Mariners notebook: Leadoff left to Jones, for now

Staff writerMay 11, 2014 

Royals Mariners Baseball

Seattle Mariners center fielder James Jones, right, celebrates with Robinson Cano after the team defeated the Kansas City Royals in a baseball game, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in Seattle. The Mariners won 1-0. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

ELAINE THOMPSON — AP

There figured to be some changes Saturday in the Seattle Mariners’ lineup after scoring just two runs in their three previous games. And it started at the top when rookie James Jones replaced Michael Saunders as the leadoff hitter.

“He’s a prototypical-type leadoff guy,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ll give him his chance and see what he can do. I like what I see. I don’t think he’s overmatched at the plate.”

Jones, 25, entered Saturday’s game 5-for-11 in limited big league duty, but he batted .306 as a leadoff hitter in 360 career at-bats in the minors.

“It’s the same thing wherever you hit,” he said. “Try to get on base. Try to get a good pitch to hit, and let the other guys drive me in.”

The early returns are positive: Jones had a single and two walks in four plate appearances in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

“He did exactly what we thought he could provide for us in the leadoff spot,” McClendon said. “He’s a pretty talented kid.”

The move came with Saunders mired in a 0-for-10 slide over the previous three games. Saunders spent 10 games atop the lineup. Initially, he performed well — going 11-for-31 before his slump.

Saunders batted eighth Saturday. He grounded out to first in his only at-bat before leaving the game in the fourth inning after suffering a hyperextended left knee when he fell while chasing a fly ball.

McClendon also moved shortstop Brad Miller back to the No. 2 hole for the first time since May 2 despite a 1-for-19 slump that brought him into the game at .170.

The Mariners were 7-3 once Saunders replaced Abraham Almonte as the leadoff hitter. Almonte was optioned last Sunday to Triple-A Tacoma.

Jones brings a speed element to the role, but McClendon noted: “When a (speed) guy gets on in front of Robby (Cano) and Corey (Hart), that helps. But the important thing is to get guys on. Speed is secondary at this point.”

Saunders carried an overall .225 average into Saturday’s game with one homer and seven RBIs in 31 games.

RODNEY’S APPROACH

Ever wonder why closer Fernando Rodney often slows the game to a crawl while trying to close out a victory in the ninth inning?

“I have to slow down my body,” he said. “Walk around and slow things down.”

That’s particularly true when, as happened in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 1-0 victory, he initially experiences command problems. He walked the first batter on four pitches and fell behind on the second.

“Sometimes,” Rodney said, “I feel great in the bullpen, but when I get on the mound, I feel like I have to throw a couple of more pitches (to find my command). I feel I’m too strong.”

He had no such problems closing out Saturday’s victory. He got two quick outs in the ninth before yielding a single. He then closed the game with a grounder to short.

But there are times, such as Thursday, when he feels the need to quell the adrenaline rush of the situation. Because the rules don’t permit extra warm-up pitches to find a proper rhythm, Rodney attempts to reset himself through a deliberate approach.

It worked Thursday when he escaped a first-and-second jam with one out by getting a strikeout and a fielder’s-choice grounder that resulted in a force at second.

“The last two hitters, I could feel my command was back,” he said. “I made good pitches.”

It usually works. Rodney has 11 saves in 12 chances. His only blown save came after a two-out error.

UMPIRE EXITS

Umpire Scott Barry left Saturday’s game before the fourth inning after suffering a severely bruised left hand on a wild pitch. Crew chief Jeff Nelson shifted from first base to the plate, and the game concluded with a three-man crew.

X-rays on Barry’s hand revealed nothing more than a bruise. He is expected to return to the crew for Sunday’s series finale.

BULLPEN WORKOUTS

Left-hander James Paxton and right-hander Taijuan Walker are slotted for bullpen workouts Sunday in their ongoing recovery from injuries.

Paxton reported no day-after problems from a 25-pitch bullpen workout Friday that marked his first time on a mound since a strained back muscle forced his removal from an April 8 start.

Plans call for him to throw 35-50 pitches Sunday. His next session is tentatively scheduled for midweek and should include breaking balls, which provide additional stress.

Walker is scheduled for roughly 20 pitches Sunday in his first mound work since renewed shoulder soreness knocked him out of a April 15 rehabilitation start for Triple-A Tacoma.

Both are on the same general plan: three bullpen workouts, two simulated games and then a minor league rehab assignment.

A best-case scenario for return to active duty projects three-plus weeks from the date of the first bullpen workout.

SHORT HOPS

Third baseman Kyle Seager didn’t start again Saturday because of flulike symptoms. Willie Bloomquist replaced Seager for the second consecutive game. … Rodney’s performance Saturday extended the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 15 innings. … The first 10,000 moms through the gates Sunday get a Mariners cap in recognition of Mother’s Day. All kids age 14 and younger get a rope necklace.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Royals conclude their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias (3-2, 3.27 ERA) will face Kansas City right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2-2, 3.91). Root Sports will broadcast the game.

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