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Felix cleared to start on schedule Saturday

FelixMarch4Mariners ace Felix Hernandez will make his next start on schedule Saturday against the Rangers at Safeco Field, despite a sore quadriceps muscle in his right leg that cut short his last outing.

Hernandez threw a flat-ground session on Wednesday, but manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t bother waiting for that workout to proclaim the 29-year-old fit for duty this weekend when the Mariners return home.

“My conversation with Felix is he’s fine,” McClendon said. “He’s ready to go.”

That means the Mariners will stay in order with their initial rotation. Fifth-starter J.A. Happ is lined up for the series opener on Friday against new Rangers right-hander Yovani Gallardo at 7:10 p.m. PT.

Hernandez will take the hill on Saturday at 6:10 p.m. PT against right-hander Colby Lewis, with James Paxton drawing the series finale Sunday at 1:10 p.m. PT against Ross Detwiler in a duel of lefties.

Hernandez was taken out of his last start after five innings when his right leg tightened up. He stretched the quad muscle while reaching for a throw to first on a double-play earlier in the game on a pop up caught by Mike Zunino after he’d hustled over to cover the bag when Zunino and first baseman Logan Morrison pursued the ball in foul territory.

The A’s racked up eight hits and three runs off Hernandez in his five frames and he departed with a 3-0 deficit, but Seattle came from behind for an 8-7 win in 10 innings. Hernandez is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his first two starts.

The Rangers series kicks off a nine-game homestand for Seattle. If the Mariners continue staying in rotation, Hernandez will then pitch Friday, April 24, against the Twins before facing Texas again on the road on April 29.

• Zunino jammed his left wrist on the game-ending tag attempt at the plate in Seattle’s 7-6 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday, but said he felt fine on Wednesday and was back in the lineup for the series finale. Zunino has played in all of Seattle’s first nine games, including eight starts, but McClendon said the young catcher will be fine with the team having two off days in the next eight days.

McClendon waiting to see on Felix’s next start

FelixDrillsFelix Hernandez is on schedule to make his next start Saturday, but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon will wait to see how his ace’s tender right quadriceps muscle feels in a throwing session on Wednesday before finalizing Seattle’s pitching plans for this weekend’s series against the Rangers at Safeco Field.

Hernandez was removed after five innings in his last start on Sunday in Oakland after feeling some tightness in his leg. He also twisted his ankle in the first inning of that start and said that affected his performance as he allowed three runs and eight hits with just one strikeout in his second start of the season.

“He played catch yesterday and felt fine,” McClendon said prior to Tuesday’s game with the Dodgers. “He’ll throw tomorrow and we’ll make a decision. I don’t foresee any setbacks, but I just want to cover myself.”

Hernandez indicated he still feels some soreness in the quad muscle, which continues receiving treatment.

“My ankle is fine,” he said. “My ankle is better than my leg.”

But the 29-year-old said he fully expects to pitch on Saturday and McClendon indicated that was his plan as well “as we speak,” though he noted the Mariners have off days the next two Thursdays, which provides some flexibility if he needs to skip a start with any of his hurlers.

If the Mariners stay in rotation, J.A. Happ will pitch Friday’s series opener against the Rangers, followed by Hernandez on Saturday and James Paxton on Sunday. Hisashi Iwakuma would open the Astros series on Monday, followed by Taijuan Walker on Tuesday. But with the off day Thursday, it would be possible to skip Hernandez and move everyone else up a day and still keep them on a normal five-day rotation.

Hernandez has been one of baseball’s most durable pitchers over the course of his career. He’s started 30 or more games for nine years in a row and pitched 200-plus innings each of the last seven seasons.

Wilhelmsen placed on 15-day DL with elbow issue

Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday with a hyperextended right elbow, with fellow right-hander Dominic Leone recalled from Triple-A Tacoma to take his place in the bullpen.

Wilhelmsen, 31, has appeared in two games this season and given up five hits and two runs in 2 2/3 innings. His DL move is retroactive to April 11, which is the day after his last appearance in Oakland, so he’ll be eligible to return on April 26.

Wilhelmsen played a critical role in the Mariners’ bullpen last season when he was 3-2 with one save and a 2.27 ERA in 57 appearances, including two starts. He held opposing batters to .171 batting average in 79 1/3 innings.

Leone will be in uniform and available for Monday night’s series opener against the Dodgers. The 23-year-old made one appearance with Triple-A Tacoma, throwing a scoreless inning with one strikeout on Friday in El Paso.

The 23-year-old also opened last year in Tacoma before being called up the first week to replace Hector Noesi. He wound up posting an 8-2 record and 2.17 ERA in 66 1/3 innings over 57 appearances as a rookie, but didn’t make the Mariners Opening Day roster this season when Carson Smith was selected for the final bullpen spot.

Happ helps stabilize Mariners early rotation

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsA Mariners rotation expected to be one of baseball’s best had some rough times in its first turn, but veteran J.A. Happ helped solidify things with a strong outing in Saturday’s 5-4 victory over the A’s.

Even with Happ throwing a quality start with 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball, Seattle’s starters had the fifth-worst ERA among Major League Baseball’s 30 teams with their 5.45 ERA after the first outing for each of the five hurlers.

That number was hiked by Taijuan Walker’s rugged debut and a shaky start by Hisashi Iwakuma after Felix Hernandez and James Paxton opened the season with strong showings. Both Iwakuma and Walker aloewd five runs in their first two innings alone, so Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon was relieved when Happ – his fifth starter – threw six scoreless frames with just three hits and had retired 13 in a row until the A’s pieced together four singles and a pair of runs in the seventh.

“That was a much-needed start, I can tell you that,” McClendon said. “Our bullpen had been a little bit overworked to that point. For him to come out and give us those innings was special for us.”

Happ didn’t have a very good Cactus League showing in his first impression with Seattle since being acquired from the Blue Jays, but as evident by Walker’s rough start after a fabulous spring, those things don’t much matter once the regular season begins. And Happ was extremely effective when it counted.

“I thought his secondary stuff was very good,” McClendon said. “He threw some good changeups, good breaking balls. His fastball was 92-93. He did a nice job. I think they found holes [in the seventh]. His velocity didn’t fade. He made quality pitches. That’s just baseball.”

• McClendon said he hasn’t decided – or at least wasn’t prepared to say – who will sit out on Monday through Wednesday when the Mariners play an Interleague series at Dodger Stadium. But don’t expect Nelson Cruz to miss playing time. Though Cruz was expected to play primarily at designated hitter, he’s started four of Seattle’s first six games in right field because of Seth Smith’s sore groin muscle and will likely be there against the Dodgers as well.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say Cruz will be in the lineup,” McClendon said.

• McClendon wasn’t pleased with reliever Danny Farquhar’s pitch selection on Saturday when he gave up two runs on two hits in the eighth to cough up Seattle’s lead after Cruz’s three-run homer provided a 4-2 advantage. But the skipper said part of that was on catcher Mike Zunino and said he’d talk to both players about their approach against some of the A’s hitters.

“Yesterday was not Danny-like,” McClendon said on Sunday. “He’s much better than that. That’s why he was in there in that situation and I expect more. And he’ll give me more. He’s a better pitcher than he showed yesterday.”

• Smith was back at DH in Sunday’s series finale with the A’s as McClendon continues to be careful with the 32-year-old as he returns from the sore groin. Smith hasn’t had any trouble swinging the bat though as he’s hit .833 (5-for-6) in his two healthy games so far. Here’s the full lineups for Sunday:

AsLineupApril12

McClendon says Cruz will get plenty of outfield time

CruzNelsonSTThe idea that Nelson Cruz would be almost strictly a designated hitter for the Mariners is quickly changing and manager Lloyd McClendon said Saturday he’s always been comfortable with having the big slugger in the outfield.

Cruz has been penciled in as the starting right fielder in three of Seattle’s first five games, with Rickie Weeks starting twice there and Seth Smith getting the call on Saturday as he returned from a tight groin muscle that had sidelined him since Opening Day.

The 34-year-old Cruz has started 802 games in the outfield in his 10-year Major League career and 119 at designated hitter, so he’s certainly no novice with the glove.

“Really, right field is his position,” McClendon said. “He played right field quite a bit in Texas and DH’d in Baltimore because of their outfield situation. I don’t have any second thoughts or trepidations about putting him in the outfield at all. I just need to be smart about when I put him out there and make sure he stays healthy throughout the year. I’ll use the DH spot to do that.

“But to say he’s our full-time DH, I never said that and never committed to that,” said McClendon. “And he’s not. I like the idea of being able to rotate that DH spot to give guys a day off and when somebody is nicked up like Smith. Cruz will play his share of outfield.”

Even last year with the Orioles, Cruz played 70 games in the outfield and 89 at DH. That combo seemed to work just fine as he led the Majors with 40 home runs and Baltimore won the American League East at 96-66.

McClendon feels Cruz is best in right field, where he spent most of his eight seasons with the Rangers.

“He’s fine out there,” McClendon said. “I’ve always known he’s a good outfielder. Having said that, he’s not a Gold Glove outfielder. He’s not going to run in the gaps and make diving catches. But he catches the balls he’s supposed to catch and every now and then he’ll mess one up. He’s an adequate outfielder.”

Smith will play right field a lot against right-handed pitchers, but McClendon wanted to be careful with him Saturday as he returns from the sore groin. Justin Ruggiano will also see playing time in right field this year against lefties, but he’s also capable of playing center or left field.

— Jesus Sucre became the last Mariner to get into the lineup when he was penciled in at catcher for Saturday’s game. McClendon said he’d like to play starter Mike Zunino about 130-135 games this season, which means Sucre will start about once a week.

— McClendon said he’s not concerned about his team after Friday’s 12-0 defeat left the Mariners 1-3 out of the gate.

“My team is fine,” he said. “We didn’t look good last night. You usually don’t look good when you lose 12-nothing. They’re fine. They’ll bounce back. They’re resilient and they’ll be ready to play today.”

Here’s today’s full lineups:
AsLineupSat

Seth Smith likely to return to lineup on Saturday

SmithSethSTSince his sensational debut for the Mariners on Opening Day, right fielder Seth Smith has been sidelined by a tight groin muscle. But the 32-year-old said Friday he’s feeling better and manager Lloyd McClendon indicated he’d like to have Smith back in the lineup Saturday for the second game of a three-game set with the A’s.

Smith went 3-for-3 with a triple and two doubles in Seattle’s first game of the season on Monday, the first Mariner in club history to record three extra-base hits on Opening Day. But he awoke the following morning with some tightness and hasn’t played since.

“He’s doing better,” McClendon said prior to Friday’s series opener at O.Co Coliseum. “My hope is he’ll be able to play tomorrow.”

Smith wouldn’t likely have been in the lineup Friday regardless, given the A’s were starting southpaw Drew Pomeranz. He’ll be used primarily in a platoon role against right-handers and Seattle faces righties in its next three games.

“I think we’re good,” Smith said after hitting in the cage Friday afternoon.

The eight-year Major League veteran said the soreness affects more than just hitting.

“That specific area, everything you do is incorporated in it,” he said. “Whether it’s running, throwing or hitting, you just have to see where you feel it and where you don’t. Right now, I don’t feel it, so it’s looking good.”

Smith was back at O.Co Coliseum for the first time since spending two seasons with the A’s in 2012-13, making the postseason both years. Now playing for his fourth Major League club after being acquired in December from the Padres for reliever Brandon Maurer, he said it’s a fun part of the big-league journey.

“I’ve been back to Colorado. I’ll go back to San Diego [this year],” Smith said. “It’s fun to come back. No big deal. You miss people, so you say hello and then play a baseball game. I had great memories here.”

— Rickie Weeks will make his first Major League start in left field in Friday’s game after playing DH the previous two games. Weeks worked in left field all spring after playing second base for 11 years in Milwaukee.

— McClendon also had Willie Bloomquist at shortstop on Friday, his first action of the season, and indicated Jesus Sucre would likely start at catcher on Saturday. Sucre is the only position player who has yet to start a game.

“You don’t want them to sit too long,” McClendon said. “My feeling is all your work in Spring Training goes down the drain if you sit too long. You lose your timing and everything else.”

Here’s the full lineup for Friday’s series opener:

A'sline

Seth Smith sidelined by tight groin muscle

SmithSethGettyMariners right fielder Seth Smith was sidelined by tightness in his groin muscle, manager Lloyd McClendon said prior to Wednesday night’s game with the Angels at Safeco Field.

Smith went 3-for-3 with two doubles and a triple in his Seattle debut on Monday’s Opening Day victory, but didn’t play on Tuesday and was again out of the lineup for the series finale.

“We’ll give him another day,” McClendon said.

The Mariners have Thursday off to travel to Oakland, where they’ll begin their first road series on Friday. McClendon said he hoped Smith would be available to play against the A’s, though Oakland is starting southpaw Drew Pomeranz on Friday so the left-handed hitting Smith likely won’t be in the lineup that game regardless since he was acquired primarily as a platoon option against right-handers.

The A’s do have right-handers scheduled to start Saturday and Sunday.

Smith wasn’t expected to play on Tuesday either when the Angels had lefty C.J. Wilson on the mound, but he was noticeably absent when Seattle faced right-hander Matt Shoemaker on Wednesday.

McClendon instead went with right-handed hitting Nelson Cruz in right field, with fellow right-hander Rickie Weeks taking Cruz’s spot at designated hitter. So essentially Weeks took Smith’s place in the lineup while Cruz moved into his spot in the field.

“It’s the old saying, ‘Next man up,’” McClendon said.

Smith, 32, was acquired from the Padres in a December trade for reliever Brandon Maurer after hitting .266 with 31 doubles, five triples and 12 home runs in 136 games for San Diego last season.

Paxton eager to take mound for Game 2

PaxtonBPAs the Mariners prepare for their second game of the season tonight against the Angels, the big story line figures to be left-hander James Paxton as the 26-year-old takes the hill in the No. 2 spot in the rotation.

Paxton has loads of talent and could be a key figure in Seattle’s success this season, but he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent over the long haul. He’ll certainly face a familiar foe in tonight’s 7:10 p.m. start as of his 17 career starts, four have come against the Angels.

Paxton was 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA vs. the Halos last year, including two wins the first seven days of the season before he went on the disabled list for nearly four months with a shoulder issue.

“We know each other pretty well now,” Paxton said. “Then it becomes baseball. It’s the game within the game now, the chess match. They know what I’ve got. I know what they’ve got. So it makes it fun.”

Paxton has never lost at Safeco Field, where he’s 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA in seven starts over the past two years. He’s now slotted into the No. 2 spot in the rotation as manager Lloyd McClendon wants to give opposing hitters a different look by breaking up right-handers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma with the lanky lefty.

“I’m just going to go out there and pitch whenever he gives me the ball,” said Paxton. “I kind of saw the way it was shaping up. They had room to make changes and stuff, so I didn’t know for sure. I was just going to be ready whenever he gives me the ball.”

Paxton got a late start to spring due to a bruised forearm and then went 1-2 with a 7.84 ERA in three Cactus League starts. But Hernandez didn’t have good spring numbers either and Paxton said he’s not concerned with his Arizona outcome.

“I didn’t get the results, obviously,” he said. “But I felt like I got myself ready. I feel like my arm is where I need it to be to take that next step up here. I know it didn’t look like it, but I felt like I threw some good pitches and my stuff is where I want to be right now. Once I get out on the mound and it’s for real, it’ll change a little bit.”

Mariners announce their Minor League rosters

Outfielder Alex Jackson, the Mariners top-ranked prospect by MLB.com and the team’s first-round Draft pick last June, will begin the season with Class-A Clinton, while 2013 first-round pick D.J. Peterson opens the year in Double-A Jackson as the club announced its Minor League rosters on Tuesday.

Jackson, 19, played 23 games in the Arizona Rookie League last year after signing as the sixth overall selection as a high school senior out of San Diego.

Peterson, 23, split last year between High-A High Desert and Jackson and will open this year with the Double-A club. He’s the Mariners’ No. 2 ranked prospect on the MLB.com rankings. Also on the Jackson squad is outfielder Gabby Guerrero (No. 5), the 21-year-old nephew of Vladimir Guerrero. He spent all of last season with High Desert.

Here are the MLB.com rankings of the Mariners prospects.

The Triple-A Tacoma roster is loaded with top prospects and Major League veterans. Infielder Ketel Marte (No. 3) and infielder/outfielder Patrick Kivlehan (No. 4) will open the season with the Rainiers, both getting bumped up after ending last season with Jackson.

Among the Tacoma players with Major League experience with the Mariners are left-handers Roenis Elias, Lucas Luetge and Joe Saunders, right-handers Dominic Leone and Mark Lowe, outfielders James Jones, Stefen Romero and Franklin Gutierrez and first baseman/DH Jesus Montero.

Catcher John Baker, an eight-year Major League veteran, also will start the year in Tacoma, along with top catching prospect John Hicks.

Left-hander Danny Hultzen, who missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, will open the season on the disabled list as he continues getting work in extended Spring Training in Arizona. The plan for Hultzen is to continue building his arm strength before assigning him to a Minor League club. Veteran lefty reliever Joe Beimel is also pitching extended Spring Training after re-signing with Seattle last week.

The four Mariners full-season Minor League squads – Tacoma, Jackson, Bakersfield and Clinton – open their seasons on Thursday. Bakersfield has replaced High Desert as the Mariners’ High-A affiliate this year. The short-season A Everett squad opens in June, along with the Arizona Rookie League club and Dominican Summer League squad.

Here are the full rosters:
MinorRosters

Leone sent down, replaced by Carson Smith

LeoneDomMariners reliever Dominic Leone, one of the key members of last year’s outstanding bullpen, was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma on Friday in a surprising move after it appeared the right-hander had made the final roster.

Carson Smith, another right-hander who was optioned to Triple-A last Sunday, was recalled to take Leone’s place.

Leone, 23, was 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 66 1/3 innings in 57 appearances last season as a rookie. But he struggled this spring and had a 12.86 ERA with 17 hits allowed in seven innings over nine outings and was hit hard in his most-recent appearance on Wednesday.

“I’ve had a lot better days, I’ll tell you that,” Leone said after exchanging hugs with many of his teammates as he packed up his locker. “This is one of the toughest days I’ve had. Last year was different because I kind of came in not expecting anything and when they optioned me down, it was disappointing. But not like this. Not after the season I had last year.

“I understand I didn’t have the greatest of springs, I’ll always have stuff to work on. But it’s tough when it kind of blindsides you like that.”

Leone started last year in Tacoma as well, but was called up before ever pitching in a game with the Rainiers to replace Hector Noesi the first week of the season. Thus he understands things can change quickly, both for good and bad.

“That’s just the decision they made and I will obviously respect it,” he said. “I’ll go down and I’m going to work my tail off even harder than I did last year and hopefully come back up to a team that is on a streak, kicking butt, and I can just jump right back in that ‘pen.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon said the decision was made to bring back Smith after Leone continued struggling this past week. He gave up three runs on four hits and a walk while getting just two outs on Wednesday against the White Sox.

“I think the world of the young man,” McClendon said. “He just wasn’t throwing very well. He needs to get some things straightened out. In good conscious, I just couldn’t take him north with me.

“There are a lot of things that go into it. This isn’t something that just happened overnight. As a manager, you have a certain amount of loyalty to players, particularly when they pitched so well for you the year before. But it just was such a rough spring that we felt we had to make this move.”

Smith, 25, was outstanding for the Mariners as a September call-up last season when he didn’t allow a run in 8 1/3 innings over nine outings with 10 strikeouts and just two hits and three walks. He put up a 4.15 ERA this spring in 8 2/3 innings with nine hits, five walks and eight strikeouts.

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