There seems to be some confusion as to why Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is going with a bullpen day tonight in the series finale with the Twins, with Tom Wilhelmsen making his first Major League start.
But McClendon’s reasoning is simple. He wanted to push ace right-hander Felix Hernandez’s final start before the All-Star break back one day so he could face the division-rival A’s instead of going Thursday on normal rest.
McClendon says there were several thoughts behind that decision, not the least of which was lining his best pitcher up against one of the team’s currently ahead of them in the playoff chase.
“It’s a combination of things,” McClendon said. “It gives him an extra day’s rest, it gives me my best pitchers against our divisional rival and it also sets thing up for the second half.”
The Mariners also will skip 21-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker’s normal start on Saturday, instead lining up veterans Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young to pitch the final two weekend games before the All-Star break. But McClendon said he’s not turning the series against Oakland into an all-or-nothing situation.
“I’m really not. I’m just doing what any other manager would do at the end of the first half,” he said. “You have an opportunity to put your best and most-experienced pitchers out there, you do it. Whether it’s Oakland or Pittsburgh or anybody else. You just put your best out there to finish up the first half. I learned a long time ago, you don’t put importance on one series. What happens if we get swept? The season is over? That’s why you don’t do that. My motto is take one day at a time and I mean that. It sounds cliché, but that’s the way I feel. One day at a time.”
But clearly the Mariners feel better about that day if Hernandez is on the mound. The 28-year-old is having the best first half of his 10-year career and was just named to his fifth All-Star game, where he’s a prime contender to be the starting pitcher for the American League.
Hernandez is 10-2 with a 2.11 ERA and has a shot to break a Mariners record for the lowest ERA prior to the All-Star break of 2.20 set by Randy Johnson in 1997.
Hernandez is 17-7 with a 2.64 ERA in 32 career starts against Oakland, including 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in three outings this year. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner downplayed the impact of having his start shifted so he could face the A’s once again.
“It’s good for me, but I just have to go out there and do my job,” Hernandez said. “It’s no different than any other game. I just have to give my team a chance to win. That’s all I’ve got to do.”
After sitting out the first two games of the Twins series, veteran Endy Chavez is back in the leadoff role for Wednesday night’s contest with the Twins as manager Lloyd McClendon looks to re-ignite an offense that scored just two runs in those two games.
Chavez is hitting .245 for the season, but he’s batted .281 over his last 18 games. And in the 19 games he’s led off this season, the 36-year-old is 10-for-19 (.526) in his first at-bat.
The Mariners are 20-9 when Chavez has appeared in a game and McClendon acknowledges the spark that the 170-pounder has provided.
“He’s a veteran guy that gives your lineup a little presence,” McClendon said. “He’s not a power guy by any means, but he’s done a nice job for us.”
The Mariners recalled right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor from Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday and optioned starter Taijuan Walker to Tacoma to set up their pitching prior to the All-Star break.
Pryor gives the Mariners a ninth reliever as they head into a Thursday game against the Twins with an expected all-bullpen start, though that hasn’t yet been announced by manager Lloyd McClendon.
But Pryor’s addition provides extra support in a bullpen that already was carrying an extra arm, while Walker will now be able to start on his normal rest in Tacoma to stay sharp over next week’s All-Star break.
The Mariners are currently listing a TBA for Thursday’s start, but will likely go with a group of relievers from a bullpen that leads the American League in ERA this season. Tom Wilhelmsen and Brandon Maurer are both capable of pitching three-inning stints.
McClendon has already announced that Felix Hernandez has been pushed back a day to start Friday’s series opener against the A’s. Walker had tentatively been projected to start Saturday, but his absence sets Hisashi Iwakuma up to start that day on normal rest and Chris Young to do the same on Sunday.
Pryor will be available for Wednesday night’s 7:10 p.m. game against the Twins. The 24-year-old is 2-1 with one save and a 4.91 ERA in 21 games for Tacoma after spending most of last season in the disabled list following surgery to repair a torn lat muscle.
Pryor appeared in 33 games with the Mariners from 2012-13 with a 2.97 ERA in 30 1/3 innings while averaging 10.09 strikeouts per 9.0 innings. He worked 7 1/3 scoreless innings over seven relief outings to start the 2013 season before spending the rest of the season on the disabled list.
Walker, the Mariners top prospect, went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in two starts since being recalled on June 30 after spending the first two months of the season on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder.
After dropping Kyle Seager out of the cleanup spot for the first four games following Corey Hart’s return from the disabled list, manager Lloyd McClendon had his All-Star third baseman back at No. 4 in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Twins.
Seager has hit .296 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 21 games batting cleanup this year with an .880 OPS. The Mariners won two of four games with Hart back in that spot, but the right-hander was just 2-for-14 (.143) and McClendon made the decision to drop him to sixth on Tuesday below Seager and Logan Morrison with another right-hander on the mound for the Twins in Phil Hughes.
“Obviously Seager hitting behind Robbie with a righty on the mound makes sense,” McClendon said. “LoMo is swinging the bat well. And it takes a little of the pressure off Corey as well out of that four-spot against a right-hander. Hopefully we can get him to relax a little more down there and maybe get a few more pitches to hit.”
The Mariners are 13-8 with Seager hitting fourth, 3-1 with Morrison there and 17-17 with Hart.
“Seager did a great job hitting there,” McClendon said. “So did LoMo. So I like those three guys lining up against the righty.”
McClendon said he’s still not ready to announce Thursday’s starter against the Twins, which opened up when Felix Hernandez was pushed back a day to face the A’s on Friday.
McClendon said he’ll likely reveal that decision on Wednesday. But while the skipper keeps saying he has options, all signs point to the club going with an all bullpen day and taking advantage of having eight current relievers — and an upcoming All-Star break after Sunday — to piece together a group to face the Twins.
Tom Wilhelmsen and Brandon Maurer are both capable of throwing three innings, which would then just leave a few more innings for the ‘pen to pick up if all went well. But McClendon would presumably want to see how much his bullpen is needed the next two nights before making that call.
Erasmo Ramirez would be the logical option from Tacoma, but he threw six innings and 79 pitches in his last outing Sunday for the Rainiers and thus would have to throw on just three day’s rest. Jordan Pries, another Tacoma pitcher who has been throwing well (5-5, 2.97 ERA in 15 starts) is starting Tuesday night in Salt Lake City, so he’s definitely not in consideration.
Jesus Sucre, a 26-year-old catcher who had a brief stint with the Mariners last season, was recalled from Triple-A by the club on Tuesday to fill the roster opening created after veteran backup John Buck was designated for assignment Monday night.
Sucre played eight games for Seattle between May 24 and June 4 last season before injuring his left hand. He hit .192 with three RBIs in 26 at-bats.
The Venezuela native is considered a strong defensive backstop and was batting .274 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 48 games this season for Tacoma. He has throw out 21 of 41 attempted base stealers and has gunned down 43 percent of attempted stolen bases in his Minor League career, which began with the Braves as a free agent in 2006.
Over his last 10 games, Sucre has hit .375 (15-for-40) with seven runs, five doubles, one home run and two RBIs.
Mike Zunino, the Mariners 2012 first-round Draft pick, is performing very well as the starting catcher. Zunino is an excellent defender while providing 13 home runs, the most of any backstop in the American League. But Zunino has played in 71 of the team’s first 89 games and it appears the club is looking for a stronger defensive presence with Sucre as the backup.
“We have a catcher in Triple-A that is turning the corner and doing a pretty darn good job,” manager Lloyd McClendon said Monday night in announcing Buck’s departure. “We just felt it was time. We think this move makes us a better club.”
Buck, 34, hit .226 with one home run and six RBIs in 84 at-bats in 27 games after signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Mariners. The Mariners have 10 days to trade, release or outright the contract of the 11-year veteran.
A Mariners team that has been one of baseball’s biggest surprises in the first half of the season was rewarded with two All-Star selections on Sunday as Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez earned invitations to the Midsummer Classic.
Cano was voted onto the team by fans, while Hernandez was voted in by the players.
The Mariners have two other deserving candidates in closer Fernando Rodney and third baseman Kyle Seager and both still figure as prime contenders to be added to the American League squad later if openings occur due to injuries or pitchers who can’t participate after throwing on Sunday prior to the game.
“Well deserved,” manager Lloyd McClendon said of his two All-Stars. “Those guys performed extremely well in the first half. That’s a nice honor. There’s some other things going on and hopefully we’ll get a couple more guys on there. We’ll see what happens.
“My closer is leading the league in saves. That’s pretty good. My third baseman’s numbers are as good as any third baseman’s in the league. They’re both deserving. This is a tough process. Somebody has to be left off, but hopefully it’s not them.”
Cano and Hernandez, two of the game’s brightest and best-paid stars, won’t have to play that waiting game, however. Cano became the first Mariners position player voted into the starting lineup since Ichiro Suzuki in 2010 as he won his fifth straight fan balloting at second base.
“It’s still special,” Cano said. “It’s a chance to show the fans who voted me to the All-Star team that it’s something I’m excited about and have in my heart, to get that voting now that I’m with a new team and they’re watching and appreciating what I’m doing here.”
Cano becomes just the third second baseman in AL history to be selected by the fans to start five consecutive years, joining Hall of Famers Rod Carew (six straight from 1970-75) and Roberto Alomar (five straight from 1996-2000). The two other AL second basemen with five or more straight starts are also in the Hall of Fame – Nellie Fox (1955-59) and Charlie Gehringer (1933-38).
Cano’s previous four starting berths came as a member of the Yankees. He’s just the fourth Mariners infielder ever elected by the fans, joining second baseman Bret Boone (2001), first baseman John Olerud (2001) and shortstop Alex Rodriguez (1997-98 and 2000). This will be Cano’s sixth All-Star appearance as he also was named as a reserve in 2006, though he was injured and didn’t appear in that game.
Hernandez earned his fifth All-Star bid – tying Randy Johnson for the most for a Mariners pitcher — and has a legitimate chance to be named the AL’s starter in the July 15 game in Minneapolis. The 28-year-old ace leads the AL in ERA at 2.11 and owns a 10-2 record with one start remaining next Friday against the A’s before the All-Star break.
Asked if he’d like to start the game, Hernandez just grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s not my decision,” he said. “If they say yes, I will.”
While Seager has put up outstanding numbers, he didn’t finish in the top eight in fan voting for AL third basemen.
Hernandez originally was on schedule to face the Twins on Thursday in the upcoming seven-game homestand, but McClendon said it makes more sense to have his standout face the division-leading A’s. Thursday’s starter against the Twins hasn’t been announced, but the club could either make it an all-bullpen day or recall Erasmo Ramirez or another pitcher from Triple-A Tacoma for that start.
“I just want to line up my best pitcher against Oakland,” McClendon said prior to Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox. “I want him pitching against them, so it made sense to make that adjustment. And it also gives him an extra day so he can pitch on a sixth day. All the stars just lined up and it made sense to do that.”
The move also would line Hernandez to pitch in Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis on three day’s rest and then be ready to open the second half on Friday, July 18, against the Angels in Anaheim.
“That also came into play,” McClendon said. “Not to say I’d set precedence for the All-Star Game over what we’re trying to accomplish, but when we’re lining things up, it so happens to be where if he did pitch an inning or two in the All-Star Game, it’s probably good for him because it keeps him sharp a little bit. All of that came into play when we decided to do this.”
But the bottom line?
“You want your best pitchers facing your division rivals,” McClendon said. “Those are the guys in front of us. I’d be foolish if I didn’t want Felix facing Oakland and Anaheim.”
McClendon said he won’t send rookie Roenis Elias or any of the other starters down to the Minors for a start over the All-Star break to keep them fresh, even though Elias – who starts Wednesday against the Twins – would be facing an 11-day break before pitching again the following week.
“I think the rest is probably good,” McClendon said of Elias’ situation. “He’ll play catch, like the rest of them will play catch over the break. Then when we come back he’ll be slotted right in.”
While the A’s made a big move to improve a team already leading the American League West on Friday night with the acquisition of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said his club needs to continue on its own path in what quickly has turned into one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
“Obviously those are two fine young pitchers and they did a nice job of pulling that one off,” McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game with the White Sox. “They’re a good team. Their record indicates that and they’ve gotten better. I don’t think that really changes anything as far as we’re concerned. We just have to continue going about our business and doing what we do.”
The Mariners have been one of baseball’s biggest surprises with their 47-39 start and they headed into Saturday’s game six games back of the A’s in third place in the AL West. The Angels (49-36) and Mariners currently are in position as the two Wild Card teams with nearly half a season to go.
“We’re playing good baseball and we’ve got a chance to do something and we’ll see how it works out,” said McClendon.
With the trade deadline looming on July 31, there will be plenty of speculation and some actual deals that take place in the coming weeks. The Mariners certainly would be interested in acquiring a right-handed bat to help their lineup, with White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo one possibility being mentioned already in the rumor mill.
McClendon said he and general manager Jack Zduriencik are always discussing possibilities, but he knows it’s not an easy process.
“Jack and I talk every day about ways to improve our club,” he said. “But you have to understand, it takes two to tango. It has to make sense. This organization has a bright future. We have a tremendous Minor League organization with a lot of good prospects. And I don’t think Jack or upper management is ready to sell the farm, so to speak, for rental players. And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t do that either.
“It has to be the type of trades that make sense for this organization and continue to move us in the right direction. Do we have challenges? Yeah. Are we trying to fix them? Yeah. But we’ll just see.”
McClendon said the number of teams still feeling they’re in contention makes for a tight trade market.
“The problem we have now is the second Wild Card. There are so many teams still involved and nobody is willing to make those trades,” he said. “So it makes it very difficult because teams consider themselves still in it and probably rightfully so. We have to be very intelligent about what we do and how we go about our business.”
The Mariners activated first baseman Justin Smoak off the 15-day disabled list on Friday and optioned him to Triple-A Tacoma, which means Logan Morrison will remain the club’s first baseman even now that Smoak is done with his rehab assignment.
Smoak, 27, has been Seattle’s starting first baseman since being acquired from the Rangers at the trade deadline in 2010, but the Mariners will stick with Morrison as he’s hit .267 with four home runs and 14 RBIs since coming off the disabled list himself on June 10.
“It’s tough, but we only have so many spots,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “LoMo has been playing extremely well and has been a big lift for us and Smoaky will continue to get at-bats there and get sharp. Listen, at some point he’ll be helping this club again.”
Smoak went on the 15-day disabled list on June 10 with a strained left quad muscle. He hit .204 (10-for-49) with five walks, three doubles, one home run and three RBIs in 13 rehab games. Position players can only stay on a Minor League rehab for 20 days, so the club would have needed to make a decision on Smoak by Tuesday.
Since Smoak had a Minor League option remaining, the choice was made Friday to option him to Tacoma so he can keep playing.
“He just needs to work on his skills,” McClendon said. “He’s a Major League player. He just has to bide his time there, stay healthy, get some at-bats and swing the bat good.”
Smoak got off to a good start this season, but struggled for the month before going on the DL and was hitting .208 with 12 doubles, seven homers and 29 RBIs in 63 games. He’s batted .225 with 74 home runs and 233 RBIs in five seasons in the Majors.
Hart will be available for Friday’s 4:10 p.m. PT game against the White Sox in U.S. Cellular Field after missing the past seven week with a strained left hamstring.
Hart, 32, hit .297 with three doubles, one triple, one home run and four RBIs in 10 rehab starts with Triple-A Tacoma. The former two-time National League All-Star was batting .209 with five home runs and 17 RBIs for Seattle before hurting his
hamstring while stealing a base in Minnesota on May 18.
Hart signed a one-year deal as a free agent with Seattle after missing all of 2013 with the Brewers following a pair of microfracture knee surgeries. He gives the Mariners a needed right-handed presence in the middle of their predominantly left-handed hitting lineup.
Veteran outfielder Endy Chavez has been filling most of the DH duties recently.
Gillespie, 30, hit .254 with one home run, five RBIs and nine runs scored in 71 at-bats over 34 games since being called up on in late April. The Mariners have 10 days now to trade, release or outright Gillespie’s contract to the Minor Leagues.
With Hart’s return, first baseman Justin Smoak is now the Mariners only remaining player still on a Minor League rehab assignment. Smoak has hit .204 (10-for-49) with five walks, three doubles, one home run and three RBIs in 13 games with Tacoma.
Position players can only stay on a Minor League rehab for 20 days, so the club will need to make a decision on Smoak by Tuesday after the team returns from its current road trip.