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McClendon: Rotation juggling is to keep starters fresh

Iwakuma, HisashiMariners manager Lloyd McClendon is juggling his pitching rotation so that every starter except Hisashi Iwakuma gets an extra day of rest in the upcoming homestand and a sixth starter will be added this Sunday.

The move lines up his top trio of Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Iwakuma to face the Blue Jays next Monday through Wednesday, but McClendon insists his motivation is not to set up his best pitchers against the team currently holding the final American League Wild Card berth with a two-game lead over Seattle.

“It’s the same as always,” McClendon said of his thinking. “Every chance I get to give them an extra day, I’m going to do it. I think we’ve done okay with it. Last time I checked, we had the best pitching in the American League. So why break something that’s not broken? Keep doing it. Keep resting them. I want to protect them. … It had nothing to do with Toronto.”

The Mariners stayed with their same rotation for the next three games – Felix Hernandez and Chris Young facing the Braves on Tuesday and Wednesday to open the nine-game homestand and Roenis Elias facing the White Sox in Thursday’s series opener.

But Iwakuma was jumped ahead of rookie James Paxton and will face the White Sox on Friday, followed by Paxton on Saturday. The Sunday starter against the White Sox is currently undetermined, with Hernandez, Young and Iwakuma then pitching the next three days against Toronto.

Sunday’s decision boils down to either bringing Erasmo Ramirez or Taijuan Walker up from Triple-A Tacoma or going with a bullpen day, with Tom Wilhelmsen given another spot start. That option would presumably depend on how much the current eight-man bullpen gets used in the next five games.

Walker, the club’s top prospect, gave up eight runs and eight hits in 2 1/3 innings in a rough start Monday in Albuquerque to put his Triple-A record at 4-3 with a 5.44 ERA in 10 games. McClendon said that was disappointing, but wouldn’t be a determining factor.

“That has nothing to do with it,” he said. “Obviously I’m disappointed in his numbers down there, but if he was the guy we’re going to bring, that wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”

Ramirez won Saturday’s game in Albuquerque, allowing just two unearned runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings and is 3-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 11 Tacoma starts. He also threw seven innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts in a spot start for Seattle against the Mets on July 22.

“Erasmo is throwing fairly well,” McClendon said. “And he threw well when he was here. He gave us an opportunity to win games. I would say he’s definitely in the mix, so is Walker. The bullpen is an option, because we have eight guys. We’re just not sure yet.”

Hart goes on DL to open spot for Paxton’s return

Hart, Corey

Mariners designated hitter Corey Hart was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right knee on Saturday, which opened up a 25-man roster spot for starting pitcher James Paxton’s return.

Paxton was activated from the 60-day disabled list and will start Saturday night’s game against the Orioles at Camden Yards. The rookie left-hander has been out since April 8 with a strained left lat muscle.

Right-handed pitcher Blake Beavan was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma to make room for Paxton on the 40-man roster. Beavan has been pitching for Tacoma the last few weeks after coming off the 60-day DL with a strained shoulder. He cleared waivers and will remain with the Rainiers, but no longer is on the 40-man roster.

Hart has hit .203/.278/.314 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 58 games this season after signing a one-year deal as a free agent. The two-time National League All-Star missed all of 2013 with the Brewers after undergoing microfracture surgery on both knees.

Hart’s playing time figured to diminish with the acquisition of designated hitter Kendrys Morales and a pair of outfielders in Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Hart missed six weeks earlier in the year with a strained hamstring and has hit .194 with three doubles and three RBIs in 21 games since his return.

The Mariners still have 13 pitchers on their 25-man roster, with Paxton filling out the rotation and eight relievers currently in the bullpen.

Mariners acquire Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson

Oakland Athletics vs Detroit Tigers, 2013 American League Division Series

Looking to upgrade their outfield and add some right-handed balance to their lineup, the Mariners accomplished both on Thursday with the acquisition of center fielder Austin Jackson as part of a three-way trade with the Tigers and Rays.

Jackson, 27, rejoins Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon, his former hitting coach with the Tigers, with the Mariners sending infielder Nick Franklin to the Rays as their part of a deal that sent ace pitcher David Price to Detroit.

Jackson is expected to join the Mariners on Friday when they open a three-game series in Baltimore. He’s hit .270 with 25 doubles, five triples, four home runs and 32 RBIs this season for Detroit, where he’s played the past five years. He is earning $4 million this season and will be arbitration eligible one more year in 2015 before becoming a free agent in 2016.

The Mariners also acquired veteran Chris Denorfia from the Padres in exchange for Minor Leaguers Abraham Almonte and Stephen Kohlscheen prior to Thursday’s Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, giving them a near-makeover in the outfield for the final two months.

McClendon said Denorfia will play mostly right field, while Jackson figures to take over for rookie James Jones in center field and will likely hit leadoff. Dustin Ackley will remain in left field.

Jackson is a big addition for a Mariners club looking to make a run at the American League’s second Wild Card spot and supplement a pitching staff with the best ERA in the league.

“Defensively he’s probably one of the top three center fielders in all of baseball,” McClendon said of Jackson. “He gets those kind of jumps and he’s played in the biggest center field in baseball in Detroit. And offensively, this guy is pretty accomplished. He had close to 200 hits a couple years, he scores close to 100 runs, he’s good at the top of the order, he steals bases and he knows what he’s doing. He’s a veteran hitter.”

Jackson is a career .277/.342/.413 hitter and was second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010. McClendon worked with Jackson the past four years with Detroit and knows the youngster well.

“There were some growing pains along the way,” McClendon said, “but this kid is pretty good and he’ll be great in that clubhouse. I know his new teammates will love him. … I think we’re probably getting him at the optimum time. He’s swinging the bat extremely well right now.”

Adding both Jackson and Denorfia helps balance a Mariners lineup that has played primarily with an all left-handed hitting infield and only Corey Hart as a right-handed option in the outfield. Hart figures to either play first base or DH now, while Jones and Chavez will lose time in the outfield.

“Obviously we’re getting more right-handed, which is something we’ve been hoping for for quite a while,” McClendon said. “Not only are we getting right-handers, but experienced right-handed hitters that are two-way players that know how to handle situations. This is definitely an upgrade for us.”

Franklin, 22, was a late first-round Draft pick for Seattle in 2009 out of high school in Orlando, Fla. He started 102 games as a rookie for the Mariners last year, hitting .225 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs while playing mostly second base.

But with the offseason signing of Robinson Cano, Franklin lost that job and then was beat out by Brad Miller in a Spring Training competition for shortstop. He played 17 games in two brief call-ups with Seattle this season, hitting .128 in 47 at-bats.

Mariners acquire Denorfia from Padres

San Diego Padres vs Los Angeles DodgersLooking for a right-handed bat to help their offense, the Mariners acquired Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia on Thursday in exchange for two Minor Leaguers about two hours before the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline.

Seattle sent outfielder Abraham Almonte, who opened the season with the Mariners, along with right-handed reliever Stephen Kohlscheen to the Padres.

Denorfia will join the Mariners on Friday when they open a three-game series in Baltimore.

The 34-year-old is a career .275/.335/.397 hitter over parts of nine seasons with the Reds, A’s and Padres. Denorfia is earning $2.25 million in 2014 and will be a free agent after this season.

Denorfia had a .311/.378/.471 line against left-handed pitching with the Padres from 2010-13. His production against lefties has dipped this season (.253/.311/.326), though he could help a Mariners team that has had an all left-handed hitting outfield of Dustin Ackley, James Jones and Endy Chavez in recent weeks, though Corey Hart has begun playing some in right field since Kendry Morales’ addition at DH.

The 6-foot, 195-pounder hit .242 with one home run and 16 RBIs in 248 at-bats for San Diego this season.

Almonte, 25, opened the season as Seattle’s starting center fielder, but was sent down after batting .198 with one home run and eight RBIs in 27 games. He’s hit .267/.333./.390 with six home runs and 31 RBIs in 72 games for Triple-A Tacoma.

Kohlscheen, 25, is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 38 appearances while splitting the year between Tacoma and Double-A Jackson.

Paxton appears poised to rejoin rotation

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimRookie left-hander James Paxton threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday at Progressive Field and appears poised to rejoin the Mariners to fill a rotation opening Saturday at Baltimore.

The Mariners currently only have four starters on their 25-man roster, but Paxton is traveling with the team after making his third Minor League rehab start on Sunday with Triple-A Tacoma. Manager Lloyd McClendon is waiting to see how Paxton bounces back after his normal between-start throwing session Wednesday, but all signs point to the 25-year-old getting the nod.

“In my mind, I’m ready to compete,” Paxton said when asked if he was prepared to start Saturday.

The 6-foot-5 southpaw has been on the disabled list since April 8 after straining the lat muscle behind his left shoulder during his second start of the season against the Angels. Paxton won that game and is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA this season and 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in six Major League starts since his debut last September.

After being shut down in late May following his initial rehab start, Paxton is pleased that everything is progressing smoothly this time.

“I was throwing all my pitches where I wanted to throw them today, my mechanics felt smooth, everything was coming out at the right time. It felt good,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. I’ve been waiting a long time. To be able go out there and throw as hard as I want and not have any pain at all or any tightness the next day, it feels really good.”

Paxton is surprised his return has taken this long, but has maintained a positive approach throughout.

“Honestly, I thought it would be a shorter rehab then it ended up being,” he said. “I had that little setback there that took some time. But I’m just happy to be back where I am now and feeling normal again.”

Injured Saunders getting closer to return

Minnesota Twins v Seattle Mariners

Right fielder Michael Saunders will take pregame batting practice with the Mariners on Tuesday in Cleveland for the first time since straining his left oblique muscle on July 10 as he gets closer to going out on a Minor League rehab assignment.

Saunders is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as he’s healthy, but is just now starting to swing the bat and throw, so his return figures to still be at least a couple weeks away.

“I’m going to take BP today on the field, run around and shag a little bit and start going through the motions,” Saunders said. “Barring any setbacks, I feel like I’m getting close. Certainly I’m not going up there and swinging 100 percent right now. But that being said, I don’t think I ever try to do that in a game either. I feel like I can put a good competitive swing on the ball right now and as the days go by here in Cleveland and actually taking BP, we’ll know more.”

Saunders hopes to take part either in a simulated game in the next few days or to stand in the batter’s box while pitchers throw their between-start bullpens so he can begin seeing pitches and give himself a jump start. If all goes well, there’s a chance he’ll go out on a rehab assignment at some point while the Mariners are on their road trip this week.

“I’ve been out for two-and-a half to three weeks now and the ball is going to look like it’s coming in a little hard right now,” he said. “It’s something where if I can get any advantage before I actually go out on a rehab assignment, maybe that will lessen the time I have to be down there before I come back.”

The Mariners could certainly use Saunders as he’s hit .276 with six home runs and 28 RBIs in 65 games and is third on the club in slugging percentage at .434, trailing only Kyle Seager’s .484 and Robinson Cano’s .454.

The 27-year-old is also an excellent defensive outfielder. He said throwing is one of the last things to come around with the strained oblique, but he played catch at 90 feet on Sunday and will continue building up his arm in the next few days in Cleveland.

Morales to hit cleanup tonight; Montero sent down

Designated hitter Kendrys Morales reported to the Mariners on Friday and was immediately put into the starting lineup in the cleanup spot for their 7:10 p.m. PT game against the Orioles at Safeco Field.

Morales was acquired from the Twins on Thursday in a trade for Minor League reliever Stephen Pryor. Manager Lloyd McClendon said the 31-year-old will play mostly DH as well as a little first base, while hitting behind Robinson Cano in the Mariners batting order.

Designated hitter Jesus Montero was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room for Morales on the 25-man roster.

Montero played Thursday after being recalled from Tacoma earlier in the day to fill in until Morales’ arrival. He went 0-for-3 in the 4-0 loss to the Orioles and is batting .235 (4-for-17) with a home run and two RBIs in six games in two brief stints with Seattle this season.

The 24-year-old has hit .310 with 23 doubles, 15 home runs and 69 RBIs in 80 games with Tacoma, including a .420 average with seven home runs and 29 RBIs over his last 21 games.

Taylor, Montero up from Tacoma and in lineup

Shortstop Chris Taylor, last year’s Mariners Minor League Player of the Year, and designated hitter Jesus Montero were called up from Triple-A Tacoma in time to start Thursday night’s series opener with the Orioles at Safeco Field.

Taylor, 23, was selected from Tacoma and added to the 40-man roster, while Montero was recalled for the second time this season.

Veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist was placed on the 15-day disabled list to open one 25-man roster spot, while the club already had another opening after optioning Taijuan Walker back to Tacoma after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Mets.

Montero’s stay may be short as the club will need to make another roster move Friday with the arrival of designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales, who was acquired by trade from the Twins on Thursday. But Taylor figures to be given a shot at shortstop, where general manager Jack Zduriencik said his right-handed bat is a key addition to a club with so many left-handed hitters.

Taylor will hit ninth in Thursday’s game against the Orioles in his Major League debut. In 75 games with Tacoma, he was second in the Pacific Coast League in hitting at .328 and had 63 runs scored, 22 doubles, seven triples, five home runs and 37 RBIs.

“You really have to tip your hat to this kid,” said general manager Jack Zduriencik. “This was player of game at the Triple-A All-Star game. What he did last year was terrific. He’s a kid who deserves a chance right now. He has opportunity to help us and gives us window to see him.”

Brad Miller beat out Nick Franklin for the starting shortstop job in Spring Training, but has hit just .205 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 86 games. Miller has hit .261 in his last 32 games, but Zduriencik said Taylor will be given a chance to compete for playing time.

“The whole infield is left-handed,” Zduriencik said. “The fact he’s right-handed was really a factor in this decision. He’s a Triple-A All-Star, what he did last year was terrific and we’ll see. Let the best man play.”

Taylor went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the recent Triple-A All-Star Game to earn Top Star honors for the PCL.

Montero, 24, hit .286 (4-for-14) with one home run and two RBIs in five games in his previous stint with Seattle last month. He is batting .310 with 23 doubles, 15 home runs and 69 RBIs in 80 games with the Rainiers, including a .420 average with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 21 games since being optioned back to Tacoma on June 25.

Zduriencik made no promises about Montero’s long-term chances, given Morales’ pending arrival, but he was in the lineup Thursday at DH and batting sixth.

“Let’s hope he’s a contributor,” Zduriencik said. “He’s here tonight, we’ll see what happens and we’ll see postgame.”

Bloomquist, 36, was injured while running out an RBI grounder in the eighth inning in Wednesday’s loss on a play where he originally was ruled safe, before the call was overturned on a replay. In 47 games this season he is batting .278 while playing seven different positions.

With Taylor’s addition, the 40-man roster is now at 39 players, with two pitchers — Danny Hultzen and James Paxton — on the 60-man disabled list.

Mariners bringing back Kendrys Morales

Mariners at Royals

Looking to bolster their offense for a playoff push over the final nine weeks of the season, the Mariners added a familiar bat on Thursday as the club acquired first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the Twins in exchange for relief pitcher Stephen Pryor.

Morales led the Mariners with a .277 average and 80 RBIs and hit 23 home runs in 2013, but signed with the Twins on June 8 this season after turning down Seattle’s $14.1 million qualifying offer last winter when he became a free agent for the first time.

The switch-hitting Morales is expected to join the Mariners on Friday. Seattle had an open spot on its 25-man roster after optioning pitcher Taijuan Walker to Triple-A Tacoma after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Mets.

After sitting out the first three months of the season, Morales got off to a slow start with Minnesota, where he hit .234 with 11 doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs in 39 games. But the 31-year-old has heated up of late and hit .292 during a 12-game hitting streak that was snapped Wednesday with an 0-for-4 outing against the Indians.

Morales started 26 games at DH for the Twins and 12 games at first base. He signed a pro-rated $12 million deal with Minnesota that will pay him about $7.4 million for the season, based on his late start. He’s owed about $4.7 million now for the remaining 63 games of the season.

It’s the second time the Mariners have traded for Morales, having acquired him from the Angels in exchange for pitcher Jason Vargas prior to the 2013 season.

Morales offers options both at first base and DH for Seattle, which is currently a half-game ahead of the pack in the race for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.

Corey Hart is hitting .212 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 51 games as the club’s primary DH, while Logan Morrison has batted .211 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 43 games while handling most of the first base duties. Justin Smoak started the year at first base, but is now at Triple-A Tacoma after hitting .208 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 69 games.

As a switch hitter, Morales offers a needed right-handed option for a very left-handed leaning Mariners lineup. The Cuban native has a career .277 average with 103 home runs and 363 RBIs in 659 games with the Angels (2006-12), Mariners (2013) and Twins (2014). He’s hit .282 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 79 games at Safeco Field, where he went 5-for-15 (.333) with three doubles and five RBIs in a four-game series for the Twins two weeks ago.

The Mariners pitching has been outstanding this year with the lowest ERA in the Majors at 3.11 while posting a 53-48 record, but Seattle is 14th out of 15 American League teams in runs per game and batting average and last in on-base and slugging percentage.

The Twins signed Morales when they were 29-31 and 2 1/2 games back in the Wild Card standings, but they’ve since fallen to last in the AL Central at 46-54 and are 6 1/2 games behind Seattle in the Wild Card race.

Pryor, 25, made one appearance for Seattle this season after opening the year on the disabled list while recovering from surgery to repair a torn right latissimus dorsi muscle.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder pitched in 34 games for Seattle from 2012-14 with a 2.81 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 innings and was regarded as one of the Mariners’ promising young relievers before injuring his lat muscle early last season after throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his first seven appearances.

Pryor threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the Twins on July 9 when he was called up to help a short-handed bullpen. After missing most of Spring Training while recovering from his surgery, he’s pitched 28 games for Tacoma this season with a 2-2 record and 5.71 ERA in 34 2/3 innings.

Taijuan Walker sent back down after Mets’ loss

Mariners at Royals

Rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker was optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Mets as the Mariners continued juggling their roster and rotation.

The Mariners will add a player to their 25-man squad prior to Thursday’s series opener with the Orioles to take Walker’s place, with the presumption being that a position player will be brought up from Tacoma to help fill out what has been a short-handed bench as Seattle continues operating with an eight-man bullpen.

Walker, 21, pitched five-plus innings and gave up two runs on two hits with six walks, then was told he was headed back to Tacoma since the club won’t need a fifth starter until Aug. 2 due to an off day on Monday.

The Mariners were planning to skip Walker’s next start and pitch Hisashi Iwakuma on Tuesday in Cleveland to start the upcoming road trip on normal four day’s rest, then follow with Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Roenis Elias on schedule. Those four are slated to start against the Orioles the next four days to close out the homestand, then stay in rotation following the off day.

With James Paxton slated to make his third rehab start for Tacoma on Sunday, he could be ready to rejoin the rotation by the time the Mariners need another starter. Or Erasmo Ramirez would be eligible to return on Aug. 2 after being sent down following his own start on Tuesday.

Players must remain in the Minors for 10 days after being sent down, unless they’re needed as injury replacements, which means Walker won’t be eligible to return now until Aug. 3.

Walker made two starts with Seattle just prior to the All-Star break, then was sent back to Tacoma for a pair of starts in a move he acknowledged was difficult at the time. But the youngster sounded as if he’s starting to better understand the business of baseball as he heads back to Triple-A again.

“Better now,” he said of his reaction to Wednesday’s post-game decision. “At first, it was tough. But I know there are things I need to work on and I’d rather come up here at my best so I can come up here and stay.”

Walker is 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts this season with Seattle and 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in six games over the past two years.

“There’s more in there,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “Pitching at this level is hard enough, but when you’re starting to think about mechanical things, it’s not just a good combination. He’s got to get to the point where everything’s happening naturally for him. He’s a very talented individual, and he’s going to be alright, and he’s going to be alright in the very near future.”


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