The most reliable arm in the Mariners’ bullpen at this point might be a left-hander who was toiling in the minors less than three weeks ago.
Swingman Vidal Nuno is getting the ball in steadily high-leverage situations as manager Lloyd McClendon seeks to patch holes in an increasingly leaky reliever corps.
“I’m available every day,” Nuno said. “It’s just a matter of being ready every day. If the arm is ready and you tell the manager that it’s not aching, then they’re going to use you.
“That’s what my role is.”
The Mariners acquired Nuno, 28, from Arizona in the June 3 trade that also netted outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo.
Nuno made nine appearances, allowing three runs in 102/3 innings, before the Mariners optioned him July 4 to Triple-A Tacoma in order to stretch him out as a starter.
After one start, Nuno returned July 9 to the big leagues when an injury forced reliever Charlie Furbush to the disabled list. Nuno gave up one run in his first game back but nothing since in nine innings over seven games.
The rest of the Mariners’ bullpen, in contrast, has a combined 4.50 ERA since the All-Star break.
“He’s very versatile,” McClendon said. “Obviously, he can pitch long. He can spot start for you. In a pinch, he can get a big out in a big inning for you. He’s not afraid. He’s a very versatile guy, and a very nice asset to have.”
Nuno hopes for an opportunity, at some future point, to win a job in the rotation; he has been a starter, primarily, throughout six minor league seasons since his selection by Cleveland in the 48th round of the 2009 draft.
“But right now,” he said, “I’m in the bullpen — and I’m not complaining. I’m just doing my work. I just know I’ve got to put myself in the weight room a little bit more. And running. Keep that stamina up.”
Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush tested his recovery from biceps tendinitis by throwing from a mound for the first time since a July 7 appearance against Detroit.
“Just 10 pitches,” Furbush reported. “This was a, ‘Let’s see what’s happening. Let’s see where I am.’ Honestly, it was encouraging. It had been a while, but it felt pretty good.”
Plans call for Furbush to throw again from a mound prior to Thursday’s game at Minnesota. If all goes well, that could lead to what club officials hope will be a brief minor-league rehab assignment to sharpen game skills.
“I know I’m still not 100 percent,” Furbush said. “I’ve still got a little bit of work to do, but this was an encouraging sign. As long as it keeps feeling better, I’ll just keep moving forward.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back sooner than I know.”
Furbush was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 33 games prior to the injury and had stranded all 16 inherited runners.
HAPP LINED UP
Current plans call for left-hander J.A. Happ to stay on schedule and start Thursday’s series opener at Minnesota.
Happ worked a one-two-three eighth inning on 15 pitches Monday just two days after he lasted only 12/3 innings — and 52 pitches — in Saturday’s 8-6 loss to Toronto.
Monday would have been Happ’s scheduled day for a between-starts bullpen workout, so the relief appearance doesn’t really affect his preparation routine.
By starting Thursday, Happ effectively provides other clubs with one final evaluation opportunity prior to the non-waiver trading deadline at 1 p.m. Pacific time Friday.
Happ is a pending free agent, and the Mariners are believed to be waiting to see whether a late market develops among other clubs seeking to add a starting pitcher prior to the deadline.
McClendon made no secret Tuesday that he hopes to rest rookie closer Carson Smith for a few days. An ineffective Smith suffered losses in each of his last two outings.
“He’s flying open (in his delivery) because he didn’t have anything left,” McClendon said. “He was trying to create some velocity. There was nothing there.
“That’s the first sign that a pitcher is tired.”
McClendon indicated he’d like to rest Smith for two days but offered no insight when asked who would fill that late-inning role in the interim.
Smith’s ERA jumped from 1.77 to 2.41 after allowing three runs while retiring just one of eight batters in his last two appearances.
TRUMBO PERKING UP
Mark Trumbo shows continuing signs of shaking the extended slump that coincided with the June 3 trade that brought him to the Mariners from Arizona.
Trumbo had three hits in Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Diamondbacks and, entering Tuesday, was 21 for 62 since July 4. That .339 pace followed a .139 slump (11 for 79) in his first 22 games after the trade.
FALL LEAGUE ASSIGNMENTS
The Mariners will again contribute players to the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, which bills itself as a finishing school for top prospects.
The six-team Fall League announced club and staff assignments for a schedule that begins Oct. 13 and runs through its championship game on Nov. 21.
The Mariners will join Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Diego in sending players to the Javelinas, who are based at the Peoria Stadium, the Mariners’ spring home.
Rosters for the six teams will be announced at a later date, but Double-A Jackson trainer B.J. Downie will serve in that capacity for the Javelinas.
The month isn’t yet over but, through Monday, the Mariners had three of the top 10 hits leaders in the American League for July.
Robinson Cano’s 33 hits were tied for second — one behind Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Kyle Seager was tied for fifth with 31 hits, and Nelson Cruz was tied for seventh with 30.
Short-A Everett placed three players on the Northwest League All-Star team for its Aug. 4 game against the Pioneer League in Spokane.
Shortstop Drew Jackson and left fielder Logan Taylor are expected to start for the Northwest League, while left-hander Luiz Gohara was also picked to the squad.
Jackson turned 22 on Tuesday, one day after he was chosen as the Northwest League player of the week. He is batting .360 in 29 games. The Mariners selected Jackson last month in the fifth round of the draft.
Taylor, 21, was a 12th-round pick in June. He is batting .314 with three homers and 30 RBIs in 32 games.
Gohara turns 19 on Friday and entered the season ranked No. 8 on the TNT Top 10 list of Mariners’ prospects. A native Brazilian, he signed with the Mariners in 2012. He is 2-3 with a 4.20 ERA in seven starts.
It was seven years ago Wednesday — July 29, 2008 — that outfielder Ichiro Suzuki reached 3,000 career hits in an 11-10 walk-off loss at Texas.
The milestone included 1,278 hits that Suzuki had over nine seasons while playing for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan’s Pacific League before signing with the Mariners prior to the 2001 season.
Suzuki reached 3,000 with a single to left in the first inning against Rangers right-hander Luis Mendoza.
Now 41, Suzuki entered Tuesday with 2,898 hits over his 15-year career in the big leagues. He is currently batting .243 in 94 games at Miami.
Mike Zunino entered Tuesday with hits in seven straight games while batting .417 (10 for 24) over that span…Another sign the Mariners’ attack is picking up: Prior to Tuesday, they ranked second this month among all clubs in extra-base hits and third in total bases…The Mariners’ 17 defeats in an opponents’ last at-bat are the most among American League clubs…The Mariners’ 59 quality starts, through Monday, are tied for the AL lead with Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Mariners and Diamondbacks conclude their three-game series at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (12-5, 2.69 ERA) will face Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin (1-3, 3.68).
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN.
The Mariners leave town after the game for a seven-game trip that begins Thursday with the first of four games at Minnesota. The trip concludes next week with three games at Colorado.