Outfielder Nori Aoki will be recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Tacoma and remain with the Mariners through the end of the season. He should be in uniform for Tuesday’s game against Texas.
The Mariners optioned Aoki to Tacoma on Aug. 26 because they anticipated he would get limited playing time against a projected run of left-handed pitchers. The Mariners faced eight lefties in 10 games since Aoki’s departure.
Aoki, 34, has a .265 average and a .333 on-base percentage this season in 98 big-league games. He batted .316 with a .362 OBP in 31 games after a previous demotion to Tacoma.
It’s uncertain how much Aoki will play since he must now compete with Seth Smith and recently-acquired Ben Gamel, who are also left-handed hitters, for playing time in a three-for-two arrangement against right-handed starters.
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"We’ve got to juggle it a little bit," manager Scott Servais said. "We’ll go match-up wise. Who gives us the best chance? For me, it’s getting on base at the top of the order.
"Who is going to allow us to have more opportunities in the core of our lineup gets into play?"
That could mean a choice between Aoki and Smith because Servais indicated Gamel is likely play regularly.
"I like what I’ve seen (from Gamel)," Servais said. "We’ll give him a day off (Monday), but you’ll see him play a lot as we continue to move forward. We need to find out what we’ve got."
Smith entered Monday with a .254 average and a .342 OBP in 114 games. He offers more pop, with 11 homers, but is just 10-for-53 over the last month.
That uncertainty has financial and career implications for Aoki, who currently has 389 plate appearances. He needs 91 more to trigger a $5.5 million vesting option for next season.
Aoki is also poised to begin triggering performance bonuses. He needs 11 more plate appearances for a $100,000 bonus. Other $100,000 bonuses kick in at 425, 450, 475 and 500 plate appearances.
LeBLANC CLEARS WAIVERS
Lefty Wade LeBlanc cleared waivers and was sent to Tacoma on an outright assignment. He was designated for assignment on Aug. 25 when lefty James Paxton returned from the disabled list.
LeBlanc must remain in the minors for at least 10 days unless he replaces a player placed on the disabled list. In short, the Rainiers’ rotation should get a boost as it opens its postseason series Wednesday at El Paso (Padres).
The Mariners would also need to return LeBlanc to the 40-man roster to bring him back to the big-league club. Doing so require a corresponding roster move because the Mariners, as of Monday, had no openings on their roster.
The Mariners acquired LeBlanc, 32, from Toronto on June 22 for a player to be named later or cash. He was 3-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 11 games, including eight starts, prior to being designated for assignment.
Plans call for reliever Tom Wilhelmsen to throw a simulated inning Thursday in his recovery from back spasms, which forced him to the disabled list after an Aug. 25 appearance in Chicago.
"We’ll see how that goes," Servais said, "once he faces some hitters."
Wilhelmsen is eligible to be activated Thursday but, if all goes well, it is more likely to happen next weekend at Oakland. He was 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA in 22 games since returning June 21 to the Mariners.
***Catcher Steve Clevenger went 3-for-4 Monday after shifting to Double-A Jackson to continue a rehab assignment in his recovery from a broken finger in his right hand. He went 1-for-2 in two games at Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League.
Clevenger suffered the injury June 29 and is already eligible to be activated from the 60-day disabled list.
Right-hander Nathan Karns is still hoping to pitch again this season despite being shifted to the 60-day disabled list on Sept. 1 while he recovers from a muscle strain in his lower back.
Because Karns’ DL time dates to July 30, he is eligible to return on Sept. 29. The regular season ends on Oct. 2.
"My back feels much better," he said. "We’ve been doing arm-action stuff until we felt my body was ready to go to a full motion. We’re trying to keep the upper body active while we get the back better."
Karns was 6-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 22 games, including 15 starts, prior to the injury, but he pitched only 94 1/3 innings. Asked whether he might play winter ball to boost his innings count, he hedged.
"Wherever we end up in the season," he said, "we’re going to see where we’re at. We’re going to sit down and see what everyone feels comfortable with. For me, I want to get back before the season’s over.
"I’m not planning on it ending Oct. 3. How many games left? Anything can happen. But at the same time, if that doesn’t happen, I want to make sure I’m able to do what I need to do (for next season)."
Short-A Everett right fielder Eric Filia was picked as the most valuable player in the Northwest League after leading the league with a .362 average and a .450 on-base percentage. He also had four homers and 46 RBIs in 68 games.
Filia, 24, was a 20th-round pick this year in the MLB Draft. He received a one-day promotion Monday to Tacoma but is expected to return the AquaSox for their postseason run.
Third baseman Nick Zammarelli and first baseman Kristian Brito were also picked to the All-Northwest League team.
It was seven years ago Tuesday — Sept. 6, 2009 — that Ichiro Suzuki collected his 2,000th career hit by lining a leadoff double to right field in the first inning of a 5-2 loss at Oakland.
Suzuki reached the milestone in his 1,402nd career game, which made him the second-fastest to do so in MLB history. Al Simmons did it in 1,390 games.
Simmons was playing for the Chicago White Sox when he reached 2,000 hits in 1934. He finished his 20-year career with 2,927 and was elected in 1953 to the Hall of Fame.
Suzuki, now 42, currently plays for Miami and entered Monday with 3,017 hits in 2,478 games.
The Mariners and Rangers continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Safeco Field. Left-hander James Paxton (4-5 with a 3.83 ERA) will face Texas lefty Martin Perez (9-10, 4.30).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners