It’s generally not wise to try to run on Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, a five-time Gold Glove winner who gunned down two Mariners in the ninth inning Friday as St. Louis beat Seattle 2-1 in 10 innings.
Molina, 31, has the highest caught stealing percentage of any active Major League catcher at 44.6 percent and he nailed Endy Chavez and Dustin Ackley in short order as the Mariners tried to put Friday’s game in motion with the score tied at 1.
It was the first time a Cardinals catcher had thrown out two runners in the same frame since 2001 when current manager Mike Matheny pulled the feat.
Why challenge Molina? Chavez was moving in a hit-and-run situation with Michael Saunders, who had twice failed to lay down a bunt earlier in the at-bat against closer Edward Mujica.
“We’ve got a 3-2 count there, so we’re going to put Endy in motion hoping Saunders can make contact there,” Wedge said. “It looked like a breaking ball up a little bit. He’s got to put that ball in play, especially after not getting the bunt down. Still, you feel okay with Endy running. Molina did a nice job.”
As for Ackley, after the Mariners outfielder had singled in the following at-bat?
“When you’ve got two outs and a runner on first base, you can’t just sit back and wait,” said Wedge. “You have to try to make something happen. Ackley was aggressive and I thought he had a pretty good jump. But that was one of the better throws we’ve seen this year. That second one was about as good as it gets from Yadi.”
Matheny, a former catcher like Wedge, understood the Mariners’ aggressive approach, even against Molina.
“The game situation really led to that,” said Matheny. “You’ve got a 3-2 count, a guy that might be throwing something slower and he actually did and Yadi still made up for it. I’m sure that’s the same that they’re going to do with just about any catcher behind the plate.”
ST. LOUIS – Felix Hernandez threw a flat-ground session in the outfield at Busch Stadium without problems before Friday’s series opener with the Cardinals and the Mariners will now have him throw a bullpen session Monday in Detroit as he works his way back from a minor oblique muscle strain in his left side.
Hernandez threw under the watchful eye of pitching coach Carl Willis as manager Eric Wedge was conducting his pregame media session with reporters.
“Once I talk to Carl and see how it looked today, then we’ll go from there,” Wedge said. “If it went well, then we’ll get him [throwing] off the mound and go from there. But let’s see today goes first.”
Once reports were positive, the Mariners said Hernandez could start Wednesday in Detroit if all goes well now in Monday’s bullpen workout.
Hernandez hasn’t pitched since Sept. 2 in Kansas City, when he felt some tightness in his lower back in the seventh inning of a 3-1 loss to the Royals.
He initially was scheduled to start again on Sunday, then had that delayed until Wednesday before being canceled completely after continuing to feel some stiffness in his side during a light throwing session.
The Mariners only have 15 games remaining after Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals and have been clear that they wouldn’t push Hernandez’s return unless he’s completely healthy.
The 27-year-old has thrown 194 1/3 innings to date, going 12-9 with a 3.01 ERA in 29 starts with 41 walks and 200 strikeouts. He’s pitched 200-plus innings each of the last five years and this is the fifth straight season he’s notched at least 200 strikeouts.
Going into Friday’s games, Hernandez was still tied for fourth in the American League in strikeouts and tied for sixth in innings pitched.
Felix Hernandez has been scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday against the Astros as the Mariners ace continues to be hampered by some stiffness in his back.
Hernandez will be replaced by rookie right-hander Brandon Maurer, who started 10 games at the beginning of the season and has been working in a long-relief role recently. Maurer, 23, is 4-7 with a 6.85 ERA.
Hernandez already had his start pushed back from Sunday after being removed from his previous outing on Sept. 2 in Kansas City after 6 2/3 innings after feeling some cramping in his lower back.
After the 26-year-old felt some stiffness again while throwing a flat-ground session on Saturday, the Mariners decided to delay his next start further rather than push it at this point. The issue is not considered serious, but the club is being cautious with Hernandez already having thrown 194 1/3 innings this season in 29 starts.
Hernandez is 12-9 with a 3.01 ERA and 200 strikeouts. He is currently third in the American League in strikeouts and fourth in innings pitched.
The durable right-hander has thrown 200-plus innings each of the past five years and this is his fifth consecutive season with 200 strikeouts.
The Mariners had already decided to go to a six-man rotation over the remaining weeks of the season to reduce the work load on all their pitchers. Rookie Taijuan Walker, who will make his third Major League start in Monday night’s series opener with the Astros, will be shut down after that appearance.
Maurer was already slated to take Walker’s place in the rotation the rest of the way. The club also is going with rookie James Paxton, who made his Major League debut on Saturday, along with Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders and Erasmo Ramirez.
Danny Hultzen, the Mariners top left-handed pitching prospect, threw three simulated innings prior to Saturday’s game at Safeco Field as he continued working on a revamped arm motion designed to alleviate the pressure on his left arm.
Hultzen threw only 35 2/3 innings in seven games this season while dealing with shoulder problems. But he faced teammates Abraham Almonte, Carlos Triunfel, Humberto Quintero and Henry Blanco and threw 51 pitches as general manager Jack Zduriencik, manager Eric Wedge, pitching coach Carl Willis and trainer Rick Griffin watched closely from behind the batting cage.
Hultzen, 23, threw two scoreless frames for Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday in his first live action since June and now will head to Instructional League and then Arizona Fall League to continue working his way back.
“I’m just glad to be pitching again,” said the 2011 first-round Draft pick. “I’ve spent too much time sitting on the bench watching, so I was glad to be back out there today.”
Before starting his session, Hultzen drew a straight line on the mound in front of the pitching rubber toward home plate as a reminder of where he wants his front foot to land on his delivery.
“I had an issue of stepping really far across my body,” he said. “That probably put a lot of stress on my shoulder. If you’re throwing that far across your body, I’m not saying it was the cause of what happened, but it could have been. We watched video from college and I was a lot straighter then. Still across my body, but there was a big difference from what it was in college and how I was throwing at the beginning of this year.”
The Mariners brass was pleased with what they saw Saturday.
“He looked free and easy,” said Zduriencik. “This is good for him to get back out there. Continued steps.”
With James Paxton making his first Major League start on Saturday night on the heels of Taijuan Walker’s recent debut, Zduriencik and Wedge said it’s encouraging to start thinking of what lies ahead with the promising pitching group.
And despite his largely lost season, Hultzen now is itching to get back into that mix and encouraged by his latest steps on the mound.
“It gives me something to build off,” he said. “I have the opportunity now to go down to Arizona and get a lot better as a baseball player. That’s the way I’m looking at it. It’s kind of what I’ve learned from this experience, to not take anything for granted. I know that sounds kind of sappy, but when you’re healthy and having fun, you take that for granted sometimes. When it’s taken away real quick like that, it kind of puts it in perspective.”
It’s been a tale of two halves for Raul Ibanez this season, but the Mariners veteran isn’t about to write off the last three weeks of play as Seattle heads down the stretch in his 18th Major League campaign.
Ibanez hit a game-tying pinch hit home run in the top of the ninth inning in Seattle’s 7-6 13-inning loss to the Royals on Thursday, just the second homer since July 12 for a man who leads the club with 26 for the season.
Ibanez hit .267 with 24 homers and 56 RBIs in 76 games prior to the All-Star break, but just .231 with two homers and five RBIs since going into Friday’s series opener with the Rays. But he’s heated up of late, batting .360 (9-for-25) over his last eight games and feels like he’s back on track.
“I think I’ve been swinging better lately,” said the 41-year-old outfielder. “I’ve been seeing the ball better. And even when I wasn’t feeling that well, I was battling every at-bat. Obviously the ball wasn’t going over the fence and I wasn’t getting that part of it. But I was scratching and I felt I was putting some at-bats together, fouling pitches off, having long at-bats and all the stuff you need to create momentum.”
His goal for the final 22 games?
“Win,” Ibanez said with a smile. “Win as many games as we can. We’ve got three weeks left and I think it’s a good thing to set the tone for these young guys for next season, to create an environment that is young and competitive and winning and make some stuff happen on the field. Good things have a carryover affect and bad things sometimes have a carryover as well, so to create a good carryover affect for everyone is important.”
Ibanez has seen his playing time reduced in recent weeks, but manager Eric Wedge had him starting Friday’s opener of the Rays series after his pinch-hit home run Thursday. Ibanez’s solo shot off Royals closer Greg Holland was the Mariners’ first two-out, ninth-inning, game-tying pinch hit homer since Brian Hunter’s two-run shot tied up a game in Detroit on Aug. 3, 1996.
“I thought that was the best ball he’d hit in a while, but he’s hit a couple like that lately,” Wedge said. “Obviously he’s had a tremendous year. When you impact a ballgame like he did last night, you want to give him a chance to get back in there. It’s a fine line for us. Obviously we’ve got a lot of young kids up here that want to play and need to play. But you have to also respect a Major League season and what Raul’s done for us and Kendrys Morales as well as a few of the other veterans.”
Here are Friday’s full lineups:
Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday as the first of several September call-ups expected to join the Mariners in the next few days.
Rookie catcher Mike Zunino will be recalled from his injury rehab assignment and join the Mariners on Monday, in time to catch Felix Hernandez’s start in the series opener against the Royals in Kansas City. Zunino has been out since July 26 with a broken hamate bone in his left hand.
Manager Eric Wedge said the team will wait until Tacoma’s season ends Monday to have several other players brought up and join the club on Tuesday in K.C.
Wilhelmsen, 29, saved 53 games over the past two seasons for Seattle, including 24 this year, but lost his closing job after blowing his fifth save and was optioned to Tacoma on Aug. 5. He went 0-1 with a 10.50 ERA in eight games with the Rainiers, allowing 19 hits and 14 runs in 12 innings with five walks and 15 strikeouts.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander will be used now as a middle-innings reliever as Danny Farquhar has secured the closing job, converting 11 of 12 save opportunities since taking over that role.
“I’m going to use him in multiple roles, really,” Wedge said. “I’ll just ease him in and see what happens. The sooner we get Tom in there and find out where he is, the sooner we’ll get a better idea of how we can use him.”
Wilhelmsen said he was ready for anything.
“I might even play shortstop or something,” he said with a laugh. “I was starting there, relieving. I was all over the place. Maybe DH. Who knows? We’ll see.”
Though Wilhelmsen started two games in Tacoma, that was just to control his situation and he never threw more than two innings. The club considered converting him to a starting role a year ago, but that is not in the plans now, Wedge said.
“I still feel with his personality, he’s still more of a bullpen guy,” Wedge said. “I think he has the pitches to be a starter if he needs to be, but now you’re talking about stretching a guy out, taking years to stretch a guy out where he can be a viable starter throwing 170-180 or 200 innings. That’s not something that happens overnight without putting him in harm’s way.”
Wedge acknowledged Wilhelmsen didn’t put up great numbers in Tacoma, but said he worked on locating his fastball and getting ahead in counts quicker.
“We’ve seen him come up here before and do well, even better than he did in the Minor Leagues. So hopefully he can flip that switch again,” Wedge said. “I feel strongly that he’s going to be a part of this, in what role I don’t know. He has too big an arm and too much experience and too much success in a vital role up here not to be. So I’m hoping all these trials he’s gone through will ultimately help him be a better bullpen guy because of what he has gone through. He’s seen both sides of it.”
What exactly was Wilhelmsen focusing on in Tacoma?
“Throwing strikes. Just trying to throw strikes,” said the big right-hander. “It’s kind of been that way, not just the last month. That’s what you’re always trying to do. I guess if my numbers weren’t good and I’m working on throwing strikes, that means I’m throwing strikes because they’re hitting ‘em. So I was successful in doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
The Mariners added right-hander Taijuan Walker to their roster as expected Friday, but also selected Abraham Almonte from Triple-A Tacoma to bolster their outfield depth.
Both players will join the team for Friday night’s game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Walker, 21, is scheduled to make his Major League debut on the mound in the 5:10 p.m. PT game.
Almonte, 24, was also promoted after hitting .314 with 11 home runs, 50 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 94 games. He was acquired from the Yankees for reliever Shawn Kelley last spring. He also will be making his Major League debut Friday against the Astros as manager Eric Wedge immediately penciled him in to right field and eighth in the batting order.
The Mariners already had one open roster spot created by outfielder Michael Morse’s trade to the Orioles for Minor League outfielder Xavier Avery earlier in the day.
They opened a second spot by optioning right-handed starter Erasmo Ramirez to Tacoma in what essentially is a paper move, since he will be able to be recalled in time for his next start for the Mariners after the Rainiers season ends on Monday.
Ramirez started Thursday’s game against the Astros, improving to 5-1 with the victory. He will be able to rejoin the Mariners in time for his next start Tuesday in Kansas City.
Almonte was expected to be called up when rosters can be expanded in September, but Friday’s move gives the Mariners an extra outfielder for the weekend and provides him a couple extra days in the Majors. The Dominican native started this season in Double-A Jackson, where he hit .255 with four homers, 18 RBIs and six stolen bases in 29 games.
He’s blossomed in Tacoma, hitting .333 with six doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 RBIs in 28 games in August.
The moves put the Mariners at 39 players on their 40-man roster. Here is tonight’s full lineup against the Astros:
With his playing time in Seattle diminishing in the final weeks of an injury-plagued season, outfielder Michael Morse was traded to the Orioles on Friday for outfielder Xavier Avery.
Avery, 23, hit .223 in 32 games for the Orioles in 2012, but has spent this entire season in the Minors. He is a speedster drafted in the second round out of high school in 2008 who is currently rated the Orioles’ No. 10 prospect by MLB.com.
Avery has batted .259 with 29 stolen bases in 120 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season in the Orioles’ system. He will be assigned to Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners.
The Orioles claimed Morse off waivers on Wednesday, then finalized a deal with Seattle right as the waiver deadline expired Friday.
Morse hit .226 with 13 home runs and 27 RBIs in 76 games for Seattle while playing mostly right field. The Orioles are looking to beef up their designated hitter options on a club that is 3 ½ games out of a Wild-Card playoff berth going into Friday’s games.
Morse, 31, will be a free agent at the end of this season and is still owed about $1.1 million on this year’s $6.75 million contract. He is a career .284 hitter with 83 homers and 272 RBIs in 561 games with the Mariners and Nationals.
The Mariners needed to move an outfielder to create a spot on their 25-man roster for pitcher Taijuan Walker, who will make his Major League debut Friday night against the Astros. The club released veteran right-hander Aaron Harang on Monday, but temporarily filled his roster spot by activating outfielder Franklin Gutierrez off the disabled list.
That left them with six outfielders and Morse became the odd-man out after struggling at the plate in recent weeks.
Morse was acquired from the Nationals in a three-team trade in January in which the Seattle sent catcher John Jaso to the A’s.
The Mariners hoped the big slugger could add some needed pop to their lineup after hitting 49 home runs with 157 RBIs over the previous two years with the Nats. And, indeed, he had a big Spring Training as he led the Cactus League with a Mariners record nine home runs in 20 games and then opened the year with six home runs in the first 10 regular-season games.
But in that 10th game on April 11, Morse broke the little finger on his right hand when he was hit by a pitch by Rangers reliever Tanner Scheppers. And while he sat out just three games, the finger continued to bother him and he didn’t come back with the same kind of production, then ran into further health problems when he strained his right hamstring running the bases in late May.
Morse tried to play through that issue before finally going on the disabled list for five weeks from June 21 to July 30. But since returning from the DL, he’s batted just .167 (12-for-72) with two home runs and four RBIs with 20 strikeouts in 18 games.
After hitting .293 with six homers and nine RBIs in the season’s first 10 games, Morse wound up hitting .215 with just seven more homers and 18 RBIs in his final 66 games with Seattle after breaking his finger.
The Mariners’ outfield now consists of Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Raul Ibanez, Endy Chavez and Gutierrez, while other players can be brought up from the Minor Leagues on Sunday when rosters can be expanded in September.
Top Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker arrived at Minute Maid Park and said “I’m pumped to be here” after playing catch with a football in the outfield prior to Thursday’s series opener with the Astros.
The young right-hander won’t officially be added to the club until shortly before he makes his Major League debut on Friday and can’t be with the team during Thursday’s game since he isn’t on the 25-man roster yet
But Walker, who turned 21 two weeks ago, took in the stadium and visiting clubhouse and got an early lchance to picture what it’s going to feel like for his first big-league start.
“I couldn’t help but smile,” Walker said of his first steps out onto the Minute Maid turf. “It’s a nice park, too. I’m excited to have a big crowd in there and pitch in a big-league stadium. But it’s really going to hit me when I’m the mound tomorrow right before my first pitch.”
Walker was the Mariners’ first selection in the 2010 Draft as a supplemental first-round selection (43rd overall) out of Yucaipa High School in California. And while he’s been on the fast track, that journey has seemed slow at times for the youngster.
“I’ve been working hard, especially this year,” he said. “Getting sent back down to Double-A, I knew I had a lot of stuff to work on. So I’ve been trying to go out there every day with a purpose, with something new to work on. It’s been going good for me. This year has been going well. Just to finally get the call up, it feels like all the hard work I’ve put in is finally paying off.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is regarded as one of the premier young right-handers in the game, having pitched in the past two All-Star Futures Games and been listed as the Mariners top prospect and the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball by MLB.com.
Walker went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA in 25 starts last year for Double-A Jackson and was 4-7 with a 2.46 ERA in 14 starts for Jackson this season before getting promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, where he went 5-3 with a 3.61 ERA in 11 games.
In 141 1/3 innings this season, Walker has 160 strikeouts and 57 walks with a 1.196 WHIP. He was the youngest player in the Pacific Coast League this year and will be the fifth-youngest player in Mariners history to make his debut as a starting pitcher at 21 years and 17 days.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has set about a 160-inning limit for Walker this season, which means he’ll likely only start about three games with Seattle before being shut down. But he’s not worrying about that right now.
“I’m just going to go out there and take it day by day, one start at a time,” he said. “Whenever they decide to shut me down, they will. But as of right now, I’m going to prepare like I’m going to pitch the rest of the season.”
When Walker found out he was getting promoted on Wednesday, he immediately called his mom in California to break the news.
“She’d already found out through Twitter,” Walker said with a grin. “She’s always on Twitter, really active. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I called her, but it was still exciting. We face-timed and my brother and sister were there. I got on the phone and they just started screaming. It was awesome.”
Walker said his mom, dad and lots of family members are flying to Houston to be in attendance.
The only younger Mariners starters in club history have been Felix Hernandez, who debuted at 19 in 2005, and a trio of 20-year-olds in Mike Hampton (1993), Gil Meche (1999) and Bill Wilkinson (1985).
Morse has been claimed off waivers by the Orioles, as first reported by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, which means the Mariners could just let him go to Baltimore and save his remaining month’s salary, or work out a deal to bring some compensation in return.
Or they could pull him back off waivers. as they’ve apparently done with Kendrys Morales after he was claimed earlier in the week.
Making a move with Morse is far more likely than the Morales’ situation, however. The Mariners currently have six outfielders — one more than normal — after activating Franklin Gutierrez off the disabled list on Monday when they designated Aaron Harang for assignment.
Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Raul Ibanez, Endy Chavez and Morse are all fighting for playing time at the moment and one of those outfielders will need to be moved off the 25-man roster when Walker is activated Friday for his Major League debut that night against the Astros.
Morse hasn’t been hitting since coming off the disabled list in late July. In fact, he really hasn’t swung the bat well since the first month of the season. After hitting .248 with nine home runs and 14 RBIs in the first 25 games, Morse has plummeted after breaking his right pinkie finger and then injuring his hamstring.
In 51 games since May 1, Morse has added just four home runs and 13 RBIs while batting .214.
But Morse still carries the threat of a power right-handed bat and the Orioles are trying to add a designated hitter, having also claimed the Twins’ Josh Willingham. The Orioles are 4 1/2 games back of Oakland in the AL West wild-card race and trying to hang in after losing five of their last eight games.
Whether Baltimore works out a deal for either player remains to be seen, but Morse — who loved playing on the East Coast for the Nationals — definitely is a candidate and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a deal finalized by Friday.