SEATTLE — When Cole Gillespie starts Friday in left field for the Mariners, in his first game after being promoted from Triple-A Tacoma, it will mark a victory for perseverance.
Cycle back to the day after New Year’s: Gillespie, 29, sought a location to jump-start a pro career about to enter its ninth season after managing just 169 at-bats in the big leagues over parts of three seasons.
He saw the Mariners as a good fit.
“When I signed,” Gillespie recalled, “the roster was pretty left-hand oriented. I knew, talking with them, though, they’d probably go out and try to get some right-handed bats.
“But at the same time, I felt this would be a good spot for me. And being from the Northwest, in Portland, all things being equal in signing with another team, I was going to choose the Mariners.”
Gillespie then batted .433 in 17 spring games for a club still searching for right-handed bats … and found it wasn’t good enough. The Mariners not only reassigned him to minor-league camp; they did so on March 18.
“It was a little frustrating at first,” he admitted, “especially with it being with a couple of weeks left in the spring. But at the same time, I can’t control their moves or their decisions.
“All I can do is to go down there and continue to put up some numbers and, hopefully, kind of open their eyes and try to force their hand a little bit if I can.”
Gillespie did just that.
He was batting .362 in 16 games for the Rainiers with five homers and 14 RBIs. That was just the thing to open eyes and force hands — particularly since the Mariners are still looking for right-handed punch.
“Right now,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “we’re trying to play with the roster and get the right fit. This guy is swinging the bat well down there. Hopefully, he’ll continue to stay hot up here.”
PAXTON: 'NO PAIN’ IN PLAYING CATCH
Injured lefty James Paxton threw for the first time — he played catch — in his recovery from a strained back muscle that surfaced in an April 8 victory over the Angels.
It wasn’t much: Just five minutes at a distance of 45 feet, but Paxton reported only positives.
“I got to my regular arm slot,” he said. “No pain. I felt strong throwing the ball today. We’ll see how I feel (Saturday), and how I respond. If all feels good, I’ll throw again (Saturday).”
Club officials are hesitant to discuss a recovery timetable, but Paxton’s injury — a strained latissimus dorsi muscle — typically requires six-to-eight weeks before a pitcher returns to active duty.
Paxton, 25, won his first two starts before the injury forced him to the disabled list. Also: the Mariners were 5-2 after he beat the Angels; they were 3-11, before Friday, since his injury.
Nine Mariners are on this year’s ballot, which is not surprising. The ballot typically includes the starters for all teams. One note: Corey Hart is on the ballot as an outfielder; Logan Morrison is listed as the designated hitter.
The rest: Mike Zunino at catcher, Justin Smoak at first base, Robinson Cano at second base, Brad Miller at shortstop, Kyle Seager at third base; and Dustin Ackley and Abraham Almonte in the outfield.
The last Mariner voted into the starting lineup was outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2010, although Cano was the American League’s starting second baseman for the last four years while playing for the Yankees.
Balloting runs through 8:59 p.m. Pacific time on July 3. The All-Star Game is July 15 at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge, as expected, rejoined the club prior to Friday’s game after being recalled from Tacoma.
The Mariners had to wait until Friday to make the move because Luetge, 27, was optioned April 15 to the Rainiers after a previous big-league tour.
Players can’t be recalled for 10 days after being optioned to the minors unless they replace someone placed on the disabled list.
Luetge allowed two runs in one inning over two outings in his earlier stay. He was 1-0 in four relief appearances at Tacoma but permitted three runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Z-MAN BUILDS REP
It will be interesting to see how often the Rangers run this weekend on catcher Mike Zunino after seeing two runners erased last week on stolen-base attempts.
“I read about that kid and now I'm seeing it,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “That kid can throw. The one on Elvis (Andrus), he caught a breaking ball with his glove turned up, and he still got it on the money.”
Zunino threw out Andrus in the first inning on April 15 at Texas, which started a streak of throwing out four runners in seven attempts prior to Friday’s game.
The Rangers activated third baseman Adrian Beltre prior to game after placing Kevin Kouzmanoff on the disabled list. Beltre was placed on the disabled list because of a strained left quadriceps muscle. Kouzmanoff has a herniated disk in his lower back. … The White Sox claimed ex-Mariners pitcher Hector Noesi on waivers from the Rangers. He is expected to be in a Chicago uniform Saturday. … Nick Franklin will likely play multiple positions at Tacoma, manager Lloyd McClendon said. Franklin returned Thursday to the Rainiers after going 2-for-16 with the Mariners. He played only shortstop and second base in earlier tour at Tacoma.
It was 24 years ago Saturday — April 26, 1990 — that Ken Griffey Jr. made what stands as the signature catch in a career loaded with remarkable defensive plays.
It was in the fourth inning at Yankee Stadium when Griffey saved a run for Randy Johnson by climbing the wall to snatch a homer away from Jesse Barfield.
After making the catch, Griffey sprinted back to the infield with arm raised, holding the ball, and a huge smile. Griffey also went 2-for-4 in the 6-2 victory.
ARMED FORCES NIGHT
Saturday is the 13th annual Boeing Salute to Armed Forces Night at Safeco Field. All branches of the service will be recognized, and Boeing will present a commemorative coin to 15,000 fans.
VFW Post 2995 will collect donations outside the gates to to help provide care packages for troops serving overseas.
The USO will operate silent auction tables for memorabilia near Section 128 on the main concourse, the Terrace Club and the view level (300 level). Items will be available for bid through the sixth inning.
The Mariners and Rangers continue their three-game series at 6:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-1 with a 2.04 ERA) looks to bounce back from his first loss when he faced Texas righty Colby Lewis (1-1 and 4.22).
Root Sports will carry the game.