriencik on Wednesday and have a decision by Thursday.

“He had a good bullpen. He threw the ball good,” McClendon said. “I just want to make sure he’s healthy. That’s the only factor that really comes into play.”

As for how much he could see in the throwing session?

“I think we can get a lot from it,” McClendon said. “We’ll see. I’ll talk to Jack and we’ll go from there.”

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