ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Don Zimmer’s death Wednesday at age 83 hit home a little more for Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon during the team’s open date Thursday.
“It was funny,” McClendon said. “I got up, and I was getting ready to go to the (horse) track. I realized that ‘Zim’ was not picking me up.
“Zim and I have been going to the track here for the last eight or nine years. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss him telling me that he’s out of bullets (money).”
McClendon played under Zimmer on the Chicago Cubs in 1989 and ’90.
“Zim was an institution,” McClendon said. “Somebody said he was an 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.”
The Rays plan to honor Zimmer before Saturday’s game with a 15-minute tribute that will delay the first pitch to 1:25 p.m. (PDT). The listed start is 1:10 p.m.
Zimmer signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 as an amateur free agent. He reached the majors in 1954 and played 12 years for five teams.
After several years as a minor league coach and manager, Zimmer was hired in 1972 as manager of the San Diego Padres. He also managed the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and the Cubs over parts of 13 seasons.
Zimmer served as the New York Yankees’ bench coach from 1996-2003 and spent the past 11 years with the Rays before succumbing to heart and kidney problems.
As McClendon notes, Zimmer also was fond of the track.
“He always told me: ‘Somebody’s got to win the race. Go bet the money,’ ” McClendon said. “I lost a lot of money in his honor (Thursday). I was out of bullets at the end of the day.”
NOW CLEANING UP
John Buck batted cleanup Friday for the first time this season, when McClendon unveiled the latest version of his right-handed lineup in matching up against Tampa Bay left-hander Erik Bedard.
Buck shrugged it off.
“When you’ve been around for a while,” he said, “people know you enough — especially in this day and age — they know how to get you out. They know your strengths and weaknesses.
“That’s not going to change, whether you’re in the eight-hole or the four-hole. That’s how I am (in calling a game) as a catcher. Knowing that helps me stay within my approach. The slot in the lineup doesn’t affect that.”
McClendon said Mike Zunino likely would be the starting catcher for the series’ remaining three games.
McClendon all but ruled out the option of shifting right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma up one day in the rotation, even though doing so would have kept him on a regular five-day schedule.
“As of right now, we’re staying in the rotation,” McClendon said.
If so, that sets up a marquee matchup — Iwakuma vs. Masahiro Tanaka — on Tuesday, when the Mariners open an eight-game homestand with the first of three games against the Yankees.
Thursday’s open date afforded an extra day of rest for Chris Young, Roenis Elias and Felix Hernandez before their starts against Tampa Bay.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do,” McClendon said. “I don’t know what results we’ll get, but pitching is our foundation. It’s our backbone. We’d better do everything we can to try to take care of it.”
What McClendon didn’t do was identify a starter for Monday’s series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Erasmo Ramirez remains on the roster, but he gave up five runs in three innings Tuesday in Atlanta, and the Mariners likely will seek an alternative.
The top two possibilities: promote right-hander Matt Palmer from Triple-A Tacoma, or promote a reliever and cover the game with the bullpen corps.
Of note: Palmer was pulled Thursday after three innings and 48 pitches.
NOTING 2013 DRAFTEES
Point to note while the Major League Baseball first-year player draft continues through Saturday: Third baseman DJ Peterson and outfielder Austin Wilson, the Mariners’ first two picks in 2013, are No. 2 and No. 7 on Baseball America’s latest Prospect Hot Sheet.
Infielder Greifer Andrade, the club’s top 2013 international signing, received mention as the “Helium Watch” player for his success in the Venezuelan Summer League.
Peterson, 22, was 14-for-28 over the past seven games at Advanced-A High Desert with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs. He is batting .317 overall in 52 games with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs.
Wilson, 22, was 10-for-26 with 12 RBIs over the past week at low Single-A Clinton. Entering Friday, he was batting .289 with eight homers and 42 RBIs in 52 games.
Andrade, 17, is batting .338 through 17 games in the VSL with a .389 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage. He received a $1.05 million bonus last year. The international signing period commences July 2.
It was 18 years ago Saturday — June 7, 1996 — that Mariners third baseman Russ Davis broke a leg while chasing a foul ball by Keith Lockhart in the fourth inning of a 9-5 loss at Kansas City. Davis missed the rest of the season.
The Mariners acquired Davis in the December 1995 trade that sent first baseman Tino Martinez to the Yankees. Davis also is the answer to a trivia question: Who hit the first homer at Safeco Field?
Plans call for left-hander James Paxton to begin playing catch Monday in his recovery from shoulder soreness. The ailment surfaced after a May 24 rehabilitation start for Triple-A Tacoma in his recovery from a strained back muscle. … Right-hander Taijuan Walker, recovering from shoulder soreness, is scheduled to start Monday for Tacoma. That gives him an extra day of rest after throwing 56 pitches in two innings Tuesday, and it keeps him in line to step into the fifth spot in the big league rotation. … First baseman Justin Smoak returned to the lineup after not starting Wednesday at Atlanta because of a sore left quadriceps muscle.
The Mariners and Rays continue their four-game series Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 1:25 p.m. because of the Zimmer tribute. Rookie left-hander Elias (4-4, 3.53 ERA) is scheduled to start against Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb (1-3, 3.19).bob.dutton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners