Fernando Rodney still isn’t ready to return to the closer’s role for the Mariners, but manager Lloyd McClendon believes the 38-year-old reliever is headed in the right direction after a pair of non-save appearances in Seattle’s last series in Cleveland.
Rookie Carson Smith has closed in the Mariners’ last two save situations, with Rodney pitching the ninth inning in a 9-3 blowout win on Wednesday and the eighth in a 6-0 loss on Thursday to the Indians.
Rodney owns a 6.75 ERA in 26 appearances and blew saves in two of his last three opportunities before McClendon made the switch to Smith, who has a 1.38 ERA in 27 games coming into Friday’s series opener against the Astros.
Rodney has been working on refining some things with pitching coach Rick Waits while throwing in lower-impact situations. He allowed two hits and a run in Wednesday’s win, then threw a hitless inning with one walk on Thursday.
“I don’t think he’s quite ready to go back to the closer’s role,” McClendon said. “We’ll use him where we think it fits the best. He’s getting better. He’s still working on things every day. It’s coming. It’s not quite there yet.”
In other Mariners news on Friday:
• Hisashi Iwakuma emerged from Thursday’s bullpen session in Tacoma without any problems and will now throw a simulated game of about 45 pitches on Monday in Everett against Class-A hitters, since both the Mariners and Rainiers will be on the road early next week.
Iwakuma, sidelined since April 23 with a strained right lat muscle, could be ready for a Minor League rehab start next Saturday for Tacoma if all goes well, McClendon said. The Rainiers play in Albuquerque that day.
• McClendon had Nelson Cruz back at designated hitter on Friday after sitting out two games with back spasms. But the skipper said he won’t hesitate to continue playing Cruz in right field and doesn’t feel that played any part in his back problem.
Cruz had started 37 games in right field and 21 at DH before being sidelined the last two games of the Indians series after feeling his back tighten during an at-bat on Tuesday.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with his play in right field,” McClendon said. “The concern about him playing right field is his hamstring. The back is just something that came up. It was a spasm. He took a funny swing and it caught him. I don’t have any concerns in that area.”
• McClendon said the Mariners are still waiting on results from the latest tests on left-hander James Paxton’s strained tendon in his left middle finger before clearing him to begin throwing. Paxton has been sidelined the past two weeks.
• Looking for a premier pitching matchup? When the Mariners return home for their next homestand on Wednesday, it’ll be Felix Hernandez vs. Giants star Madison Bumgarner in the 7:10 p.m. Interleague series opener at Safeco Field.
• Hernandez is gunning to become the first Major Leaguer to 10 wins this season as Seattle opens its three-game series in Houston on Friday at 4:10 p.m. PT at Minute Maid Park. The Mariners have a chance to pick up some ground on the AL West-leading Astros, who have lost seven straight.
“They’re important games, sure,” acknowledged McClendon. “You’d like to come out of here winning the series. That’s important for us at this stage of the season. I would say it’s probably the most-important series we’ve played to date. I can’t say it’s the biggest series of the year, but it’s important that we play well here.”
The Mariners, currently 6 1/2 games back, face the Astros in six of their next 10 games.
The Mariners recalled catcher Jesus Sucre from Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday and designated outfielder Justin Ruggiano for assignment. The move was necessary after Seattle traded backup catcher Welington Castillo to the D-Backs on Wednesday as part of a six-player swap.
Sucre opened the season with Seattle, but had been optioned to Tacoma two weeks ago after the club acquired Castillo by trade from the Cubs. Sucre hit .261 (6-for-23) with two RBIs in six games during his stint in Triple-A. He’ll again resume the backup catching duties behind starter Mike Zunino.
Sucre is regarded as a strong defensive catcher, but has hit just .067 (1-for-15) in six games this season for Seattle and .186 in 35 career games.
Ruggiano (pictured) hit .214 with four doubles, two home runs and three RBIs in 36 games after being acquired from the Cubs over the offseason for left-hander Matt Brazis.
Ruggiano, 33, was already limited in his playing time by the frequent use of Nelson Cruz in right field, so the acquisition of Mark Trumbo in the deal with Arizona figured to further reduce his role.
“Those things are never easy,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It was a very difficult decision, but you’ve got to have a backup catcher and you can only carry 25, so somebody had to go. Obviously there was going to be a tremendous lack of playing time for whoever that guy was. Hopefully this gives him the opportunity to catch on with somebody else.”
Ruggiano has hit .255 with 45 home runs and 140 RBIs in 434 career games over parts of seven seasons with the Rays, Marlins, Cubs and Mariners.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery has been recalled from Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners and will make his Major League debut on the mound in Tuesday night’s 7:10 p.m. PT game against the Yankees at Safeco Field.
Right-handed reliever Mayckol Guiape was optioned to Tacoma on Tuesday morning to make room on the 25-man roster. That puts Seattle’s bullpen back to seven relievers after Monday’s temporary promotion of Guiape, who threw 2 1/3 perfect innings in his own MLB debut in Monday’s 7-2 loss to the Yankees.
Montgomery takes the rotation spot of James Paxton, who went on the 15-day disabled list last week with a strained tendon in his left middle finger. Montgomery, a first-round Draft pick of the Royals in 2008, was acquired from Tampa Bay on March 31 for right-hander Erasmo Ramirez.
The 25-year-old was 4-3 with a 3.74 ERA in nine starts for Triple-A Tacoma. He’ll square off against Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, a veteran of 433 starts over 15 Major League seasons.
Montgomery will be the fourth Mariners starter to make his MLB debut against the Yankees. Matt Young (1983), Terry Taylor (’88) and Pat Rice (’91) went a combined 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in their debut games against the Bronx Bombers.
• Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma continued his rehab program by playing catch in the Safeco Field outfield on Tuesday afternoon and now will progress to throwing off the bullpen mound on Thursday as he recovers from a strained right lat muscle that has sidelined him the past six weeks.
Iwakuma, one of the American League’s most-underrated starters the past three years, couldn’t throw for more than a month before recently receiving clearance to begin testing the sore shoulder. Manager Lloyd McClendon said he’s progressing well now and will toss bullpen sessions Thursday and Sunday at Safeco Field, then accompany the team on its next road trip and throw another bullpen and a simulated game if all goes to plan.
If there are no setbacks for the 33-year-old, that would put him on schedule to go out on a Minor League rehab in late June and possibly be on line to rejoin the Mariners in the week or so before the All-Star break in mid-July.
• Reliever Danny Farquhar, demoted to Triple-A Tacoma last week, was scheduled to start for the Rainiers on Tuesday night. But McClendon said that was more about giving the right-hander a chance to work on his pitches rather than attempting to stretch him out as a potential starter.
“It’s to straighten him out, more than anything,” McClendon said. “Working one inning in relief it’s hard to get straightened out. Hopefully he can work three or four, get a feel for his pitches again and get it going.”
• Tacoma shortstop Ketel Marte, the Mariners’ No. 3 ranked prospect by MLB.com, fractured his left thumb on Sunday and is expected to miss about six weeks. The 21-year-old was leading the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.343) and hits (61) and was second in stolen bases (17) in 51 games,
• Left-handed reliever Tyler Olson, who opened the season in Seattle’s bullpen, has been activated off the 15-day DL (bruised right knee) and reassigned to Tacoma.
The Mariners moved to solidify their bullpen on Monday, recalling young right-hander Mayckol Guiape from Triple-A Tacoma and optioning shortstop Chris Taylor to Tacoma.
Guiape, 24, will be making his Major League debut with the Mariners as he joins the club for Monday’s series opener with the Yankees at Safeco Field. He provides a fresh arm for a bullpen that used all seven relievers in Sunday’s 12-inning, 6-3 loss to the Indians.
Taylor, 24, had been called up from Tacoma on May 4 to take over the starting shortstop duties, but he posted just a .159/.221/.206 line in 20 games and manager Lloyd McClendon had gone back to using Brad Miller more at shortstop again in the past week after initially shifting him to a utility role.
Guiape has a 4.58 ERA and three saves in 16 appearances for Tacoma, with three walks and 18 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. The Venezuela native posted a 2.89 ERA with 12 saves in 40 games for Double-A Jackson in 2014.
The Mariners still need to make another roster move on Tuesday to add a starter to take the place of injured southpaw James Paxton, who went on the 15-day disabled list last week with a strained finger tendon. They currently have an eight-man bullpen with Guaipe’s addition, so it’s likely they’ll send down a reliever now that they’ve sorted out their position-player logjam by demoting Taylor.
The midseason transition of Brad Miller from starting shortstop to super utility player has been one of the Mariners’ more intriguing storylines in recent weeks and that plot continues developing as Miller filled in for second baseman Robinson Cano in Sunday’s series finale against the Blue Jays.
Miller has now played all three outfield positions as well as second base, designated hitter and his familiar shortstop role in a one-week span. It’s a big change, but Miller comes to the park each day with an open mind, waiting to see what role awaits.
“If you embrace that, you can use it to your advantage,” he said. “Whereas if you show up and see it as a negative or pout or something, then it’s not going to help you. So I’m just kind of going with the flow right now.”
It doesn’t hurt that Miller has been one of the Mariners’ more-productive hitters, no matter where he’s been placed defensively.
“That’s part of it, not letting it affect your performance. Not letting other factors get in your way,” Miller said. “I know at the end of the day, I’ve got to play well. So whatever I’ve got to do to do that. I just want to keep it going and keep working.”
Miller has played all three outfield positions now, which is the biggest adjustment for a guy who spent his entire professional career at shortstop along with a few games at second and third. He’s spent considerable time in pregame work the past three weeks with outfield coach Andy Van Slyke and has gotten more comfortable reading the ball off the bat.
And, like any player with a mitt and a wall, he enjoys the leaping attempts at the fence, which he nearly pulled off earlier this week in Baltimore trying to pull back a grand slam by Steve Pearce.
“All me and Andy do the last 10 minutes of batting practice is home run robberies,” Miller said. “I knew the wall in Camden is shorter than Safeco. It’s crazy when it happened. It’s such an adrenaline rush and I’m just going. It ended up being probably two rows too deep. But honestly, my attitude out there is I’m just trying to go get everything. Not really think about anything, but whatever I see just go and get it.”
• Cano moved to designated hitter on Sunday as manager Lloyd McClendon looked to give his legs a break in the midst of six straight games on artificial turf in Toronto and Tampa Bay. Cano is hitting just .253 with one homer and 11 RBIs in Seattle’s first 42 games, a far cry from his normal production.
McClendon said Cano worked on some mechanical issues in Baltimore and believes he’s close to getting back in a groove.
“I’m sure he’s frustrated. He’s probably a little embarrassed,” McClendon said. “That’s only natural. But the fact is, he’s going to hit. He hasn’t gotten results here, but I see better positioning at the plate. I see his hands in a better position. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went out today and got three hits. He’s real close. He’s going to hit.”
• Austin Jackson went 3-for-5 with a double in Triple-A Tacoma’s game at Iowa on Saturday and is now hitting .310 in seven rehab games as he returns from a sprained right ankle. McClendon said a decision is looming on the veteran center fielder.
“He’s feeling a lot better. I think he’s real close,” McClendon said Sunday morning. “We’ll see how he feels after today’s game and go from there.”
It’s possible Jackson could rejoin the Mariners as early as Monday in Tampa Bay.
Mariners closer Fernando Rodney has allowed runs in five of his six appearances in May, but the veteran right-hander has recorded nine straight saves since his one blown opportunity in early April and manager Lloyd McClendon said that means he’s getting his job done.
Rodney’s ERA rose to 6.61 after allowing a two-run homer to Chris Colabello in Friday’s 4-3 win over the Blue Jays, but he’s saved 11 of 12 games this year and 32 of his last 33 opportunities dating back to last July.
“I don’t think you worry about his ERA much,” McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game. “A lot of that is inflated from (two early season games). My old skipper told me this a long time ago. Your responsibility as a manager is to get the ball to your closer in the ninth inning. After that, what are you going to do? He either wins it or loses it.”
Rodney took the loss against the Red Sox last week at Safeco when he entered a 1-1 tie and surrendered the go-ahead run, but in straight save situations he remains near perfect, albeit in a non-perfect way. His ERA in six May games is 9.00 (six runs in six innings) with nine hits, two walks and five strikeouts.
Opposing batters are hitting .308 against him this season, well above his career average of .234, and his WHIP of 1.71 is well north of his career 1.37.
McClendon says Rodney seems to pitch to the situation, gearing up more in close save situations than the three-run lead he inherited on Friday. And he says that’s not unique to his closer.
“He gets those one-run leads, I think he’s a little bit more focused,” McClendon said. “Three-run lead, he’s a little more relaxed. It’s just the animal that most closers are. It’s not just him. I’ve seen it with other guys, too. It gets within one or two and they tighten down.
“You look at last night, the 3-0 pitch [that Josh Donaldson popped out to center on for the last out] was painted. Before that he was in the middle of the plate. That 3-0 pitch was right on the black. Do you like it? No. But it is what it is. That’s the animal that they are.”
McClendon believes it takes a special mentality to close out games and Rodney – whose 144 saves since 2012 are second only to Craig Kimbrel’s 150 in the Majors – has the ability to deal with both the success and inevitable failures in the high-profile position.
“Our closer is what he is,” McClendon said. “Hopefully he’s 49 out of 50 with a 6.00 ERA. I don’t give a [blank]. I don’t care about his ERA. Just close the games out. Sometimes it’s not easy.”
• Austin Jackson went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts in his sixth rehab game for Triple-A Tacoma on Friday while playing center field in a 10-9 loss at Iowa. He’s hitting .250 (6-for-24) with four walks and seven strikeouts. McClendon said he’s not sure when Jackson will be recalled as he returns from a sprained right ankle.
“The ankle is feeling good, but the bat isn’t,” McClendon said. “As of right now, it’s still open.”
• Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma still isn’t throwing as he remains in Seattle getting treatment on his strained right lat muscle.
“I would imagine when we get back he’ll start throwing again and then start his process all over again,” McClendon said. “He’s going to be out awhile.”
Looking to add depth at the catching position, the Mariners acquired six-year Major League veteran Welington Castillo from the Cubs on Tuesday in exchange for right-handed reliever Yoervis Medina.
Castillo is expected to join the Mariners on Wednesday in Baltimore and a corresponding roster move will be made at that time to clear a spot for him. He’ll presumably fill the role of backup catcher to Mike Zunino, a job currently held by Jesus Sucre.
“It’s very challenging in this day and age to have catching depth,” said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. “To add a catcher that has a reasonable amount of Major League experience is important to the entire organization.”
Castillo, 28, has hit .163 in 24 games with two home runs, two doubles and five RBIs for the Cubs this season. He was the Cubs starting catcher in 2013-14, batting .274 in 2013. But his offense dropped last year when he hit .237 and he was working as the team’s third catcher this year behind Miguel Montero and David Ross.
Medina, 26, was a key member of the Mariners bullpen the past two years, but was sent to Triple-A Tacoma two weeks ago. Seattle has some strength in its right-handed power arms, but Zduriencik said it was still a tough decision.
“I don’t think anybody is comfortable with having enough pitching,” Zduriencik said. “But catching at the Major League level is a very challenging position. It’s difficult to get through the season with one or two catchers. We’ve been fortunate to have a healthy Mike Zunino, but a couple years ago he was out six weeks with a broken hamate. It’s a position on the field where if you can add depth, it’s in your best interest to do it.”
The Mariners currently have John Hicks, who has no Major League experience, and veteran John Baker sharing backstop duties at Tacoma. Hicks is hitting .226 with a .674 OPS in 24 games, while Baker has batted .161 with a .378 OPS in 17 appearances.
The Mariners haven’t got much offense out of the position at the Major League level either. Zunino is a well-regarded 24-year-old and excellent defender, but he’s batting just .179 with a .600 OPS in 35 games. Sucre has hit .067 (1-for-15) with a .133 OPS in six games.
Castillo carries a career .252 average with 29 home runs and 110 RBIs. From 2013-14, he hit .255 with 42 doubles, 21 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .716 OPS in 223 games. The Dominican product has thrown out 58 of 220 attempted base stealers in his career (26.4 percent).
“He has the ability to hit and he’s got power,” Zduriencik said. “He has a very good throwing arm and is a good [pitch] blocker. He has a nice skillset. There are those that debate whether he could have been a starting catcher at this level. I think we’re getting someone with ability and we’ll see how he fits in with our club.”
Medina posted a 2.82 ERA in 141 appearances out of the Mariners bullpen the last three seasons. This year, he was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings over 12 outings with Seattle and had a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings over four appearances with Tacoma. He’ll be assigned to Triple-A Iowa by the Cubs.
Nelson Cruz entered Saturday’s play leading the American League in all three Triple Crown categories – home runs, batting average and tied for tops in RBIs – but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon believes the big right fielder hasn’t even hit his hottest streak yet.
While everyone knew Cruz would bring some needed right-handed power after leading the Majors in home runs with 40 last year for the Orioles, there were questions about how he’d fare with a full season in Safeco Field. Yet he finished the first 35 games of the season with 15 home runs, 30 RBIs and a .358 batting average that is well above his career mark of .268.
“To be truthful, I don’t think he’s gotten hot to the point where it’s just ridiculous,” said McClendon. “He’s grinding at-bats out and getting his hits, he’s going the other way. If they make a mistake, he’ll hit it out. But I’ve seen him to the point where he’ll get hot and hit good pitches out of the ballpark and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Cruz slugged 10 home runs in April when he was the AL Player of the Month. He has five more halfway through May, though only one in nine games going into Saturday. But Cruz has hit .467 (14-for-30) during an eight-game hitting streak, including the walk-off single in Friday’s 2-1 win over Boston.
The Mariners were just 1-for-20 with runners in scoring position over three games prior to Cruz’s clutch delivery.
“Baseball is crazy,” Cruz said. “You go through slumps and then your swing can click and you get everything done. The good thing is I got it done in that situation. I want to be there in that spot.”
Cruz certainly hasn’t had any slumps of his own in his stunning first six weeks in a Mariners uniform. But his skipper remained steadfast in his belief that things could get better.
“I think home run hitters, when they get hot, they hit home runs in bunches and he hasn’t done that yet,” McClendon said. “His have been spread out. A few here and a few there. He did have a streak where he hit [six] in five days or something like that, but there’s a big streak in there that hasn’t come out yet.”
Lloyd McClendon figures Brad Miller can transition to the outfield easily enough after playing shortstop his entire career for one good reason. McClendon himself made the switch during his playing days after coming up primarily as a catcher and first baseman.
McClendon wound up playing left field, right field, third base, first base and catcher during his eight-year Major League career and he says Miller is a better athlete than he was, so he’s not concerned about introducing the 25-year-old to a new position at this point.
“Listen, you catch up a pop up at shortstop, you can catch a pop up in left field,” McClendon said. “You can screw up at short, you can screw up in left. It’s the same thing. It’s baseball. It’s that simple. If it’s hit to you, you catch it. If you screw it up, pick it up and throw it back in.”
Miller was penciled in at left field for the first time for Thursday’s series opener with the Red Sox after working in the outfield prior to games for the past nine days since Chris Taylor was called up to play shortstop.
Miller has borrowed an outfield glove from Dustin Ackley and worked diligently with outfield coach Andy Van Slyke getting as comfortable as possible with the new spot. He’s put in all the work, even if he’s still not ready to accept the move as permanent.
Asked if he still thinks of himself as a shortstop, Miller didn’t hesitate.
“I am,” he said. “I am a shortstop. No question. But I’m a player and I don’t make out the lineup. Obviously I want to be playing.”
McClendon recalls botching a play in the outfield during his early days with the Cubs and then hitting a big home run later in the same game, drawing advice from manager Don Zimmer that he’s never forgotten.
“I tell [Miller], just like Zimmer told me: If he hits three-run homers, he’s going to be a heckuva left fielder,” McClendon said with a laugh. “Don’t worry about it.”
Miller is hearing words of wisdom from others as well.
“One of my friends from back home gave me advice,” Miller said. “He said, ‘The walls don’t move.’ I said, ‘Alright, that’s good. I’ll see where they’re at.’”
• Center fielder Austin Jackson ran the bases, took batting practice and caught balls in the outfield during pregame work on Thursday as he continues recovering from a sprained right ankle that has him on the 15-day disabled list through Tuesday.
McClendon said he expects Jackson will need a few more days before he goes out on a Minor League rehab assignment.
• Hisashi Iwakuma continues getting treatment on his strained right lat muscle, but won’t begin playing catch for about another week as he remains in shutdown mode after still feeling stiffness in his sore back muscle last weekend.
• Edwin Diaz, one of the Mariners top pitching prospects, was promoted Thursday to Double-A Jackson after going 2-0 with a 1.70 ERA in his first seven starts for High-A Bakersfield. The 21-year-old right-hander takes the spot of Stephan Landazuri, who was bumped up to Triple-A Tacoma after going 0-2 with a 4.61 ERA in six starts for Jackson.
Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma felt continued tightness in his strained right lat muscle when playing catch last weekend and has been shut down from throwing for the next 10 days, manager Lloyd McClendon said on Tuesday. The decision means the 2013 American League All-Star isn’t anywhere close to returning from the 15-day disabled list after being sidelined nearly three weeks.
“It’s a tough situation,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I took about a week off and then started throwing for about a week. But I still felt something inside. It’s not pain, it’s more tightness. We want to make sure I feel nothing when I throw next time.”
The team isn’t making any estimates on his return, but if Iwakuma can’t do any throwing now until around May 22, he’s likely looking at late June before he’d be ready to rejoin the Mariners at the earliest.
Iwakuma has been one of the AL’s top right-handed starters the past three seasons, posting a 2.97 ERA in 77 starts from 2012-14. But he struggled in his first three outings this year (0-1, 6.61 ERA) and then was placed on the DL after an MRI test showed inflammation in the lat muscle.
He began playing catch at Safeco Field while the Mariners were on the road last week, but that didn’t progress as well as expected.
“His rehab has not gone as well as we thought it would have gone,” McClendon said. “He’s still experiencing some stiffness so we’ll probably push him back 10 days or so. Anytime you have any kind of lat strain, you have to be careful with it. It just makes sense to back him off.”
Iwakuma said he had a similar lat injury when he was in Japan, but feels this one is less serious. He’s still able to do conditioning exercises and shoulder work, but can’t throw.
“It is frustrating because I was hoping I’d be pain free or feel nothing by the time I was scheduled to throw,” he said. “It’s not feeling worse. It’s better than where it was, but I feel tightness. Hopefully next time I throw I won’t feel anything.”
Roenis Elias, a 26-year-old left-hander, has made three starts in Iwakuma’s place and is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA. He’ll get the ball again Thursday in the opening game of a four-game series against the Red Sox at Safeco Field.