McClendon downplays Miller’s mid-season switch


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.

Iwakuma to be shut down from throwing for 10 days

IwakumaMariners 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.

Wilhelmsen moves a step closer to return

WilhelmsenChangeTom Wilhelmsen threw 25 pitches in a simulated game situation on Wednesday at Angel Stadium as the big right-hander moved closer to returning to the Mariners after 25 days on the disabled list with a hyperextended elbow.

The Mariners could use Wilhelmsen to help shore up their bullpen, but he’ll likely need at least a Minor League outing or two before rejoining the club. Manager Lloyd McClendon said no decision would be made on Wilhelmsen’s next step until the trainers see how his arm reacts on Thursday to his first game-like situation in nearly a month.

“It was good to see batters and how my stuff looks with a batter in there from both sides,” Wilhelmsen said after facing Dustin Ackley and Chris Taylor in the simulated situation prior to Wednesday’s series finale with the Angels. “I felt free and easy today. I threw all my pitches and everything felt good. We’ll figure out the next step a little later.”

Wilhelmsen said his elbow feels 100 percent and his biggest challenge is regaining the feel of his changeup and curve.

“Definitely, those are two pitches I’ll rely on quite a bit,” he said. “This was the second time I’ve thrown the curveball and for the most part, I liked what I saw. The changeup seemed to get better as I was throwing it. My first couple were a little down and away, but I threw a couple nice ones there that I was pretty happy about later in the outing.”

Pitching coach Rick Waits said he thought Wilhelmsen looked very good, considering it was his first time facing live hitters the first week of the season in Oakland.

“For being 25 days since he’s been on a mound, that was pretty good,” Waits said. “I thought his slider was really good. His changeup was good and he threw a couple good curveballs. A couple he left on the arm side, but yeah, for not being off the mound, that’s pretty advanced. It’s good to see that.

“The main thing is he feels good,” said Waits. “I’m not worried about him getting his stuff back and controlling it. If he’s healthy, we’re fine.”

With Seattle’s normally-stout bullpen struggling at times in the first month, Wilhelmsen is eager to get back and help as quickly as possible.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s tough to feel like you can’t contribute, but I’m doing everything I can just as far as talking to guys and trying to keep everyone on the same page and not let anything get too far ahead of us.”

• Hisashi Iwakuma is playing catch up to 75 feet with trainers in Seattle and “feeling pretty good,” McClendon said. “His rehab is going fine.”

The veteran right-hander was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, but “he’s a ways away,” said McClendon, who indicated Iwakuma will need to go out on a Minor League rehab assignment once his strained lat muscle behind his right shoulder is fully recovered in a couple weeks.

“He’s progressing well,” McClendon said. “But even when he’s ready, he’s going to have to go out and pitch and build his arm back up.”

Cruz first Mariner to win Player of Month since Ichiro

CruzHRIt didn’t take Nelson Cruz long to make his presence felt on the Mariners as the club’s new right fielder and designated hitter earned American League Player of the Month honors for his outstanding April on Monday.

It was the first Player of the Month award for Cruz in his 11-year career and he’s the first Seattle player to earn the honor since Ichiro Suzuki in August of 2004.

“It’d be hard pressed to see anybody’s numbers stack up against his for the first month,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. “It was pretty impressive.”

Cruz hit .322 in 22 games in the month and had the top slugging percentage in the AL at .724, the top OPS at 1.096 and most extra bats hits with 14, while tying with Boston’s Hanley Ramirez for the most home runs (10) and RBIs (22). In addition to his 10 homers, he also hit three doubles and a triple, while Ramirez had no other extra-base hits and batted .293 in 21 games.

Cruz led the Majors in home runs with 40 last year for the Orioles, then signed a four-year, $57 million deal to play with the Mariners this winter. He hit six home runs in Seattle’s first nine games of the season and earned AL Player of the Week honors that first week.

The three-time All-Star joined Ken Griffey, Jr. (July 1993) and Jay Buhner (May 1996) as the only Mariners to hit eight home runs in an eight-game stretch during a single season. His 10 home runs in the opening month are the third-most in franchise history behind only Griffey, who hit 13 in 1997 and 11 in 1998.

He was the first Mariners player with at least 20 RBIs in the opening month of a season since Raul Ibañez recorded 20 in 2008 and Bret Boone had 21 in 2003.

Cruz has continued his hot hitting into May. On the season, he is hitting .343 with 17 runs, 13 home runs, 25 RBIs, a .387 on-base percentage, a .788 slugging percentage and a 1.175 OPS in 25 games heading into Monday’s series opener with the Angels.

Wanted: Better at-bats up and down lineup

CruzHRThe way Lloyd McClendon sees it, the solution is pretty simple. His Mariners seem to have squared away their early pitching problems. Now they just need to get the expected offensive production to support those arms.

The Mariners averaged 3.57 runs in their first 23 games, down from their 2014 full-season average of 3.91. After Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Astros, their batting average registered at .236, down from last year’s .244. The on-base percentage has slipped from .300 to .291.

Given new addition Nelson Cruz (pictured) has hit .330 and led the American League in home runs and RBIs in his first month, those are disappointing results. Through Friday’s games, the Mariners ranked 13 among the AL’s 15 teams in scoring and batting average and 14th in on-base percentage. They are tied for fifth in home runs and eighth in slugging percentage, but those numbers haven’t translated to increased run production.

“It’s real simple,” McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game with the Astros. “Just like I said with the pitching. If you pitch and play defense, you’ve got a chance to win. But you’ve got to score. You have to outscore the other team. And we’ve had bad at-bats. I’m not going to sugarcoat things. When we’re bad at the plate, we’re bad and I’m going to point it out and I don’t care who doesn’t like it.

“I saw somebody in the paper said I’m frustrated,” said McClendon. “I’m not frustrated, I’m just speaking facts. We’re bad. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got professional hitters in that locker room and they’ve got to give me better at bats and it’s just that simple.”

And what if that doesn’t happen?

“Then I’ll be at the track betting on the Kentucky Derby,” he said with a chuckle.

McClendon made one lineup change Saturday, inserting right-handed hitting Rickie Weeks in left field in place of Dustin Ackley even against Astros right-hander Collin McHugh. McClendon’s decision was based on Ackley’s 0-for-13 career performance against McHugh, with six strikeouts.

But with Ackley hitting just .190, he said it’s likely that he could opt for either right-handers Weeks or Justin Ruggiano more against future right-handers as well.

Clearly the Mariners need to get production from more than just Cruz. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager didn’t have big first months and many of the Mariners seem to be pressing too hard early to provide the needed support. McClendon said that has been evident in the number of hitters chasing bad pitches.

“Anytime you go outside the strike zone, it’s one of two things,” he said. “Either you’re not seeing the ball or you’re trying to do too much. And I think right now, we’re trying to do too much. When you’re talking about driving in runs, it’s a real simple process. You have to get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it. We’re doing neither. We’re not getting a good pitch to hit and we’re not putting good swings on bad pitches. And that’s going to equate to not scoring runs.”

• McClendon said reliever Tom Wilhelmsen came out of Friday’s bullpen session without any problems and will throw another on Sunday before the club determines whether he’s ready to go out on a Minor League rehab. Wilhelmsen has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 11 with a hyperextended elbow.

• Logan Morrison hit his first triple in 121 games with the Mariners on Friday, but he had 16 three-baggers in 363 games with the Marlins, including seven in just 62 games in 2010 when he was called up midseason as a rookie.

“That’s when I was a little younger and lighter and before knee surgeries,” said the 27-year-old first baseman. “But I can still run a little.”

Iwakuma likely out another 3-4 weeks

IwakumaHisashi Iwakuma has begun playing long toss back in Seattle, but remains three-to-four weeks away from rejoining the Mariners, manager Lloyd McClendon said on Friday.

Meanwhile, reliever Tom Wilhelmsen took a step toward his own return from the 15-day disabled list as he threw a bullpen session at Minute Maid Park prior to Friday’s game with the Astros. Both right-handers were big parts of last season’s pitching staff that led the American League in ERA.

Iwakuma has missed two starts since straining the lat muscle behind his right shoulder and going on the 15-day DL, while Wilhelmsen has been sidelined since April 11 with a hyperextended right elbow.

Wilhelmsen is closer to returning as he threw 25 pitches off the mound on Friday for the first time since his injury. He’ll throw another bullpen session on Sunday before it’s determined if he’s ready to go out on a Minor League rehab. If all goes well, he should be ready to rejoin the club in mid-May.

The 31-year-old reliever said he threw fastballs and sinkers at about 90-95 percent on Friday and “felt great. No issues at all.”

Wilhelmsen has been out longer than initially expected, but says he’s progressing fine now.

“The first few times I played catch, my shoulder felt a little cranky,” he said. “But that was just due to not doing anything physically with it for awhile. After we got out to 100 feet, it loosened up and there have been no problems for the last week or so.”

Iwakuma, who remained behind in Seattle to rehab during the current 10-game road trip, is just beginning the process of starting to play catch. The 2013 All-Star was 0-1 with a 6.61 ERA in his first three starts before reporting soreness behind his shoulder.

With Iwakuma expected to miss most of May, left-hander Roenis Elias made his second start in his place on Friday against the Astros.

• Second baseman Robinson Cano finished April going 2-for-22 in his last five games as his average dropped from .304 to .253, but McClendon said he’s not worried about the six-time All-Star with a .309 career average.

“He’s working at it,” McClendon said before Friday’s game. “He’s in a little funk now, but Robbie has a tremendous track record. I think when it’s all said and done, his numbers will be right where they’re supposed to be. We went through this last year and had this same conversation. He’s going to hit. He’s going to be just fine.”

• On the flip side, Nelson Cruz finished his first month with the Mariners batting .322 while leading the American League with a .724 slugging percentage. Cruz finished the month tied with Boston’s Hanley Ramirez for the Major League lead in home runs (10) and RBIs (22) and second to the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez (.790) in slugging percentage. He also led MLB with five game-winning RBIs.

Hultzen to make season debut in AA on Friday

Hultzen (2)Mariners left-hander Danny Hultzen, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball before running into shoulder problems two years ago, will make his first start in a regular-season game in 20 months on Friday when he takes the mound for Double-A Jackson against Pensacola in Jackson, Tenn.

Hultzen, 25, missed the entire 2014 season while working his way back from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum. He last pitched in a Minor League game on Sept. 1, 2013 for Triple-A Tacoma, throwing two innings before being shelved and eventually undergoing surgery a month later.

Hultzen threw well in Spring Training before being sent down to Minor League camp. The Mariners are taking a slow approach with his return and kept him in Arizona for a month of extended Spring Training before clearing the way for his season debut Friday.

Hultzen is no stranger to Jackson fans. He began his pro career with the Generals in 2012 when he teamed with Taijuan Walker and James Paxton on a club that went 42-28 and won the first-half North Division title in the Southern League when he was 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts.

Hultzen was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma at midseason that year and started out 2013 with the Rainiers again, posting a 4-0 mark with a 2.05 ERA before his shoulder problems cropped up. He was rated as the No. 18 prospect in baseball by that year, but has since fallen out of those Top 100 rankings due to his injury issues. currently ranks Hultzen as the 25th best prospect in the Mariners organization, a position that could change quickly if he returns to full health. Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft and was considered a key component in Seattle’s pitching plans until his shoulder problems arose.

Hultzen will be officially added to Jackson’s roster on Friday prior to the 7:05 p.m. ET game, which will be carried live on MiLB.TV.

• The Mariners are catching a hot Houston club in their four-game series at Minute Maid Park as the Astros opened a four-game lead in the early American League West chase by going 8-1 on their last road trip, the lone loss coming at Seattle.

“They’re a pesky group,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said prior to Thursday’s series opener. “They’ve got a lot of young talent and they’re feeling real good about what they’re doing right now. And rightfully so. Their pitching has been great, their defense has been good. This should be an interesting series.”

• Mariners right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen is scheduled for a bullpen session on Friday at Minute Maid Park, his first time throwing off a mound since hyperextending his right elbow on April 11 in Oakland. Wilhelmsen is likely looking at another throwing session after that before going out on a Minor League rehab stint.

• The Mariners have designated Saturday, May 9, against the A’s as their first of four games with peanut-controlled seating sections at Safeco Field for fans with severe peanut allergies. View Box seats for the peanut-controlled games are $12 and the special seating can be purchased online at The other three games are June 23 against the Royals, July 10 against the Angels and Aug. 11 vs. the Orioles.

Seager’s streak of 146 starts snapped by sore thumb

SeagerKyleMariners third baseman Kyle Seager had his string of 146 straight starts snapped as manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t pencil him into the lineup against Texas for Wednesday’s series finale in order to rest a sore left thumb.

Seager said the thumb got jammed about a week earlier, but indicated it was “a non-issue.” The 2014 American League All-Star has gone just 4-for-21 over the last six games, however, as his average dropped from .302 to .270.

“It’s not too bad,” he said. “If you take a good swing it feels good. If you take a bad swing, it feels bad. If it gets jammed, obviously it vibrates you pretty good. But if you’re hitting the ball on the barrel or putting good swings on it, you don’t even feel it.”

So what has he noticed in recent games?

“I can feel that I’m taking a lot of bad swings,” Seager said with a smile. “But no, it’s not a big issue.”

Seager hadn’t been out of the starting lineup since last season on May 10.

“I’m just giving him a day,” said McClendon, who started Willie Bloomquist in Seager’s place. “His thumb is a little banged up, a little bruise. But he’s fine. He could play, but I think it’s a good time. We’ve still got another seven games on this road trip, so it’s a good day to give him a day.”

As for whether the sore thumb is affecting his swing?

“It could be. You never know,” said McClendon. “I think he’s probably going outside the zone a little too much. But it could be affecting him a little bit. That’s another reason to give him a day and just rest it up.”

Seager has been receiving pregame treatment on the thumb and icing it after games, but said it’s just the normal wear-and-tear of a 162-game season.

“Stuff like this happens all the time,” he said. “You just kind of play through it and don’t make an issue of it. It’s something that is going to be there. It doesn’t hinder me from doing anything or stop me from playing. It’s just going to be a little annoying until it feels better.”

McClendon said Seager would be available off the bench as a defensive replacement if the Mariners hold a lead in the late innings Wednesday. If he doesn’t play at all, his streak of 146 straight games will come to an end. Only three Major Leaguers have played more games in a row — Evan Longoria (263), Freddie Freeman (188) and Adrian Beltre (160).

Seager has appeared in 539 of Seattle’s 557 games since Aug. 6, 2011.

Wilhelmsen takes another step in rehab process

WilhelmsenChangeMariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen played catch up to about 120 feet on Tuesday at Globe Life Park in Arlington as he took another step toward returning from a hyperextended right elbow that has sidelined him the past two and a half weeks.

Wilhelmsen is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as he’s fully recovered, with a mid-May return likely if all goes as expected. The 31-year-old right-hander threw for about 25 minutes in the outfield prior to Seattle’s game with the Rangers and will have a similar session on Thursday before he’s scheduled to take to the mound in Houston on Friday for a bullpen session.

If all goes well this week, Wilhelmsen could throw another bullpen or a simulated game early next week in Anaheim before being sent out an a Minor League rehab assignment about the time the Mariners return home at the end of their current 10-game road trip.

Wilhelmsen said his arm felt great on Tuesday and the hard part now is sticking with the rehab program set up by the team’s training staff.

“I’m ready to go,” Wilhelmsen said. “I’m pretty eager. Once everything is feeling good, you want to get right back into it.”

Wilhelmsen made just two appearances this season, allowing two runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings, before injuring his arm when he got accidentally twisted backward by teammate Danny Farquhar as Farquhar ran by while he was stretching in the bullpen in Oakland on April 11.

Wilhelmsen was a critical part of last year’s bullpen success as he posted a 2.27 ERA in 79 1/3 innings over 57 appearances.

• While Nelson Cruz hit .382 with nine homers and 19 RBIs in his first 14 games in right field compared to .100 with no homers and two RBIs in his initial five games at designated hitter, manager Lloyd McClendon said that hasn’t played into his decision to use the 34-year-old more in the outfield than many expected so far.

“When I think he needs a day for his legs, I give it to him,” said McClendon, who had Cruz at DH in Tuesday’s game. “If not, I’m going to play him in the outfield. I reassess it every day. I have to make sure I keep him healthy. I have to be smart about it.”

• Broadcasters Aaron Goldsmith and Dave Sims are flipping roles for the Rangers and upcoming Astros series, with Goldsmith moving into the TV booth alongside Mike Blowers and Sims taking radio duties alongside Rick Rizzs. The Mariners will use that alignment at various times this year as a change of pace.

Thunderstorm makes for adventurous trip to Dallas

After a turbulent ride and a late-night diversion to San Antonio due to heavy thunderstorms in Texas, the Mariners charter plane from Seattle arrived at Love Field in Dallas about 3:30 a.m. CT on Monday.

The Mariners originally were scheduled to arrive in Dallas around midnight after losing an 11-inning, 4-2 game to the Twins at Safeco Field on Sunday afternoon, but one attempt at landing was aborted and the plane was sent to San Antonio – about 280 miles to the south – to refuel and wait for the weather to clear.

The team and traveling party spent about two hours on the runway at San Antonio before being allowed to make the bumpy flight back to Dallas, where they finally landed at 3:25 a.m. and eventually reached their hotel just before 5 a.m.

“Worst flight ever. #thankGoditsover” tweeted outfielder Justin Ruggiano.

Broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith tweeted that “the team pilot earned a merit badge tonight.”

And pitcher Taijuan Walker, who is scheduled to start Monday night’s game, offered a simple: “Wooo” on his Twitter account.


The Rangers also had some travel issues as they were diverted to Austin on their flight home from Anaheim.

The two teams are scheduled for a three-game series starting Monday at 5:05 p.m. CT at Globe Life Park.

While the weather cleared on Monday morning, the forecast calls for more thunderstorms in the Arlington area on Monday evening, with rain projected through Tuesday afternoon.