Mike Zunino got the day off Tuesday as he rides an 0-for-14 streak at the plate, but the young catcher will be back in the lineup for Wednesday’s series finale against A’s left-hander Jon Lester and manager Lloyd McClendon continues expressing full confidence in the 23-year-old.
“Mike’s slugging percentage and performance against left-handers is better, so I’ll rest him [Tuesday] and get him back in there,” McClendon said after opting for Jesus Sucre in the middle game of the series.
Zunino’s batting average has dropped to .201, but he’s second on the club with 19 home runs, has 48 RBIs in 108 games and continues to solidify the Mariners play behind the plate.
“Mike Zunino is going to be an All-Star catcher in the very near future,” McClendon said. “From an offensive standpoint, we’re dealing with a young man in his second year in the big leagues. He’s got more at-bats in the big leagues than the minor leagues. That should tell you where he is. It’s almost unthinkable he could be in the big leagues after 300 Minor League at-bats.
“Is he going to struggle a little bit? Yeah. Are there going to be growing pains? Absolutely. Are there going to be times you wonder if he’s ever going to get a hit again? Yeah. He also has more home runs than any catcher in the American League. So he’s doing a few things right.”
After pushing Chris Young’s last start back an extra three days and then seeing him get knocked out after two-thirds of an inning Monday, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Tuesday he’s facing a decision now whether to keep the veteran right-hander in the rotation.
Young has been a big part of the Mariners success this season with a 12-7 record and 3.46 ERA in 27 games (26 starts), but he has had two rough outings in a row and McClendon wants to make sure he’s healthy as he’s passed 150 innings for the first time since 2007 after a series of injury-plagued seasons.
“He threw seven starts in the Minor Leagues last year. He’s in uncharted territory,” McClendon said. “I have to watch him and evaluate and make a decision.”
The Mariners have an option already lined up as rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker threw six innings of one-run ball in relief and 89 pitches Monday and could simply step in Saturday in Texas in Young’s next scheduled start.
McClendon said he talked to Young after the 35-year-old gave up five runs on four hits and two walks while getting only two outs in Monday’s 6-1 loss and he’ll observe the big right-hander’s long-toss and bullpen sessions and figure out his course of action.
“He assured me he felt healthy and I assured him I would do what is best for this club,” McClendon said. “I’m going to evaluate in the next day or two and we’ll make a decision. If I deem him 100 percent healthy, yes, he’ll start.”
Young said after Monday’s start that he feels fine physically.
“I feel good. I wouldn’t take the ball if I didn’t,” he said. “Every pitcher goes through a period during the season where they don’t throw the ball as well and mine is right now. I’m going to get through it, I’m going to keep working and I’m going to finish strong.”
But Young walked five batters in his prior start in Boston when he gave up seven hits and three runs while needing 93 pitches to get through just 3 2/3 innings and he issued two more walks and struggled with his location again before McClendon pulled him in the first inning after 36 pitches on Monday.
“He’s not a big velocity guy anyway,” McClendon said. “What concerns me is command with him because he’s not a power guy. When he starts to lose command, yeah, I’m a little concerned about it.”
Top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and veterans Justin Smoak and Corey Hart were among seven players added by the Mariners from Triple-A Tacoma on Monday as the 25-man roster was supplemented by September call-ups.
Teams are allowed to expand their roster for the final month of the regular season and the Mariners took advantage by returning Hart from his Minor League rehab assignment and recalling four others who’d been with the club earlier this year in Smoak, Walker, outfielder Stefen Romero and left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge.
The club also selected catcher Humberto Quintero and right-handed reliever Carson Smith, two players who had to be added to the 40-man roster in order to join the big-league club. To make room on the 40-man roster, utility man Willie Bloomquist was transferred from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL and infielder Jesus Montero was placed on the suspended list.
Two more pitchers – starters James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez – are expected to be added as well, but those two have to wait until Tacoma plays its final game on Monday since they were optioned to Triple-A last week. Players who have been optioned must spend 10 days in the Minors, or wait until that team’s season ends, before being recalled.
Paxton is scheduled to start Tuesday’s game in Oakland and he was sent down strictly to open a spot for Ramirez and then for outfielder James Jones as the Mariners did some roster maneuvering last week. Outfielder Michael Saunders is another who will likely be added, but he’s still recovering from an illness that has sidelined him for more than a week.
Walker went 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts for the Mariners this season, but has spent most of the year with Tacoma, where he went 6-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 14 starts after a late arrival due to shoulder issues.
Hart hit .273 with three home runs and five RBIs in nine rehab starts while returning from a bruised right knee that sidelined him on Aug. 1. The two-time National League All-Star has been trying to get healthy all year after missing 2013 with two microfracture knee surgeries. He’s hit .203 with five homers and 20 RBIs in 58 games for Seattle since signing a one-year deal in free agency last winter.
Romero and Smoak have both been swinging hot bats of late. Romero hit .390 with 21 runs, nine home runs and 27 RBIs in 25 games since being optioned to Tacoma on Aug. 1. For the year, he’s hit .358 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for the Rainiers after splitting time with Seattle.
Smoak has hit .447 with six doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs over his past 21 games for the Rainiers. Smoak was sent down by the Mariners in July after losing his starting job at first base to Logan Morrison, but he was back in the lineup Monday for Seattle’s series opener with the A’s in Oakland.
Luetge is another who has split time between Seattle and Tacoma this season, going 3-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 43 appearances for the Rainiers.
Quintero and Smith are making their first appearances with Seattle this year. Quintero, 35, is a veteran catcher who hit .290 in 73 games with Tacoma and gives Seattle some depth behind Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre. Smith, 24, earned his first Major League promotion after posting a 2.93 ERA with 10 saves in 39 appearances for Tacoma.
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez was officially recalled by the Mariners on Wednesday to start against the Rangers, with rookie southpaw James Paxton optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to open a spot on the 25-man roster.
Paxton isn’t scheduled to pitch again until next Tuesday in Oakland, at which point he can be recalled when rosters are expanded with September call-ups.
Ramirez has gone 1-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 13 starts for Seattle this season in five previous stints with the club as he’s split the season between the Mariners and Rainiers. The 24-year-old has a 1.15 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings over his last six starts in the Majors, though he’s given up 23 hits and 19 walks in that stretch.
Ramirez opened the season as the Mariners No. 2 starter with Hisashi Iwakuma on the disabled list and Chris Young and Roenis Elias still unknown commodities. He won his opener against the Angels on April 1 with seven innings of two-run ball, but hasn’t had a big-league victory since.
The Nicaraguan native pitched well recently in Tacoma, going 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA his last 10 starts and 3-1 with a 2.28 ERA in four August outings.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “The command of the fastball is a lot better, his secondary stuff is more crisp. I don’t think he’s pitching away from bats any more. He’s making quality pitches with two strikes. He’s come a long way. This is a very deserving opportunity for him.”
Ramirez’s spot start, combined with Thursday’s off day, allows the rest of the rotation to get an extra two days of rest before their next starts and the start of the September stretch run.
“This move was made more because of what he’s done and how he’s pitched at Triple-A,” McClendon said. “It afforded us the opportunity to back the other guys up. I’m really happy for him. I think he’s come a long way.”
McClendon didn’t rule out a scenario where Ramirez stays in the rotation going forward if he pitches well.
“That’s very possible. Absolutely,” he said. “I would say it’s Plan B. It’s definitely in effect. We’ll see how things go. But it’s a definite option and one we’d be very comfortable with.”
Paxton definitely will remain in the rotation and will slide right back in when he’s recalled next week. The 25-year-old has been outstanding when healthy and threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday. Paxton is now 7-1 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 career starts and 4-1, 1.83 ERA in seven outings this season.
The only other Major League pitchers to debut since 1944 with at least seven wins and an ERA lower than Paxton’s 1.71 in their first 11 career starts were Steve Rogers (7-3, 1.28 ERA in 1973 with the Expos) and Phil Niekro (8-3, 1.20 in 1967 with the Braves).
Jack Zduriencik, whose Mariners are contending for their first postseason berth since 2001, has received a multiyear contract extension as executive vice president and general manager, the club announced on Tuesday.
Zduriencik is in his sixth season as GM, and the Mariners enter Tuesday’s game against the Rangers with a record of 71-59, having already equaled last year’s win total with 32 games remaining. Exact terms of the extension were not disclosed.
“Since Jack took over after the 2008 season, we have been building toward our ultimate goal, which is to win the World Series,” said Mariners president Kevin Mather. “We believe, with the efforts of Jack and his staff, we are now well positioned as an organization to be a contender for many years to come.”
Lloyd McClendon, hired by Zduriencik last offseason to replace Eric Wedge as field manager, said he’s been thrilled by the working relationship that has quickly developed.
“I think it’s well deserved,” McClendon said of the extension. “Jack has done a tremendous job of putting this club together and making the necessary acquisitions to make us better. I just think he’s done a tremendous job all around, starting with Spring Training, and getting the pieces that we needed to be competitive. Hopefully this continues to build.”
Zduriencik has been in Major League Baseball for 35 years, previously working with the Mets, Dodgers, Pirates and Brewers before joining Seattle prior to the 2009 campaign.
Zduriencik is the eighth GM in Mariners history and is credited with helping rebuild the club’s farm system and developing a young core that is now maturing at the Major League level.
McClendon said the club’s Minor League system is one of the best in baseball, something he knew before he even took his job last winter.
“I didn’t need to be here to know what they’ve got,” McClendon said. “This is one of the finest farm systems in all of baseball. I don’t think you’ll find anybody that would tell you different. We’re tremendously talented in the middle of the field, we’ve got some tremendous arms in the Minor Leagues and certainly some real nice bats at the lower levels. I’m excited about what the future holds for this club. I said it in my initial press conference, this is a golden era for the Seattle Mariners and it’s only going to get better.”
When Wedge resigned last year after failing to get a desired multiyear extension prior to the end of a 71-91 season, he blasted Zduriencik in a newspaper report and called the organization “dysfunctional,” a point McClendon wryly made light of on Tuesday.
“We talk every day on a lot of different subjects,” he said of working with Zduriencik. “We’re probably as dysfunctional as dysfunctional can get. It’s a pretty good relationship.
“Seriously, and this is a real important point, when you talk about dealing with someone on a daily basis, the one thing you have to understand is the first thing you need to do is agree that sometimes you’re going to disagree, to make your organization better. It’s not always about ‘I love you’ and ‘You love me.’
“There are some days when he leaves this office with a bandage over his head and other days I leave the office with a bandage over my head,” McClendon said. “But our relationship is one of mutual respect. I think he’s tremendous at what he does and I hope he’s proud of the job I’ve done for him. It’s pretty good.”
While the Mariners have used September call-ups to give young players Major League exposure and experience in recent years, manager Lloyd McClendon doesn’t see that happening this season when rosters can be expanded beyond the normal 25 in another week.
Seattle will definitely add some players, but only those who can contribute to the team as it makes a push for its first playoff berth since 2001.
“It’s been my experience, particularly with teams with a chance to advance to the playoffs, you bring up guys that can help you win games,” McClendon said Sunday. “I don’t think you venture out too much into bringing young guys just to get them experience because there isn’t going to be any experience to get.
“We’re playing meaningful games and you want your veteran guys out there performing in high-level, high-pressure games. For me, I don’t see bringing up a lot of young players just to get them experience.”
As for the notion of youngsters benefitting just by being in the big-league environment, even if they’re not playing? McClendon doesn’t buy that theory.
“I don’t see how, other than just sitting on the bench and watching the speed of the game,” he said. “The only way you gain and it becomes valuable is if you’re competing, in my opinion. Just to sit and watch, I don’t see how it helps much.”
Thus it’ll be interesting to see who the Mariners add once Tacoma’s season ends on Sept. 1. Outfielder James Jones (pictured) seems a certainty, given his speed could be a valuable asset off the bench in late-inning situations. First baseman Justin Smoak and outfielder Stefen Romero would provide depth at their positions, while outfielder Michael Saunders is an obvious addition once he gets healthy and Humberto Quintero is a possibility as an extra veteran catcher.
On the pitching side, Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker are potential additions if the club wants to carry an extra starter or have an extra arm in an already loaded eight-man bullpen.
Players must be on the 25-man roster or disabled list on Aug. 31 in order to be eligible for post-season play. However, players not on the 25-man roster or DL as of Aug. 31 can still be added to playoff rosters as replacements for a player who is on the DL and can’t play, though only a position player can replace a position player or a pitcher be used to replace a pitcher in that scenario.
The Mariners currently have three position players on the DL in Willie Bloomquist, Corey Hart and Saunders.
BOSTON – Mariners rookie reliever Dominic Leone grew up in Norwich, Conn., about a 90-minute drive from Fenway Park, and had about 15 family members in attendance when he picked up the win in his first appearance at the historic stadium in Friday’s 5-3 win over the Red Sox.
Leone pitched a scoreless eighth for Seattle, then saw his record bumped to 6-2 on the year when the Mariners rallied for five runs in the ninth.
“It was special,” Leone said. “It was awesome to run out, especially when they’re playing Sweet Caroline. It was a moment I’ll never forget. And to pull out the win at the end was huge.
“I came to tons of game here as a kid,” he said. “And every time was awesome. It’s why this is Fenway Park. People have those type of memories.”
Leone has a very personal memory now as the 22-year-old induced Dustin Pedroia into a ground out, walked David Ortiz and then struck out Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig. He admits his heart was pumping a little extra trotting out for his 45th appearance of the season.
“Especially facing the middle of their lineup, guys I was just watching a few years ago,” he said. “It was extra motivation knowing there was some family in the stands and I wanted to put on a good show for them. It was just a great night.”
Capped off, of course, by one of the more dramatic finishes in club history with five runs in the ninth.
“Hats off to those guys,” Leone said. “Endy with a great at-bat. Dino with a little bloop. LoMo starting it off. Ack rounding third. It was just an all-around great effort by those guys. I get the ‘W’ in the books, but it’s those guys who took it home.”
“I would say yes. This is it. It really is,” McClendon said. “We have to up our game in a lot of different ways, both mentally and physically, because they all get tough from here on out.”
The Mariners entered Friday’s play a half game behind the Tigers in the race for the American League’s final Wild Card spot as they pursue the club’s first postseason berth since 2001. First up comes a Boston team that has beaten Seattle nine straight times at Fenway dating back to 2012.
The Red Sox come in with a 56-71 record, but McClendon isn’t taking them lightly and has lined up his top three pitchers — Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma — for the weekend set.
“The record is not indicative, but the Boston Red Sox are a very dangerous club and we need to play good,” McClendon said. “We need to get out of the gates and play good this first game and see what happens after that.”
If the Mariners do make the playoffs, they’ll have earned it, given 21 of their remaining 36 games are on the road and they still have seven games against the AL West-leading Angels and six against the runner-up A’s, as well as four against contending Toronto and three against a Nationals team that leads the NL East and is currently on a 10-game winning streak.
The Mariners close out with 18 of 27 games on the road in the final month, which would be even-more imposing if not for the fact Seattle has one of the top road records in the Majors at 34-26. That is something McClendon figures is in his team’s favor as it deals with a difficult closing stretch.
“No question about it, because if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to have to do it on the road,” he said. “We’ve got nine home games in September. I don’t know who made that schedule, but that’s pretty tough. But it is what it is and we’ll deal with it. We’ve done it all year with the travel and the scheduling. We don’t talk about it. We don’t make excuses about it. We just go out and do it. It’ll be no different in September.”
Robinson Cano, one of the few Mariners who has been through the heat of a pennant drive, agreed that things start to change about now.
“This is the time you don’t want to take a day off because everything means a lot,” said Cano. “You must win right now and you have to be ready every single day. This is why in the offseason I work really hard, because this is the time the team really needs you. This kind of situation, whatever you have done in the past doesn’t count. It’s gone good so far and hopefully we continue playing the same way we’ve been playing.”
Cano believes his new team is ready for the challenge.
“Of course,” he said. “Whatever is in my hands I can do to tell them or show them or talk to them, I’ll do it. A lot of people doubted that we’d be there this far into the season, but we’ve got a bunch of guys that have worked really hard and go out there and play hard. We’ve got a good chemistry.”
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.