Right fielder Michael Saunders went 0-for-3 with two walks for Triple-A Tacoma in Monday’s 6-2 victory at Round Rock in his ninth rehab start as he continues working back from a strained oblique muscle that landed him on the 15-day DL on July 11.
Saunders has hit .258 (8-for-31) with 13 walks in his nine games for Tacoma. He’s 2-for-14 with six walks in four games since returning from paternity leave following the birth of his second child.
Since Saunders got hurt, the Mariners traded for center fielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Chris Denorfia, so there appears less need to rush the 27-year-old back until he’s fully healthy. Denorfia and veteran Endy Chavez have been splitting time in right field in a platoon situation that has been working well with Chavez hitting .276 and the right-handed batting Denorfia hitting.320 over his last eight games after a slow start.
Saunders has hit .276 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 65 games for Seattle and is a strong defender, but he’s on his second DL stint this season and manager Lloyd McClendon wants him to be right when he returns.
“He’s working it out, he’s trying to get back,” McClendon said. “We knew there would be some rust. That’s why you have the 20-day rehab. He’s trying to get himself sharp and ready to get back here.”
Saunders began his rehab assignment on Aug. 7, so the Mariners have until Aug. 27 before they need to make a decision. Minor League rehabs for position players can be a maximum of 20 days.
With James Jones optioned back to Tacoma on Monday to make room for starting pitcher Roenis Elias, Seattle is going with four outfielders for now in Dustin Ackley, Jackson, Chavez and Denorfia, though Logan Morrison played right field on Monday with no DH spot available in the Interleague road game.
If Saunders returns prior to Sept. 1, when rosters can be expanded beyond the 25-man limit, it will require a tough roster decision for a club that’s been carrying an extra reliever and would likely need to make a move in the bullpen.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed that veteran right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will move ahead in the rotation later this week and start Sunday’s series finale in Boston, which will push rookie Roenis Elias back a day to open a the next home series in Seattle on Monday against Texas.
The move allows Elias to get an extra day rest, while keeping Iwakuma on his normal five-day rotation after starting Tuesday against the Phillies. The Mariners have an off day on Thursday in the middle of their current nine-game road trip.
McClendon said the reasoning to flip-flip Iwakuma and Elias was two-fold.
“I want Kuma against Boston, but we also have to watch Elias any time we can,” McClendon said. “An extra day just makes sense. He’s going into uncharted territory.”
Elias is second among Major League rookies in innings thrown going into Monday’s start against the Phillies and the Mariners are just bringing him back after a 10-day respite with Triple-A Tacoma to lighten his workload.
Iwakuma and James Paxton will pitch the final two games of the Phillies series on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Iwakuma now set to face the Red Sox on Friday through Sunday. McClendon lined up his pitching the same way last week against the Blue Jays and swept that crucial three-game series in Seattle.
Hernandez, Iwakuma and Young have combined to go 36-15 with a 2.54 ERA in 71 games so far this season. That’s the lowest ERA of any starting trio in the AL. The rest of Seattle’s starters are a combined 15-23.
Rookie outfielder James Jones was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on Monday by the Mariners, filling the opening created when right-hander Erasmo Ramirez was optioned to Tacoma after starting Sunday’s 4-2 win over the White Sox.
Jones, 25, returns for his third stint with the Mariners this year. He’s hit .258 with 38 runs and a team-leading 20 stolen bases, as well as eight doubles and four triples in 79 games.
Jones hit .257 with two doubles, two triples and four RBIs in eight games with Tacoma since being sent down. He’s hit .296 in 28 total games with the Rainiers this year.
His return gives the Mariners five outfielders, joining Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia, with Michael Saunders still on a rehab stint with Tacoma as he returns from a strained oblique muscle.
Ramirez threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday against the White Sox, but was taken out before becoming eligible for the win. He’s 1-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 13 starts for Seattle this year, including 0-1 with a 1.15 ERA in his last six outings.
Ramirez’s demotion leaves the Mariners with only four starting pitchers on their 25-man roster, but with an off day coming up Thursday, they won’t need a fifth starter until Tuesday, Aug. 19, in Philadelphia.
Ramirez won’t be eligible to return by that time as players must stay in the Minors a minimum of 10 days when they’re optioned, but left-hander Roenis Elias — who was optioned to Tacoma on Thursday after beating the White Sox for his ninth win of the season — would be able to rejoin the club at that point.
Ramirez will fill a spot that opened when the club pushed Felix Hernandez back to Monday to get an extra day of rest and then face a Blue Jays squad that is fighting Seattle for the final American League Wild Card berth.
Ramirez, 24, started the season in Seattle’s rotation before being sent down to Triple-A Tacoma after going 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts. But he’s since been called up a various times to make spot starts and this will be his fifth time back with the club, having posted a 1-5 record and 4.35 ERA in 12 outings.
Ramirez threw seven innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts in his most-recent return in a 3-1 loss to the Mets on July 22. He’s gone 3-5 with a 3.76 ERA in 12 starts for Tacoma.
“He threw the ball good and hopefully he has that type of command again,” McClendon said of the youngster’s last outing in Seattle. “If he does, we have a good chance of winning the game. He’s thrown pretty good down [in Tacoma]. Not great, but he’s held his own.”
The Mariners currently only have only four other starters on their 25-man roster, having sent Roenis Elias down after his last outing on Thursday. But Ramirez figures to just get the one spot start and return to Tacoma again as the club can go with a four-man rotation for now with an off day coming up Thursday.
Seattle won’t need a fifth starter until Tuesday, Aug. 19, in Philadelphia, at which point Elias will be eligible to return since he’ll have exceeded the 10-day minimum requirement for a player sent down to the Minors.
The Mariners will need to make a roster move before Sunday’s game to open a spot for Ramirez, with reliever Lucas Luetge the likely candidate to be sent down as the club currently has a nine-man bullpen. A position player will likely be added when Ramirez is optioned back to Tacoma after his Sunday start, with outfielder James Jones a potential candidate to return.
Mariners utility man Willie Bloomquist is awaiting word from a knee specialist after seeking a second opinion on his injured right leg, but the veteran infielder said he’s not anywhere close to returning after two weeks on the disabled list.
Bloomquist injured his right knee when stretching for the bag with his left leg while trying to beat out an infield single on July 23. The fact it was his back leg that got hurt on that play is just part of what has turned into a frustrating situation for the 36-year-old veteran.
“It was the other knee,” Bloomquist said. “That’s what made it even that much more puzzling. It has gotten better. I’m walking significantly better, but to even mention the word ‘jog’ or ‘run’ just hurts, so obviously something isn’t right.
“It’s not progressing the way it should be if it was just something very minor. The MRI didn’t show a ton wrong with it, other than wear and tear and some mileage. But there’s obviously something else going on. Once I get the results, I’ll move forward with Plan B.”
Bloomquist declined to get into the possibilities, but clearly his future is in jeopardy for the remainder of this season if anything more than a simple arthroscopic procedure is required.
“I’ve had both my knees cleaned out [in the past] and one was more significant. I had microfracture surgery on my left knee five years ago now. This is the opposite knee. I’ve been feeling great until this. So I’m not sure. We have an idea of what we’re going to do, but I want to wait until I get this guy’s opinion before I proceed.”
Bloomquist signed a two-year contract as a free agent last winter that pays him $2.8 million this year and $3 million in 2015. The move brought Bloomquist back to the franchise that drafted him, the team he played his first seven seasons in the Majors and to the region where he grew up in Bremerton, Wash.
To get hurt now, with the club competing for a playoff berth, is a blow Bloomquist is trying to swallow.
“It’s awfully frustrating, just due to the position we’re in as a team, the fact I was finally starting to feel pretty decent at the plate, swinging the bat pretty well,” he said. “But more than anything, this is the situation I’d always hoped for in a Mariners uniform, being in a pennant race, coming down to the stretch run and being a big part of it.
“So to have the rug pulled out from under me a little on that, for me personally it’s frustrating. And I also feel an obligation to my teammates to be on the field if I can. Right now I just can’t, so in a sense I feel like I’m letting them down a little. But on the other hand, I’m not going to sit here and let my sorrows bring what’s going on around here down because we’ve got a good thing going.
“I’m trying to be positive and help these guys along. If I see something that can help out, I’ll speak my opinion. There’s ways you can be positive and help the team even in the situation I’m in, so that’s what I’ve got to try to do.”
Bloomquist has hit .278 in 47 games for the Mariners while starting games at first, second, shortstop, third base, left field and designated hitter.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is juggling his pitching rotation so that every starter except Hisashi Iwakuma gets an extra day of rest in the upcoming homestand and a sixth starter will be added this Sunday.
The move lines up his top trio of Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Iwakuma to face the Blue Jays next Monday through Wednesday, but McClendon insists his motivation is not to set up his best pitchers against the team currently holding the final American League Wild Card berth with a two-game lead over Seattle.
“It’s the same as always,” McClendon said of his thinking. “Every chance I get to give them an extra day, I’m going to do it. I think we’ve done okay with it. Last time I checked, we had the best pitching in the American League. So why break something that’s not broken? Keep doing it. Keep resting them. I want to protect them. … It had nothing to do with Toronto.”
The Mariners stayed with their same rotation for the next three games – Felix Hernandez and Chris Young facing the Braves on Tuesday and Wednesday to open the nine-game homestand and Roenis Elias facing the White Sox in Thursday’s series opener.
But Iwakuma was jumped ahead of rookie James Paxton and will face the White Sox on Friday, followed by Paxton on Saturday. The Sunday starter against the White Sox is currently undetermined, with Hernandez, Young and Iwakuma then pitching the next three days against Toronto.
Sunday’s decision boils down to either bringing Erasmo Ramirez or Taijuan Walker up from Triple-A Tacoma or going with a bullpen day, with Tom Wilhelmsen given another spot start. That option would presumably depend on how much the current eight-man bullpen gets used in the next five games.
Walker, the club’s top prospect, gave up eight runs and eight hits in 2 1/3 innings in a rough start Monday in Albuquerque to put his Triple-A record at 4-3 with a 5.44 ERA in 10 games. McClendon said that was disappointing, but wouldn’t be a determining factor.
“That has nothing to do with it,” he said. “Obviously I’m disappointed in his numbers down there, but if he was the guy we’re going to bring, that wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
Ramirez won Saturday’s game in Albuquerque, allowing just two unearned runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings and is 3-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 11 Tacoma starts. He also threw seven innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts in a spot start for Seattle against the Mets on July 22.
“Erasmo is throwing fairly well,” McClendon said. “And he threw well when he was here. He gave us an opportunity to win games. I would say he’s definitely in the mix, so is Walker. The bullpen is an option, because we have eight guys. We’re just not sure yet.”
Mariners designated hitter Corey Hart was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right knee on Saturday, which opened up a 25-man roster spot for starting pitcher James Paxton’s return.
Paxton was activated from the 60-day disabled list and will start Saturday night’s game against the Orioles at Camden Yards. The rookie left-hander has been out since April 8 with a strained left lat muscle.
Right-handed pitcher Blake Beavan was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma to make room for Paxton on the 40-man roster. Beavan has been pitching for Tacoma the last few weeks after coming off the 60-day DL with a strained shoulder. He cleared waivers and will remain with the Rainiers, but no longer is on the 40-man roster.
Hart has hit .203/.278/.314 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 58 games this season after signing a one-year deal as a free agent. The two-time National League All-Star missed all of 2013 with the Brewers after undergoing microfracture surgery on both knees.
Hart’s playing time figured to diminish with the acquisition of designated hitter Kendrys Morales and a pair of outfielders in Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Hart missed six weeks earlier in the year with a strained hamstring and has hit .194 with three doubles and three RBIs in 21 games since his return.
The Mariners still have 13 pitchers on their 25-man roster, with Paxton filling out the rotation and eight relievers currently in the bullpen.
Looking to upgrade their outfield and add some right-handed balance to their lineup, the Mariners accomplished both on Thursday with the acquisition of center fielder Austin Jackson as part of a three-way trade with the Tigers and Rays.
Jackson, 27, rejoins Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon, his former hitting coach with the Tigers, with the Mariners sending infielder Nick Franklin to the Rays as their part of a deal that sent ace pitcher David Price to Detroit.
Jackson is expected to join the Mariners on Friday when they open a three-game series in Baltimore. He’s hit .270 with 25 doubles, five triples, four home runs and 32 RBIs this season for Detroit, where he’s played the past five years. He is earning $4 million this season and will be arbitration eligible one more year in 2015 before becoming a free agent in 2016.
The Mariners also acquired veteran Chris Denorfia from the Padres in exchange for Minor Leaguers Abraham Almonte and Stephen Kohlscheen prior to Thursday’s Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, giving them a near-makeover in the outfield for the final two months.
McClendon said Denorfia will play mostly right field, while Jackson figures to take over for rookie James Jones in center field and will likely hit leadoff. Dustin Ackley will remain in left field.
Jackson is a big addition for a Mariners club looking to make a run at the American League’s second Wild Card spot and supplement a pitching staff with the best ERA in the league.
“Defensively he’s probably one of the top three center fielders in all of baseball,” McClendon said of Jackson. “He gets those kind of jumps and he’s played in the biggest center field in baseball in Detroit. And offensively, this guy is pretty accomplished. He had close to 200 hits a couple years, he scores close to 100 runs, he’s good at the top of the order, he steals bases and he knows what he’s doing. He’s a veteran hitter.”
Jackson is a career .277/.342/.413 hitter and was second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010. McClendon worked with Jackson the past four years with Detroit and knows the youngster well.
“There were some growing pains along the way,” McClendon said, “but this kid is pretty good and he’ll be great in that clubhouse. I know his new teammates will love him. … I think we’re probably getting him at the optimum time. He’s swinging the bat extremely well right now.”
Adding both Jackson and Denorfia helps balance a Mariners lineup that has played primarily with an all left-handed hitting infield and only Corey Hart as a right-handed option in the outfield. Hart figures to either play first base or DH now, while Jones and Chavez will lose time in the outfield.
“Obviously we’re getting more right-handed, which is something we’ve been hoping for for quite a while,” McClendon said. “Not only are we getting right-handers, but experienced right-handed hitters that are two-way players that know how to handle situations. This is definitely an upgrade for us.”
Franklin, 22, was a late first-round Draft pick for Seattle in 2009 out of high school in Orlando, Fla. He started 102 games as a rookie for the Mariners last year, hitting .225 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs while playing mostly second base.
But with the offseason signing of Robinson Cano, Franklin lost that job and then was beat out by Brad Miller in a Spring Training competition for shortstop. He played 17 games in two brief call-ups with Seattle this season, hitting .128 in 47 at-bats.
Looking for a right-handed bat to help their offense, the Mariners acquired Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia on Thursday in exchange for two Minor Leaguers about two hours before the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline.
Seattle sent outfielder Abraham Almonte, who opened the season with the Mariners, along with right-handed reliever Stephen Kohlscheen to the Padres.
Denorfia will join the Mariners on Friday when they open a three-game series in Baltimore.
The 34-year-old is a career .275/.335/.397 hitter over parts of nine seasons with the Reds, A’s and Padres. Denorfia is earning $2.25 million in 2014 and will be a free agent after this season.
Denorfia had a .311/.378/.471 line against left-handed pitching with the Padres from 2010-13. His production against lefties has dipped this season (.253/.311/.326), though he could help a Mariners team that has had an all left-handed hitting outfield of Dustin Ackley, James Jones and Endy Chavez in recent weeks, though Corey Hart has begun playing some in right field since Kendry Morales’ addition at DH.
The 6-foot, 195-pounder hit .242 with one home run and 16 RBIs in 248 at-bats for San Diego this season.
Almonte, 25, opened the season as Seattle’s starting center fielder, but was sent down after batting .198 with one home run and eight RBIs in 27 games. He’s hit .267/.333./.390 with six home runs and 31 RBIs in 72 games for Triple-A Tacoma.
Kohlscheen, 25, is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 38 appearances while splitting the year between Tacoma and Double-A Jackson.
The Mariners currently only have four starters on their 25-man roster, but Paxton is traveling with the team after making his third Minor League rehab start on Sunday with Triple-A Tacoma. Manager Lloyd McClendon is waiting to see how Paxton bounces back after his normal between-start throwing session Wednesday, but all signs point to the 25-year-old getting the nod.
“In my mind, I’m ready to compete,” Paxton said when asked if he was prepared to start Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 southpaw has been on the disabled list since April 8 after straining the lat muscle behind his left shoulder during his second start of the season against the Angels. Paxton won that game and is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA this season and 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in six Major League starts since his debut last September.
After being shut down in late May following his initial rehab start, Paxton is pleased that everything is progressing smoothly this time.
“I was throwing all my pitches where I wanted to throw them today, my mechanics felt smooth, everything was coming out at the right time. It felt good,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. I’ve been waiting a long time. To be able go out there and throw as hard as I want and not have any pain at all or any tightness the next day, it feels really good.”
Paxton is surprised his return has taken this long, but has maintained a positive approach throughout.
“Honestly, I thought it would be a shorter rehab then it ended up being,” he said. “I had that little setback there that took some time. But I’m just happy to be back where I am now and feeling normal again.”