Smoak, Saunders both sidelined Saturday

Smoak catchJustin Smoak was out of the starting lineup for the second time in the past three games on Saturday as the Mariners first baseman continues dealing with a sore quadricep muscle in his left leg.

Veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist will take his place again at first in the 4:10 p.m. PT game at Tropicana Field. Bloomquist hadn’t started at first base since 2004 when he replaced Smoak in Wednesday’s victory in Atlanta, but he handled the position without problems.

The Mariners also lost one of their hottest hitters Friday when Michael Saunders felt his right shoulder tighten up while swinging the bat in the third inning of a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay and the right fielder was out of the lineup for Saturday’s rematch with the Rays.

Saunders didn’t believe the injury was anything serious, but more of a discomfort. But the 27-year-old was scheduled to meet with the Rays team doctor on Saturday to make sure there’s no structural problem with what McClendon called “an impingement.”

Both players are regarded as “day-to-day” in regards to their availability.

McClendon had hoped sitting Smoak in Atlanta, combined with the team’s off day Thursday, would refresh the big switch-hitter. But Smoak struggled running to first on a ground out in his first at-bat in Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Rays and then wasn’t moving well in his second at-bat after he walked and then had to run to second on an infield single by Cole Gillespie.

Smoak stayed in the game and struck out his final two at-bats to finish 0-for-3, but McClendon had seen enough.

“His running was not good at all,” McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game. “He’s not a speedster by any stretch of the imagination, but he was really dragging it yesterday. I just didn’t like what I saw.”

After hitting .250 in the first month, Smoak has struggled the past five weeks and his average is down to .208. He’s still tied for the team lead with 12 doubles, is tied for second in home runs with seven and is third on the club with 29 RBIs.

Because he still appeared in Wednesday’s game as a pinch hitter, Smoak remains the only Mariner to have played in all of the club’s first 60 games. But his production has dipped in recent weeks and McClendon feels the strained quad has contributed to that, so he’d like to get the youngster’s legs back under him.

Smoak says the nagging injury just hasn’t improved, despite the team’s first off day in 17 days on Thursday.

“It was a little bit more of the same,” Smoak said. “I’ll give it a rest tonight and go from there. I actually felt really good yesterday during BP and before the game. Then the first at-bat, running down … it’s not something like it’s real crazy. Just a little bit of the same. It’s a little tight in there. I just have to keep trying to loosen it up.”

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota TwinsSaunders has hit .356 over his last 16 games to raise his average from .226 to .280. With six doubles, three triples and four home runs, his .448 slugging percentage is second on the team behind Kyle Seager’s .476.

He will be replaced in right field on Saturday by Gillespie, who has been on a hot streak of his own. Gillespie is 7-for-13 over his last four starts to raise his average from .217 to .333. Gillespie has played 20 games for the Mariners since being called up from Tacoma on April 24. The 29-year-old outfielder spent parts of the past four seasons with the D-Backs, Giants and Cubs.

The right-handed Gillespie has been used mostly against left-handed pitchers by McClendon, but was in the lineup Saturday against right-hander Alex Cobb.

“We’re just trying to mix and match,” McClendon said. “Righties hit this guy in the past and have had some success this year off him. I’m just trying to see what we’ve got. We don’t have the perfect lineup, so we’re just trying to mix and match and put guys in there and hopefully find a little lightning in a bottle.”

McClendon pays tribute to mentor Zimmer

Lloyd McClendon woke up Thursday with an off day in Florida and was struck by a notable absence.

Don Zimmer, his long-time friend and mentor, was not going to stop by to take him to their annual trek to the horse race track in Tampa. Zimmer, one of baseball’s beloved figures, died Wednesday at 83.

“I was getting ready to go to the track and I realized that Zim was not picking me up,” McClendon said. “[Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland] and I have been going to the track with him the last eight or nine years and I will miss that. I’ll miss him telling me that he’s out of bullets.”

McClendon went and played the ponies anyway and thought often of the man who was his manager with the Cubs in 1989 when they won the National League Central.

“I lost a lot of money in his honor yesterday, yes I did,” McClendon said with a chuckle. “I was out of bullets at the end.”

Zimmer will be honored in a pregame ceremony on Saturday at Tropicana Field after spending his final years working for the Rays.

“Zim was an institution,” McClendon said. “Somebody was saying he was the adviser for the Tampa Bay Rays and that’s true. But he was a mentor to a lot of us. He was certainly a mentor to me and I was proud he was my skipper. I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot about the horses, too. He always told me somebody has got to win the race, go bet the money.”

Zunino gets another day off; Smoak back in lineup

With a stretch of 36 games in 37 days and some difficult travel, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon continued trying to do what he could Friday to keep his players fresh.

Veteran backup catcher John Buck got the start in place of Mike Zunino for the second straight game in the 4:10 p.m. PT series opener against the Rays, which McClendon said allowed Buck to face a pitcher he’s hit well in the past in Erik Bedard while giving Zunino an extra day.

“Zunino is fine. He’ll catch probably all three day games [in the next three days],” McClendon said. “This is an opportunity to get Buck in there and at the same time, my regular catcher is going to have three days off, so he should be good and strong.

“He’s fine. He’s a big, strong kid. But they all get tired at some point and you have to be smart about how you pick and choose those days off. We’ve tried to be intelligent about this and hopefully it works.”

Buck is 4-for-7 in his career against Bedard going into Friday’s game.

Meanwhile, first baseman Justin Smoak was back in the lineup after being replaced Wednesday by Willie Bloomquist. The Mariners then had Thursday off, their first rest after 16 straight games, and now will play 20 more in a row.

“He’s had two days to rest up and get off that leg,” McClendon said. “Hopefully he’ll get back on the right path and start swinging the bat the way he’s capable of swinging.”

Smoak said he was feeling better, though noting it’s tough to tell how the leg is until testing it in a game.

“I’m just trying to fight through it a little bit,” said Smoak, who still is the only Mariner to have played in every game after he pinch hit in Wednesday’s 2-0 win in Atlanta. “Yesterday was real nice, to finally just sit back and relax a little. And now we’ve got 20 in a row. So you’ve got to enjoy it while you can.”

McClendon says rotation won’t be switched up

Lloyd McClendon didn’t specifically confirm that Erasmo Ramirez would start again in Monday’s series finale with the Rays, but the Mariners manager said Friday that his club would keep its pitchers in rotation and not move anyone up after Thursday’s off day.

The Mariners could have bumped Hisashi Iwakuma up to Monday and kept him on regular four day’s rest, but McClendon said he’ll instead give Iwakuma the extra day of rest and pitch him Tuesday against the Yankees in what figures to be a much-hyped match with Japanese rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka.

All the other Mariners starters will remain in their same rotation going forward into the upcoming homestand, which means Chris Young and Roenis Elias facing the Yankees on Wednesday and Thursday, with Felix Hernandez getting Friday’s start against the Rangers.

McClendon was a little evasive on the specifics of Ramirez starting as scheduled on Monday, however, saying only that “we will stay in rotation.” Ramirez lasted just three innings in Atlanta after being called up to take Brandon Maurer’s spot and 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA in seven starts on the season.

There isn’t an obvious replacement for Ramirez, however. Taijuan Walker will make his third rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma on Monday and could still need at least one more outing after that, having thrown just two innings on 56 pitches in his last opportunity.

James Paxton has been cleared to start playing catch again on Monday, but remains at least several weeks away in a best-case scenario after his own rehab program was halted after one start in Tacoma by a sore shoulder.

One possible solution would be promoting veteran Matt Palmer from Tacoma as he’s been pitching fairly well after a late start to the season due to injuries. Palmer, 35, last appeared in the Majors for the Padres when he pitched three games in relief in 2012. He was 13-5 with a 4.22 ERA in 57 outings – including 17 starts – for the Angels from 2009-11 and also started three games for the Giants in ’08.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder has spent most of his career in the Minors (65-69, 4.05 ERA in 296 games over 13 years). He was 6-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 25 games last year for the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque club and is 1-2 with a 2.14 ERA in five starts for Tacoma this season after signing a Minor League contract last winter.

Despite allowing just two hits and one run, Palmer was pulled after three innings and 48 pitches in his last start Thursday for Tacoma in what could have been a prelude to getting him ready to come back on just three day’s rest Monday if needed. That would allow Seattle’s other starters to stay in rotation, as McClendon indicated, though Palmer would need to be added to the 40-man roster.

Or the Mariners could stick with Ramirez, who is with the team in Tampa and is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three career outings against the Rays.

Mariners take San Diego power hitter with sixth pick

A Mariners team looking to add offensive punch found a perfect match in Thursday’s First-Year Player Draft, landing San Diego prep standout Alex Jackson with the sixth overall pick in the first round.

Jackson is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-handed power hitting catcher/outfielder from Rancho Bernardo High School who is regarded by many as the premier hitter available in this year’s Draft.

Jackson hit 47 home runs in his high school career and also has impressed scouts with a strong throwing arm. Whether he sticks behind the plate or is shifted to a corner outfield spot remains to be seen, but the Mariners already have one of baseball’s top young catchers in Mike Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 Draft.

The Mariners definitely have a need for right-handed power hitters, however, particularly in the outfield.

Jackson is just the second high school player selected with Seattle’s top pick since Jack Zduriencik became general manager in 2009. Four of Zduriencik’s five previous top picks were college players – outfielder Dustin Ackley (’09), pitcher Danny Hultzen (’11), Zunino (’12) and third baseman D.J. Peterson (’13).

Right-hander Taijuan Walker was the lone prep player picked first by Seattle in that span, though he didn’t go until the 43rd overall pick as a supplemental first-rounder.

Seattle has another pick Thursday, the 74th and final selection of the day, with the last choice in the Competitive Balance Round B.

The Mariners lost their second-round selection (47th overall) when they signed Robinson Cano as a qualified free agent. Seattle would have recouped a second-round selection had Kendrys Morales, its own qualified free agent, signed elsewhere.

But Morales is the only remaining unsigned player who’d received a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. Once the first day of the Draft is over, Morales will be able to sign with any team without costing that club a Draft pick.

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10, with the Mariners selecting sixth in each of those rounds, then wraps up Saturday with the final 30 rounds.

Here’s a video with some Jackson highlights:

Franklin sent down to make room for Ramirez

Ramirez, Erasmo

Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez has been recalled from Triple-A Tacoma and will start Tuesday’s 4:10 p.m. PT game against the Braves at Turner Field, with infielder Nick Franklin optioned to Tacoma to make room on the 25-man roster.

Ramirez opened the season in Seattle’s rotation and was also brought up on May 7 to make a spot start in a doubleheader against the A’s, but has otherwise been with Tacoma after struggling in his first five starts. Including a 2-0 loss to Oakland in his one-game return, Ramirez is 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA in six starts for Seattle this season.

The 24-year-old from Nicaragua will take the starting spot opened up by last week’s demotion of right-hander Brandon Maurer.

Ramirez has pitched parts of the past two seasons for Seattle as well and owns a 7-10 career record with a 4.57 ERA in 36 games, including 27 starts.

In five starts with Tacoma, Ramirez was 1-3 with a 4.55 ERA. He won his last outing with the Rainiers on Thursday, allowing two runs and five hits in six innings against Salt Lake.

Franklin has hit well in Triple-A this year, but struggled at the plate with Seattle and batted just .129 (4-for-31) with 15 strikeouts after rejoining the Mariners on May 20. In two stints with Seattle this season, Franklin has hit .128 with two RBIs, a .192 on-base percentage and .170 slugging percentage in 17 games.

In 30 games with Tacoma, Franklin is batting .376 with seven doubles, seven home runs and 26 RBIs.

The young infielder started at second base for the final four months of 2013, batting .225 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs in 102 games, but lost that job when Seattle signed Robinson Cano.

Cano moves into All-Star voting lead at 2B

CanoPresser

New Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano has moved into first place in fan voting for a starting position on the 2014 American League All-Star team in the latest ballot count released Monday by Major League Baseball.

Cano, who was voted the AL’s starting second baseman the past four years while playing for the Yankees, was about 6,000 votes behind Detroit’s Ian Kinsler in the initial results released last week. But the new tally shows Cano moving into the lead by about 75,000 votes.

Cano is currently at 726,158 votes, with Kinsler at 649,926. Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox is third with 540,515, while the Twins’ Brian Dozier sits fourth among second basemen with 360,089.

Cano has a chance to become the third second baseman in American League history to earn five consecutive fan-elected starts, joining Hall of Famers Rod Carew (six straight from 1970-75) and Roberto Alomar (five straight, 1996-2000).

In addition, Cano would join Bret Boone (2001) as the only fan-elected starting second basemen in Mariners history, and could become just the fourth Seattle infielder to receive an election from the fans, joining Boone, first baseman John Olerud (2001) and shortstop Alex Rodriguez (1997-98; 2000).

The Mariners haven’t had any position players selected to the All-Star team since outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2010.

Cano has been sidelined the last four games with a bruised left hand, which already is the most games he’s missed in a season since 2007. The Mariners are in New York on Monday night for a makeup game against the Yankees, which will be Cano’s third game back in the Bronx since signing a 10-year, $240 million deal with Seattle.

Heading into Monday’s games, the 31-year-old Cano ranks third among all American League hitters with a .327 batting average, is tied for third with 22 multi-hit games and is tied for seventh with 67 hits.

Cano is the only Mariners player ranked among the top five position players or top 15 outfielders in the AL All-Star voting. The updated National League numbers will be released on Tuesday.

The other change among AL leaders from the first week comes at designated hitter, where the Orioles’ Nelson Cruz has overtaken Boston’s David Ortiz.

The 85th All-Star Game will be played Tuesday, July 15, at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Here’s our MLB.com story listing all the vote totals for all positions.

McClendon explains right-handed heavy lineup

With Tigers southpaw Drew Smyly on the hill Saturday, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon trotted out every available right-handed batter on his club to combat a pitcher with a distinct left-right split in his career.

Left-handed hitters have batted just .122 (5-for-41) against Smyly this season compared to .286 (36-for-126) for right-handers. In his three-year Major League career, the split is .194 for lefties and .260 for right-handers.

With All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano already sidelined by a bruised hand on Cano Bobblehead Night for the 7:10 p.m. game at Safeco Field, McClendon opted for even more of a right-handed presence than normal as he started Willie Bloomquist in Cano’s place at second, put Mike Zunino at designated hitter instead of getting a day off with John Buck behind the plate, and had both his right-handed hitting outfielders – Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie – in the lineup while sitting lefties Michael Saunders, James Jones and Dustin Ackley.

McClendon, who was the hitting coach at Detroit the past seven seasons, felt that was the best approach against Smyly.

“I know Smyle’s pretty good,” McClendon said. “He’s tough on left-handers. This year they’re hitting .122 off him. That’s hard to ignore. I’m just trying to put as many right-handers in there as we can and hopefully we’re successful with it.”

As for the left-handed Chavez in center instead of the rookie Jones?

“Just to give Jones a break,” McClendon said. “He’s been grinding it pretty tough. And I think Endy probably more equipped to handle a guy like this.”

Here’s the full lineups:

 

TigerslineupMay31

Mariners will take a look at Nady on Minor League deal

Detroit Tigers v San Diego Padres

Veteran outfielder/first baseman Xavier Nady signed a Minor League deal with the Mariners on Wednesday after passing a physical exam and will report to extended Spring Training in Arizona.

Nady, 35, was designated for assignment by the Padres on May 5 and became a free agent on May 11. He hit .135 (5-for-37) with San Diego this season, with three home runs and four RBIs in 22 games.

“This guy is a professional,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. “He’s gotten off to a slow start this year and didn’t get a lot of at-bats, but I think it’s worth a look. He’s going to go to Arizona and try to get some at-bats and hopefully we can get him to Triple-A and get him up to speed and then we’ll see where we are.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” McClendon said, “but I certainly think it’s well worth it.”

The 12-year Major League veteran is a career .268 hitter with 104 home runs and 410 RBIs in 961 games. He’s played five years with the Padres, three with the Pirates, two with the Yankees and one season with the D-Backs, Mets, Giants, Cubs and Nationals.

Nady spent all of 2013 in Triple-A ball, hitting .296 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs and then struggled in his brief time with the Padres this season when he was used mostly as a pinch hitter before being released.

The Mariners are shy on right-handed hitting outfielders and also have a need at designated hitter with Corey Hart sidelined another 3-5 weeks with a strained hamstring.

Cano second in tight AL second-base race

Cano, RobinsonNew Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, a five-time All-Star for the Yankees, finds himself in a heated battle on the initial fan balloting for this year’s Midsummer Classic.

Major League Baseball released the first round of American League vote totals Tuesday and Cano is about 6,000 votes behind Detroit’s Ian Kinsler and just ahead of Boston’s Dustin Pedroia in the second-base race, which is the tightest position battle in the initial voting.

The official tally shows 356,244 votes for Kinsler, 350,293 for Cano and 343,321 for Pedroia, with Minnesota’s Brian Dozier fourth at 194,941.

Cano was elected by the fans as the AL starter at second base the past four years and was also named to the team in 2006, though he didn’t play that year due to an injury.

No other Mariners players were among the top five at their positions, or 15 among the outfielders, in the numbers released Tuesday. Seattle hasn’t had a position player selected to the All-Star team since outfielder Ichiro Suzuki earned the last of his 10 straight selections in 2010.

Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites — online or on a mobile device — using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian –  until Thursday, July 3, at 8:59 p.m. PT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field in Minneapolis on Tuesday, July 15.

Fans may submit up to 25 online ballots, but they can also earn a one-time bonus of 10 additional online ballots. To access these additional online ballots, you must be logged into your MLB.com account when you submit any online ballot. If you do not have an MLB.com account, register on the site in accordance with the enrollment instructions for a free MLB.com account.

Pitchers aren’t voted on by fans, but Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has been selected to the last four All-Star Games. He was joined by Hisashi Iwakuma last year and Michael Pineda and Brandon League in 2011.

Cano had the top batting average of all AL second basemen after Tuesday’s game at .332 and also was first in RBIs with 30. His .377 on-base percentage is second to the .379 mark of the Angels’ Howie Kendrick and his .805 OPS is third behind Kinsler (.837) and Houston’s Jose Altuve (.806).

Kinsler is hitting .330 with four home runs and 22 RBIs with his new Tigers club, while Pedroia is batting .268 with two home runs and 16 RBIs for the Red Sox.  Pedroia is a four-time All-Star who has been elected twice by fans as a starter, while Kinsler is a three-time All-Star who is seeking his first starting assignment.

Second base is a stacked position in the AL this season as Altuve is also having an excellent season, hitting .323 with two home runs, 17 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for the Astros; Kendrick is batting .303 with two home runs and 22 RBIs; and Dozier has 11 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 26 RBIs to go with a .246 batting average.

Cano has hit just two home runs to date and Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon says that fact seems to be raising a false impression that the 31-year-old has gotten off to a slow start with his new team. In truth, he’s second behind only Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (.341) among all AL hitters in batting average and leads the Mariners in RBIs while also racking up 11 doubles and a triple and playing outstanding defense.

“All you hear is Robbie is struggling,” McClendon said. “He’s [almost] leading the league in hitting and has 30 RBIs. He’s doing pretty good.”

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