A year ago, while playing in the Los Angeles Angels’ system, infielder Shawn O’Malley had the best season in his nine-year professional career. He batted .330 at Triple-A Salt Lake with a .411 on-base percentage.
He even made his major league debut by appearing in 11 games for the Angels as a September call-up. So when he became a free agent after the season, he expected to generate interest from several clubs.
For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Only the Mariners made early contact. They were looking for a backup utility option in case veteran Willie Bloomquist didn’t recover from major knee surgery.
Interest was mutual.
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A graduate of Southridge High in Kennewick, O’Malley grew up a Mariners fan and still characterizes Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner as “my idols.”
So it wasn’t a tough decision.
“After a week or so,” O’Malley said, “I said, ‘They called me first, right away. So, obviously, there’s some interest.’ It just felt like the right fit. And I was close to home, so my mom was happy.”
On Tuesday, O’Malley, 27, was one of four players the Mariners summoned from Triple-A Tacoma for the closing weeks. He arrives after batting .297 in 89 games for the Rainiers.
O’Malley was almost here two months ago.
Although he was quickly dispatched to minor league camp in spring training, O’Malley was positioned for a July promotion.
For while Bloomquist quickly proved his knee was fine in spring drills, his performance sagged as the season wound through the first three months. He was designated for assignment on July 2.
O’Malley had loomed as the likely replacement but, just two days earlier, he injured his hand on a slide at second base. That put him on the shelf for a month. The promotion went to Chris Taylor.
“It was something you never want to have happen,” O’Malley said, “but I look at it as a blessing in disguise. I got to work with (Justin) Ruggiano when he came down (to Tacoma) in center field.
“So I got more comfortable playing in the outfield.”
Good thing because O’Malley started Wednesday in center field when the Mariners closed out a three-game series against Houston at Minute Maid Park.
O’Malley projects as the backup center fielder for the closing weeks. Former shortstop Brad Miller shifted to the position full time Monday when the Mariners traded Austin Jackson to the Cubs.
“If that’s where I end up playing (at times) here, that’s perfect.” O’Malley said. “Now, I feel more comfortable there. If I don’t have that injury, who knows if I’d feel as good (in the outfield) as I feel now.”
MONTERO TO TACOMA
Slumping first baseman Jesus Montero is heading back to Triple-A Tacoma for the remainder of the Rainiers’ season to allow him to get some regular playing time.
“It was an opportunity to get him some at-bats over the next six days to try to sharpen him back up,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “When he comes back, he’ll have a better chance of helping us to win ballgames.”
McClendon said Montero will return Sept. 8, one day after the Rainiers conclude their season.
Montero, 25, was recently picked as the all-Pacific Coast League first baseman, but he batted .200 with two homers and nine RBIs in 25 big-league games. He had just two hits in his past 36 at-bats.
“It’s a smart decision to make,” McClendon said. “You can have him sit here for six days or have him get possibly 30 at-bats.”
Montero batted .346 at Tacoma with 16 homers and 75 RBIs in 93 games prior to his July 31 recall.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will get two extra days of rest before his next start, which is Sunday in Oakland. Iwakuma had been in line to start Friday’s series opener against the Athletics.
“Just to give him a couple of extra days,” McClendon said. “That’s all.”
Lefty Edgar Olmos will start Friday in place Iwakuma. Felix Hernandez will start Saturday after getting skipped on the last cycle through rotation.
The situation surrounding lefty James Paxton became murky when he left his rehab start Wednesday for Tacoma at Salt Lake in the fourth inning because of a blister on his middle finger. That’s the same finger that forced Paxton to the disabled list for the last three-plus months because of a strained tendon. He will be re-evaluated Thursday.
Paxton had been scheduled to rejoin the big-league rotation early next week against Texas at Safeco Field.
Lefty reliever Joe Beimel is eligible to return Friday from the disabled list but could remain on a rehab assignment after giving up two runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning Tuesday for Tacoma at Salt Lake.
“Hopefully, he’ll get to pitch one more time,” McClendon said. “From a physical standpoint, he’s good. But five hits and two runs in two-thirds of an inning, that’s not very good.”
Beimel is recovering from shoulder inflammation.
The Mariners are still “on the board” but at a 300-1 shot to win the World Series in the latest odds posted by www.Bovada.lv, the online gaming site.
Bovada took Oakland and six National League teams off the board in its latest posting: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado, Miami, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
Two more NL clubs are rated at 500-1: Arizona and San Diego.
The Mariners are one of four American League teams at 300-1, along with Boston, Chicago and Detroit. The Mariners opened the season as a 12-1 pick to win the World Series.
Toronto rates as a 7-2 favorite to win it all, followed by Kansas City and St. Louis at 11-2.
MINOR HOMER CROWN
The Mariners have two prospects making a push for the Joe Bauman Home Run Award, which is given annually to the player who leads the minor leagues in homers.
Triple-A Tacoma outfielder Jabari Blash, after hitting 14 homers in August, is just two behind the leader, Double-A Corpus Christi (Astros) first baseman A.J. Reed.
Single-A Bakersfield outfielder Tyler O’Neill is in a three-way tie for third place with a California League-leading 30 homers. The Mariners are the only organization with more than one player at 30 or more homers.
▪ Peoria suffered a 3-2 loss to the White Sox in the championship game of the Arizona Rookie League it left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday.
▪ Single-A Everett reduced its magic number to two for winning the Northwest League North Division’s second-half pennantdespite blowing a five-run lead in a 7-6 loss to Spokane (Rangers) in 10 innings.
The AquaSox hold a four-game lead over Vancouver (Blue Jays) and Tri-City (Padres) with five games remaining.
Everett could do no better than clinch a tie Wednesday when it continued its series at Spokane because Vancouver and Tri-City were playing one another. The AquaSox close the season with three games at Vancouver.
If the AquaSox win the division, they would play host Monday to the first game of a best-of-three series against Tri-City, the first-half champion.
It was 39 years ago — Sept. 3, 1976 — that Darrell Johnson was hired to be the Mariners’ first manager.
Johnson, 46 at the time, had been fired earlier in the year as manager of the Boston Red Sox at two-plus seasons despite leading the club to the World Series in 1975.
Johnson remained the Mariners’ manager for three-plus seasons and compiled a 226-362 record. He would later manage Texas for part of the 1982 season. Johnson died in 2004 at the age of 75.
When reliever Logan Kensing got the victory Tuesday, it ended a drought of 2,158 days since his last one: Oct. 4, 2009 for Washington at Atlanta. It was a 15-inning game on the season’s final day. “I was the last guy left,” Kensing recalled. … Logan Morrison’s pinch hit home run Tuesday was the Mariners’ fourth of the season, which is tied for the most among American League teams. It is also the most by the Mariners since they hit four in 2004. … Overall, through Tuesday, Mariners’ pinch hitters are batting .280 (26 for 93) with 18 RBIs. … Five of Morrison’s 14 homers this year came at Minute Maid Park.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday before beginning a three-game weekend series at 7:10 p.m. Friday in Oakland. Lefty Edgar Olmos (1-0, 2.13 ERA) will face Athletics right-hander Aaron Brooks (1-1, 5.47). The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM.
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