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.
As fan voting comes to a close on Thursday, Robinson Cano is pretty much assured of earning his sixth All-Star berth and become the Mariners first position player to make the Midsummer Classic since 2010.
But there’s another Mariner infielder knocking on that All-Star door, even if not everyone has heard yet. While Kyle Seager hasn’t even been in the top five in voting for the American League’s starting third baseman, the 26-year-old is putting up some of the best numbers in baseball in recent weeks.
“I think he should have strong consideration,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You could argue, his numbers are as good as any third basemen in the league. But listen, everybody can’t play in that game. It’s just the way it is.”
The Mariners know what they have in Seager, however, and Cano said his young teammate is just starting to tap his potential.
“He can be really good,” Cano said. “Trust me. What is it, 2014 now? You will see in the next three years how good he is going to be.”
Seager has been one of the best players in baseball the past month, hitting .409 in his past 17 games and winning his second AL Player of the Week honor this season.
Whether that surge vaults him onto his first All-Star team remains to be seen as American and National League rosters will be announced Sunday at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN for the July 15 game in Minneapolis.
Seager’s numbers continue climbing by the day as he’s now hitting .279/.350/.498 with 21 doubles, 13 home runs and 58 RBIs in 81 games going into Wednesday’s action. Oakland’s Josh Donaldson, the runaway leader in third-base fan voting, is batting .245/.325/.459 with 12 doubles, 18 home runs and 61 RBIs in 82 games.
Among all AL third baseman, Seager is first in extra-base hits, second in doubles, home runs, RBIs, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS, third in on-base percentage, hits and stolen bases and fourth in runs scored.
Donaldson has a 3.5 WAR, with Seager at 3.3. The next closest AL third sacker is Adrian Beltre at 2.2. Beltre is currently second in fan voting.
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites — online or on a mobile device — using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday at 8:59 p.m. PT.
The rest of the AL squad will be determined by a vote of the league’s players and by selection of All-Star manager John Farrell, with Mariners pitchers Felix Hernandez and Fernando Rodney also prime candidates to land berths along with Cano.
James Jones set a career high with a four-hit night in Monday’s 10-4 victory over the Astros and tied his best for stolen bases in a game with three as young center fielder continued his strong rookie campaign for the Mariners.
Jones became just the second player in Mariners history with four or more hits and three or more stolen bases in the same game, joining Ichiro Suzuki, who had four of each on July 20, 2004 against the Red Sox.
The only other player in the Majors to accomplish that feat this year is Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon, who had five hits and three stolen bases in an 11-inning game on May 3 at Miami.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said it’s just another step forward for the 25-year-old from Brooklyn, who has hit .289 with 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts since being called up on May 5. Jones was third in the Majors with 12 stolen bases in June.
“He’s doing great,” McClendon said before Tuesday’s game with the Astros. “He came in yesterday and knocked on the door and said, ‘Can I talk to you?’ and I thought something was wrong, a family problem or something. He said, ‘What can I do to get better?’ I told him after the game, ‘Keep getting four hits and three stolen bases. You’ll be good and I’ll be real smart.’
“This kid is special in that respect. He wants to be the best he can be and I don’t think he’s motivated by the dollar figures, he’s motivated to be the best player he can be.”
Jones has been a sponge since his arrival and McClendon said he’s been shadowing Robinson Cano and other veterans, picking their brains as well.
“I always feel like there’s something I can improve on,” Jones said. “Just being on the same page as the manager, I know I have some things personally I can improve. But getting his perspective, that’s a lot of experience. He’s seen everything. I just wanted to get his insight.”
As for Cano? Jones said he and others have been teaching him the value of studying film to pick up opposing player’s tendencies, and not just at the plate.
“I really didn’t know anything about looking at video,” Jones said. “I just looked at movement. But I realize now, being that I’m a base stealer, I could do times off how quick guys are to the plate and any trends they have when they’re going home or picking off, just studying and trying to pick up patterns.”
McClendon feels Jones could become a force on the basepaths as he learns more about opposing pitchers. For now, the coaching staff is supplying much of his knowledge and taking some of the decision-making out of his hands, though he’s usually on his own when it comes to stealing third.
“It’s more like a team effort, to be honest,” Jones said. [First-base coach Andy Van Slyke] helps me a lot over there. He usually points out keys to me before I even notice it, then I realize it after the fact. The coaching staff definitely helps with me adjusting to pitchers.”
Walker’s spot on the 25-man roster was cleared when rookie outfielder Stefen Romero was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma following Sunday’s game against the Indians.
Walker, 21, will make his season debut with Seattle in the same stadium where he made his first Major League start on Aug. 30 last season. He picked up the victory while allowing just one earned run in five innings against Houston.
Walker pitched against the Astros twice in his three starts with the Mariners late last season, going 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA.
The hard-throwing youngster was expected to open this year in the Mariners’ rotation, but Walker missed most of the spring with a sore right shoulder and spent time early this season on the disabled list before working his way through a pair of Minor League rehab assignments and then a stint with Tacoma.
Walker, the No. 5 overall prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, went 2-1 with a 4.11 ERA in six starts with the Rainiers and was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week on Monday for his four-hit shutout performance in his Tacoma finale against Oklahoma City last Tuesday.
Romero, 25, appeared in 51 games and hit .196 with 18 runs, six doubles, two triples, three home runs and 11 RBIs. Romero hit .263 (15-for-57) on the road and .154 (14-for-91) at Safeco Field. McClendon said the youngster will benefit from playing every day again in Tacoma.
”It gives him a chance to go down and get some at-bats,” McClendon said. “I think this young man has a bright future, but I know — having lived it and having done it — it’s the hardest job in baseball to play once or twice a week and expect to be productive. If he gets back here, he’ll be a better player for us as a result.”
The Mariners chose to keep right-handed reliever Brandon Maurer and go with a seven-man bullpen for now, which leaves just four position players on the bench each night. But McClendon said Maurer’s impressive performance – three scoreless innings with six strikeouts in two appearances – warranted the move.
“There are a couple factors that played into it,” McClendon said. “No. 1, our pitching has been our foundation and this gives us a chance to protect it a little and shorten up ballgames. We all know offensively we’re challenged a little, so it gives us a chance to shorten games when we can and protect guys and not overuse anybody. And this guy was pretty impressive coming out of the bullpen. It’s very hard to ignore what he did two times coming out of the bullpen, so we’d like to see more of him.”
Even without Romero, the Mariners still have five outfielders with Dustin Ackley, James Jones, Michael Saunders, Endy Chavez and Cole Gillespie, while Willie Bloomquist can also play there if needed.
“Bloomy can play all over the place and that obviously gives you a little more flexibility,” McClendon said. “Listen, it’s not like we’ve had this tremendous bench that we’ve run through every game. That factored in as well. In the American League, you have a DH. You don’t pinch hit that much and use your bench that much. And we don’t play the NL until Aug. 18, so it gives us a chance to give us a little more run with our pitching.”
Five-time All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano currently leads the fan voting at that position and three others Mariners – Felix Hernandez, Fernando Rodney and Kyle Seager – have put up the kind of numbers that should draw notice when MLB players fill out their own votes this weekend as well as when AL manager John Farrell completes the rest of the squad prior to the announcements on Sunday, July 8.
Hernandez seems a sure-fire selection for his fifth All-Star Game, but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon feels his ace should be more than just a normal participant this year after going 9-2 with a 2.24 ERA in his first 17 starts.
“He’s been fabulous,” McClendon said. “What more can you say about him? He’s been great. Heck, he should start the All-Star Game. If they want to win, they should start him.”
Hernandez’s primary competition to start the game seems to be Yankees rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka, who headed into his Saturday start against the White Sox with an 11-2 record and league-leading ERA of 2.11. Hernandez has the second-best ERA in the league at 2.24.
Hernandez threw a scoreless inning of relief in last year’s game, but couldn’t pitch the prior year after he’d started for the Mariners on the Sunday before the All-Star Game, thus only giving one day’s rest before the Midsummer Classic. This year, Hernandez is lined up to make his last pre-All-Star start on Thursday, July 10, which would put the July 15 All-Star Game in Minneapolis right on his next normal start day.
Rodney also seems strongly in the All-Star mix as he heads into Saturday’s games with a 2.30 ERA and 22 saves in 24 chances, second only to the 23 saves of the Royals’ Greg Holland among AL closers.
“I don’t see why not,” McClendon said when asked about Rodney’s candidacy. “He’s done a tremendous job, as well as Seager.”
Though Seager hasn’t yet been in the top five vote-getters at third base among results released so far, he has very comparable numbers to Oakland’s Josh Donaldson, who currently leads the balloting. Seager heads into Saturday’s game hitting .274 with 20 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, 55 RBIs and an .836 OPS. Donaldson is hitting .249 with 12 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs, 59 RBIs and an .807 OPS. Among all AL third baseman, Seager is first in triples and stolen bases, second in RBIs, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS, tied for second in home runs and third in hits and on-base percentage.
Fans can still cast their votes for starters at MLB.com by going online until Thursday, July 3, at 8:59 p.m. PT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.