Lloyd McClendon didn’t want to make any big official pronouncement about his final 25-man roster on Wednesday. But after the Mariners traded right-hander Erasmo Ramirez to the Rays on Tuesday night, the pieces of the puzzle were all in place.
“Look at the board,” the second-year skipper said, nodding toward an office wall showing Taijuan Walker among his five starters and rookie Tyler Olson as the last name in the bullpen.
“Write what you see,” McClendon said. “I like my team.”
It’s been a foregone conclusion that Walker earned the fifth starter role since Roenis Elias was sent down to the Minors last week, but McClendon refused to finalize that news as long as Ramirez remained in the picture. But once Ramirez was dealt to Tampa Bay for left-hander Mike Montgomery, there was no hiding the inevitable.
With one start remaining on Saturday, Walker has gone 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA in six Cactus League games. Opponents have hit .111 against him and he’s struck out 24 with just four walks in 25 innings. Clearly the 22-year-old pitched his way onto the team with a dominant spring.
“Sure he did,” McClendon said. “He performed extremely well. The rotation’s not set, but he’s on the club.”
The rotation order won’t come for a few more days, but Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ and Walker are lined up to pitch in succession, each on five day’s rest at this point. Regarded as one of baseball’s up-and-coming right-handers for the past several years, Walker will be with the club on Opening Day for the first time in his young career.
“Obviously it feels good,” Walker said. “But now it pretty much starts all over again. I’m still competing, because Elias is going to be down there waiting for his turn to come up the moment I slack off. I just have to make sure I stay focused.”
Olson’s status is still a little tenuous. Since he’s not on the 40-man roster, the Mariners haven’t finalized his promotion. When they do, it’ll be a huge moment for a 25-year-old who has never pitched above Double-A ball. He’s set to become the only non-roster invitee to crack the 25-man group that will head to Seattle for Monday’s Opening Day.
Like Walker, Olson did everything possible this spring as he’s yet to allow an earned run in 12 2/3 innings over 10 appearances with eight hits, four walks and 15 strikeouts.
“He’s shown a lot of poise and the ability to get left-handers and right-handers out,” McClendon said. “He holds runners, works fast, throws strikes, fields his position. He’s done a great job. I’ve said every year I’m looking for surprises and he’s a surprise. Obviously we haven’t broke camp yet and he’s a non-roster guy, but he’s done a nice job.”
Olson, who grew up in Spokane, Wash., and was drafted out of Gonzaga University in the seventh round in 2013, isn’t taking anything for granted. As of Wednesday morning, he’d yet to tell his family that they’ll be able to drive the four hours from eastern Washington to see him pitch to start this season.
“I haven’t told anyone,” he said. “I’ve been hoping and working hard for this for a long time. So being able to call the parents and hopefully confirm that it is true and things are working out is going to be a lot of emotions.”
In other Wednesday news:
• While the Mariners are off Thursday, Hisashi Iwakuma will make his final spring tuneup in a 7 p.m. PT game against the Padres Triple-A club on the Padres’ back field at the Peoria Complex.
McClendon said it will be a relatively short outing for Iwakuma, with the same situation for J.A. Happ on Friday night and Walker on Saturday against the Rockies.
• McClendon took the same approach with Hernandez’s 47-pitch outing when he lasted just 1 2/3 innings on Tuesday against the Indians.
“I could easily have sent him to the bullpen to throw more, but I didn’t want to,” McClendon said. “It was hot out, he was out of whack. It would serve no purpose. He’s ready to go. He could throw 100 pitches come Monday and it made no sense to send him out there.”
• Seth Smith is back in the lineup for Wednesday’s game with the White Sox after sitting out three games with a sore ankle. Here’s the full lineups for the 1:05 p.m. game at Peoria, which will be televised live by ROOT Sports and MLB.TV.
Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez was traded to Tampa Bay on Tuesday for left-hander Mike Montgomery as Seattle acquired a former first-round Draft pick in return for a pitcher who was out of Minor League options.
Ramirez, 24, was one of Seattle’s top pitching prospects in 2012 when he was first called up and he’s started 35 games for the Mariners over the past three years, but has struggled with his consistency the past two seasons.
Montgomery also was a well-regarded prospect for the Royals as a first-round selection in 2008 as a prep pitcher out of California. The 25-year-old was dealt to the Rays in 2013 as part of the Wil Myers-James Shields blockbuster and has yet to reach the Majors.
Montgomery was on the Rays’ 40-man roster and still in Major League camp competing for a relief role. He has one Minor League option remaining.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder was 10-5 with a 4.29 ERA in 25 starts for Triple-A Durham last year, where he was a mid-season All-Star and helped lead the Bulls to the International League Championship Series for the second consecutive season.
Montgomery was rated by MLB.com as one of the top 50 overall prospects in baseball as recently as the 2012 season and was currently rated the Rays’ No. 27 prospect.
Montgomery was used as a reliever for the first time this spring. He pitched six games out of the bullpen for the Rays in Grapefruit League action this spring, posting a 2.38 ERA with three earned runs, two walks and nine strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.
Ramirez put up a 3.36 ERA in 16 games, including eight starts, with Seattle as a 22-year-old rookie in 2012 and opened 2013 in the starting rotation. He went 5-3 with a 4.98 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) that year, then was 1-6 with a 5.26 ERA in 17 games (14 starts) last year.
The Mariners had no opening for Ramirez in their deep rotation and bullpen this spring and risked losing the Nicaraguan hurler if they sent him to the Minors since he was out of options and thus would have been exposed to waivers.
Ramirez’s departure leaves the Mariners with five starters in camp — Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, J.A. Happ and Taijuan Walker.
The Rays have been hit with several injuries in their rotation and have been seeking starting help.
Mike Zunino has caught more games and innings than any catcher in the Cactus League this spring, but manager Lloyd McClendon says both the 24-year-old and his pitching staff is benefitting from the early work load.
“He came in in great shape and there’s some things we wanted to see him do this spring and he’s starting to do them,” McClendon said Tuesday. “Taking charge of the staff, running that staff, getting them to do the things he needs them to do to be successful during the course of a game. Sometimes you have to pull the whip out. He’s done all those things. I think it’s taken him the whole six weeks to get all of that out of the staff. That’s why he’s played as much as he’s played.”
Zunino, who turned 24 last week, continues to impress both at the plate and behind it. The third overall selection in the 2012 Draft has hit seven home runs, second to the Cubs’ Kris Bryant among all Major Leaguers this spring and has the highest slugging percentage in either the Cactus or Grapefruit League at .896.
A year ago he hit two home runs and batted .239 with five RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage in 46 Cactus League at-bats. Going into Tuesday’s game against the Indians, Zunino was batting .354 and also leading the team with 13 RBIs in 48 at-bats.
McClendon said the youngster will get Wednesday’s game off before the entire team is off Thursday prior to Seattle’s final two Cactus League games. The skipper said his young catcher has made huge strides and handled the heavy load without issue.
“I don’t think he was ready to do it last year. He was trying to get his feet wet his first full year in the big leagues as well,” McClendon said. “I think he’s learned this staff. He knows he can be successful in this league and the maturation process has brought him to this point in his career.
“He’s been on the fast track from the start and he hasn’t disappointed,” said McClendon. “It’s mind blowing, if you really think about it, to think how far he’s come so fast.”
In other news Tuesday:
• Right fielder Seth Smith worked out and took batting practice Tuesday, but didn’t play in the Cactus League game for a third straight day as he recovers from a sore right ankle that he twisted sliding into home plate on Saturday. McClendon said it’s just precautionary and he has no concerns about Smith being ready.
• The Mariners have Thursday off, but Hisashi Iwakuma will throw in a Minor League game against the Padres Triple-A club that day in his final tuneup for the regular season. The game will be on the Padres’ side of the Peoria Complex.
James Paxton is starting Wednesday against the White Sox in Peoria, J.A. Happ makes his final spring outing Friday night against the Rockies in Peoria and Taijuan Walker will close out Cactus League play on Saturday against the Rockies at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.
• The Mariners will fly to Seattle on Saturday night and have a workout planned for Sunday evening at Safeco Field prior to Monday afternoon’s opener with the Angels. The Sunday workout is not open to the public.
• Willie Bloomquist slid awkwardly at second base in Monday’s game against the Angels, but got up and dusted himself off and remained in the contest in another challenge for his right knee. Bloomquist says he’s fully recovered from microfracture knee surgery last August and McClendon has seen enough this spring to agree.
“He’s fine,” McClendon said. “He’s passed all the tests. In my mind, he’s a go.”
• Rickie Weeks is slated to start Tuesday afternoon’s game against the Indians at first base, his first time in a game at that position in his Major League career. McClendon is looking for backup options to Logan Morrison and said Weeks has worked well at that position the last week in practice.
Here’s today’s full lineups at Goodyear for Felix Hernandez’s final spring outing. The game will not be televised.
If you’re curious about Seattle’s likely Opening Day lineup, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon acknowledged Monday’s starting nine against the Angels in Cactus League play at Peoria Stadium will likely mirror what he goes with in a week when the same two teams square off at Safeco Field to kick off the regular season.
“If we face a right-hander, yeah, that most likely would be my Opening Day lineup,” said McClendon, who has previously been reluctant to pin down an exact batting order.
With the Angels planning to start right-hander Jered Weaver on April 6, that means McClendon will trot out his left-leaning group with Seth Smith in right field and Dustin Ackley in left. Against southpaws, right-handed hitting Justin Ruggiano and Rickie Weeks will expect to see more time in those spots.
In other Monday news:
— Miller was back in action after missing four days with a nasty stomach flu. The 25-year-old shortstop said he couldn’t keep any food down until Monday morning and lost some weight, but was glad the illness hit when it did and not a week later.
“I’m back and ready to go,” he said. “It sucked. But better now and get a week to get back to full strength. I’m excited to get back out there.”
— McClendon said Weeks likely will play a game at first base before the end of camp after practicing more there more in recent days as he continues expanding his utility role. “His work has been going very well. I almost pulled the trigger today, but we just want to wait and see.”
— Weeks’ transition to left field – after playing second base his entire pro career – has been slowed somewhat by the fact no one every seems to hit fly balls his direction when he’s been in the outfield during Cactus League games.
“Darndest thing I’ve ever seen,” McClendon said before Monday’s game. “This is week six and I’m still waiting for him to catch a fly ball. Are you kidding me? It’s driving me nuts. He goes through the work and gets all his work done with [outfield coach Andy Van Slyke], then he gets out there and, no fly balls. Ackley’s out there, there’s a ton of fly balls. We’ll see. Maybe today is the day.”
— There is a small memorial to Victor Sanchez, the Mariners pitching prospect who died Saturday in Venezula, outside the team’s Peoria office this morning. Sanchez was a popular player in Seattle’s Minor League clubhouse and I wrote this story last night about outfielder Jabari Henry dedicating his special day to his former teammate.
Here is the memorial:
With just a week remaining until Opening Day, the Mariners moved closer to their final 25-man roster on Sunday by cutting nine players from Major League camp, including left-handed starter Roenis Elias.
The moves bring Seattle’s roster to 29 players. The final 25-man squad must be set by Saturday, in preparation for the April 6 opener against the Angels at Safeco Field.
Elias was the only one of the nine players sent down Sunday who was on the 40-man roster, so he was officially optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. That decision clears the way for Taijuan Walker to be Seattle’s fifth starter.
The other eight were non-roster invitees who have been re-assigned to Minor League camp – pitchers Mark Lowe, Jordan Pries, Kevin Correia and Joe Saunders, infielders Shawn O’Malley and Carlos Rivero, catcher John Baker and outfielder Endy Chavez.
Elias was the toughest call there as a lefty who started 29 games and went 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA last season. But the Mariners have better pitching depth this spring as all starting candidates have stayed healthy and Walker has been outstanding with 18 scoreless innings in Cactus League play.
Manager Lloyd McClendon still wasn’t ready to announce Walker as his official fifth starter since Erasmo Ramirez – who is out of Minor League options – also is one of the remaining 29 players in camp. But that announcement is inevitable now that Elias has been sent down.
“He hadn’t pitched well this camp,” McClendon said. “He needs to go down and get his innings and get consistent. The one thing I impressed upon him, I’m a big Elias fan. I think everybody knows that. I pushed hard for this young man to be on this club last year. But he’s got to get better. He’s got to improve and command of the strike zone is one of them, particularly with the fastball.”
The Mariners are pleased to have a starter of Elias’ caliber just a phone call away in Tacoma.
“I think we all would agree that for us to go through this season with five starters, it’s just not going to happen,” McClendon said. “At some point he has to be prepared to come back here and help this club. But at the same time, he has to be pitching well so he can come back and help us. It was tough, but it was a decision we all thought was best for him and this organization at this particular time.”
Of the other moves, Jesus Sucre beat out Baker for the backup catcher job and rookie Tyler Olson remains the lone contender for the second lefty spot in the bullpen with Saunders being sent down.
The remaining 29-man roster still includes shortstop Chris Taylor and left-hander Edgar Olmos, both of whom will open the season on the disabled list. A decision also figures to be upcoming with Ramirez, since he’d need to clear waivers.
So the one remaining roster choice appears to be the last bullpen spot. Olson, a seventh-round Draft pick out of Gonzaga in 2013, is still competing for the second left-hander role in the bullpen behind Charlie Furbush.
Olson, 25, was a starter for Double-A Jackson and High-A High Desert last year and topped all Mariners’ Minor Leaguers with 12 wins, 127 strikeouts and 148 1/3 innings pitched.
McClendon will be going with a seven-man bullpen to open the season and it’s possible the Mariners could go with just one lefty reliever, given they’ve got six returning right-handers who all pitched well last season in Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith. That final bullpen decision still awaits.
“We’re real close,” McClendon said. “I would suspect in next day or so we’ll get everything cleaned up.”
Victor Sanchez, one of the Mariners’ top pitching prospects, died in Venezuela from head injuries sustained in a boating accident in his home country six weeks ago.
The Mariners confirmed the news Saturday night after MLB.com initially learned of Sanchez’s death from his agent, Rafa Nieves. Sanchez was 20 years old and had been in the Mariners’ Minor League system since signing as an international free agent at 16.
“The Seattle Mariners are saddened to learn of the passing of Victor Sanchez,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Victor was a tremendous young man and a wonderful teammate. He was a very talented player who was close to fulfilling his promise as a Major Leaguer. He will be missed by his teammates, and the coaches and staff at the Mariners.
“The entire Mariners organization sends our deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time,” Zduriencik said.”
Sanchez has been in critical condition in a Caracas hospital since being hit in the head by a boat propeller while swimming off the shore of the eastern coastal city of Carupano on Feb. 13, just days before he was to fly to Arizona to take part in the Mariners’ Minor League mini-camp prior to the start of Spring Training.
Sanchez had been unconscious in an induced coma since the incident and underwent brain surgery after sustaining a double skull fracture and brain hematoma.
The 6-foot, 255-pound right-hander was ranked as the Mariners’ 11th-best prospect by MLB.com last year. Sanchez went 7-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 23 starts for Double-A Jackson, where he was the second-youngest player in the Southern League.
Mariners infielder Patrick Kivlehan, who played with Sanchez the past three seasons in the Minors, told MLB.com after the accident that the big youngster was well liked by all his teammates.
“When I first met him he was a pretty quiet kid who kind of kept to himself,” said Kivlehan, who was five years older than Sanchez after being drafted out of college. “But he kind of broke out of his shell over the years. That’s the one thing you noticed. He was very mature for his age.
“He wasn’t like the normal young kids that come in with a lot of money and most of them need to be humbled a little bit and grow up a little,” Kivlehan said. “He kind of had that from Day One. He knew what he wanted and was very humble, quiet and soft-spoken kid. But very funny also.”
Sanchez was regarded as one of Venezuela’s top young pitching prospects when the Mariners signed him for a reported $2.5 million bonus in 2011 as a 16-year-old out of Rio Chico, Venezuela. He made 15 starts with Class A Everett in 2012, going 6-2 with a 3.18 ERA, then posted a 6-6 record and 2.78 ERA in 20 starts for Class A Clinton in 2013 before being promoted to Double-A last season.
Sanchez threw a no-hitter in his 27th professional start in 2013 for Clinton, striking out eight over nine innings and allowing just one base runner on a hit batter.
“It’s pretty devastating to a lot of us,” Minor League catcher Tyler Marlette said in the initial aftermath of Sanchez’s accident. “He’s a big dude – we’d always call him Shrek – with a lot of humor. He’s always pleasant, always positive with everybody. Just a fun-loving guy and he’d be the first one to buy you food or do anything for you. It’s a shame that it happened to him. It just reminds you how important life is and that it’s not just about baseball. It was a big eye opener for all of us.”
Left-hander pitcher David Rollins, a Rule 5 Draft pick who was in the hunt for a final roster berth with the Mariners, has been suspended 80 games for testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, in violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Rollins will remain the Mariners’ property during his suspension, though general manager Jack Zduriencik said the club is awaiting guidance from MLB due to his Rule 5 status.
“It was a very bad judgment and I’ve been regretting it ever since,” Rollins said. “It’s been tough on me and my family and I just want to apologize to my fans, my family, the Seattle organization and everybody else I’ve disappointed.”
Rollins has allowed just one run and five hits in eight innings of Cactus League play this spring and seemed to have the inside track on Seattle’s opening for a second left-hander in its bullpen.
“It’s tough,” said the 25-year-old Texan. “I’ve thought about it and it’s been heavy on my heart. It hasn’t been easy for me the past couple days. I’m glad I got an opportunity to show I think I can compete, but I just made one bad decision and it’s costing me.”
Rollins will come off Seattle’s 40-man roster and remain in Arizona working out during his suspension, but won’t be allowed to compete on any team during that time other than in extending Spring Training.
“It’s a shock,” Zduriencik said. “I’m disappointed in David. It’s an error in judgment. The young man made a mistake. He’s not the first and probably won’t be the last. It’s unfortunate. He was in good position how he was pitching and where he was with the ballclub, but now you just have to recalculate. We’ll stand by him and help him through this. There’s a lot still to be determined, how his Rule 5 status all plays out. We don’t have all the answers right now.”
Rollins said he took the banned substance when he returned from Winter Ball in Puerto Rico, hoping to help speed up the recovery from some soreness.
“It was a banned substance and a dumb mistake on my part,” he said. “At the end of the day, I have to live with my decision.”
The suspension leaves former Gonzaga standout Tyler Olson and veteran Joe Saunders as the two left-handers still battling for the second lefty spot in the bullpen, though manager Lloyd McClendon has said he’ll only go with one lefty if necessary to field the best bullpen possible.
Rollins said he won’t appeal the decision.
“I’m just accepting it and trying to move forward,” he said.
Rollins pitched Double-A ball for the Astros last year, going 3-4 with one save and a 3.81 ERA in 27 games (12 starts) with Corpus Christi. The Mariners, who’d drafted Rollins twice but failed to sign him while he was at San Jacinto College in Texas, selected him in the Rule 5 Draft in December and were giving him an extensive look this spring.
If a Rule 5 selection isn’t kept on the 25-man roster, he must be put through waivers and then offered back to his former team if no one selects him. But in Rollins’ case, he goes onto a suspended list and will remain with Seattle through the duration of that process.
“It’s a young man that made a mistake and we’ll do our very best to help him through all this,” Zduriencik said.
While much of the focus on Mariners pitching this spring has swirled around the fifth-starter competition between Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias, there is an even deeper and heated competition for relief spots on a club that posted the lowest bullpen ERA in baseball in 2014.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said Thursday that the only certainty is that Fernando Rodney remains the closer after racking up a Major League-leading 48 saves last season. Even after trading promising right-hander Brandon Maurer and not re-signing veteran lefty Joe Beimel, the Mariners have a surplus of quality candidates for their seven-man ‘pen.
Which is why when McClendon was asked about right-hander Yoervis Medina (pictured above), who has allowed just four hits and one run in 8 1/3 innings of Cactus League action and has been an integral part of the bullpen the past two years, he offered up a stern warning.
“He hasn’t pitched well to this point in the spring,” McClendon said. “We had a couple bullpen sessions with him and hopefully we’ll see better from him today. He did a nice job for us last year. Everybody in our bullpen did a nice job for us. But one thing I expressed to the guys in our bullpen, Rodney is etched in stone. Nobody else. Whether you like it or you don’t, it’s just a fact.”
Medina has a 2.81 ERA in 129 appearances the last two years, but the Mariners also have right-handers Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Dominic Leone (pictured), Carson Smith and veteran non-roster invitee Mark Lowe in the mix behind Rodney. Charlie Furbush is the No. 1 lefty, with youngsters David Rollins and Tyler Olson and non-roster veteran Joe Saunders still competing for the second lefty role.
McClendon isn’t committed to keeping two southpaws on a seven-man bullpen, however.
“I just want to make sure we take the best possible team north,” he said. “Whether that’s a left-hander or right-hander [for the last spot], I don’t know yet. It’ll all play out real soon. I would like to think we’re dynamic enough that we don’t just close the box and say it has to be a second lefty. Would I like a second lefty? Yeah. But it doesn’t just necessarily have to be a second lefty.”
Neither Wilhelmsen nor Leone have very good numbers this spring, but both are a little behind due to minor health issues. Wilhelmsen started a little late because of a sore back, while Leone didn’t throw for about a week recently due to shoulder stiffness.
McClendon said both are playing a little catch up, but should be fine in accumulating enough work to be sharp by the start of the season. That’s an important factor as those two are the primary candidates for multiple-inning roles, which can be critical early when starters aren’t going as deep into games.
Leone was a key rookie addition last year when he posted a 2.17 ERA in 66 1/3 innings after making the jump from Double-A. This year’s promising rookie appears to be Smith, a hard-throwing 25-year-old who has been extremely impressive since being called up last September, while Olson and Rollins have been outstanding this spring as young lefty candidates.
Seattle went with an eight-man ‘pen for the second half of last season with excellent results, but that extra arm requires going with one less position player on the bench. McClendon’s desire to have more left-right options in the outfield – with Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano splitting time in right and Dustin Ackley and Rickie Weeks in left – it’s not going to be possible to go a man short on the bench.
So, yes, the bullpen competition is tight and McClendon sees that as an excellent sign of progress.
“I think this organization is at a point now where we don’t have to take guys to the big leagues out of necessity,” he said. “We’re at a point now where we take guys because they’re the best guys to take. And there is a lot of competition. We can probably say we’ve got nine to 10 legit people for a seven-man bullpen. So decisions are going to be tough.”
Lloyd McClendon has endorsed center fielder Austin Jackson as a leadoff hitter ever since Seattle acquired him from the Tigers at last July’s Trade Deadline, but the Mariners skipper is toying with trying Rickie Weeks in that role at times this season as well.
McClendon had Weeks leading off and Jackson batting second in Wednesday night’s Cactus League game against the Cubs, the second time he’s tried that combination this spring. And it probably won’t be the last.
“I like Rickie as a leadoff hitter, too,” McClendon said. “Austin led off yesterday, Rickie is leading off today. I’m just playing with things. That’s all.”
Weeks won’t likely play every day, as he’s slated to split time in left field with Dustin Ackley while Jackson is the full-time center fielder. But McClendon is intrigued by the possibilities and feels Jackson is an excellent situational hitter, capable of moving runners and doing damage in the No. 2 spot as well.
“Every player is different. They all have their strengths and weaknesses,” McClendon said. “Rickie has close to 3,000 at-bats in the leadoff spot and 100 home runs. There’s a lot to like about him there. Austin is a speed guy that hits a lot of triples and doubles. They both bring a lot to the table.”
Of Weeks’ 1,026 career starts for the Brewers over the past 11 years, 623 came in the leadoff spot and he produced a .256/.353/.445 slash line in that role with 125 doubles, 22 triples and 100 home runs. He also started in the No. 2 spot 131 times, with a .232/.325/.385 line.
Jackson filled a leadoff role almost his entire career in Detroit, with 622 of his 695 starts coming there. Jackson’s career line while leading off is .276/.337/.405.
McClendon has talked much of the spring about Weeks being one of his No. 2 candidates in the order, along with right fielders Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano. But he figures this is a good time to look at the options.
“I’m just playing with things and seeing what makes things tick a little better,” he said.
Ackley started in the No. 2 spot in 48 games last year and batted .233, though his OPS was .712 thanks in part to nine of his 14 home runs coming in that position. But McClendon prefers him at the bottom of the lineup.
“He’ll hit down in the order,” McClendon said. “I won’t make that mistake again. He was in a comfortable position and swinging very well and very productive in the bottom half of the order. To hit in the top half takes a different mindset and in some ways it probably messed with his psyche a little bit. And I knew that going in. I was just trying to find a spark.”
Here’s the full lineup for Wednesday’s 7:05 p.m. PT game against the Cubs, which will be televised live on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV.
With less than two weeks until Opening Day — 13 days to be exact — manager Lloyd McClendon is trotting out a lineup that looks like a pretty good replica of the group that likely will face Angels right-hander Jered Weaver on April 6 at Safeco Field.
Not that McClendon was admitting to such.
At his morning meeting with the media, the second-year skipper playfully rejected any notion that Tuesday’s starting nine had any significance and claimed bench coach Trent Jewett — who is the one who fills out the lineup card each day — had put together the batting order.
“I don’t even know what the lineup is,” McClendon said. “It’s his handwriting. Technically he made the lineup out. Go ask him.”
McClendon said he hasn’t decided on an Opening Day batting order yet, but pressed further on whether he liked Tuesday’s collection, he couldn’t help but concede.
“Yeah, I like that lineup,” he said.
There aren’t any big surprises there. McClendon has said from the start of camp that Austin Jackson is his leadoff hitter. He likes either Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano or Rickie Weeks in the No. 2 spot, depending on who is playing that day. The 3-4-5 order of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager has been much talked about since Cruz signed in December.
The skipper has also said he’ll likely bat his shortstop ninth, whether it was Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. And with Taylor sidelined, Miller indeed is penciled in the No. 9 spot today.
That leaves the 6-7-8 spots and Logan Morrison, Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley makes for a left-right-left combo there. Those spots could certainly get shuffled, but I’d guess that’s the preferred slotting if they’re all hitting as expected.
Ackley hit second in 50 games last year, but his .233 batting average and .277 on-base percentage in that slot led McClendon to prefer him lower in the order when possible. If Ackley produces consistently for a good stretch, I could see him getting bumped up in the order at some point. But McClendon’s current preference is Smith, who has a career .347 on-base percentage compared to Ackley’s .309.
One obvious note: Today’s starter is J.A. Happ, not Felix Hernandez. Happy likely opens the year as the No. 4 starter, though McClendon said he won’t likely define his pitching rotation until three or four days before the start of the season.