The Mariners reached their breaking point Sunday morning with their struggling attack and underperforming roster by making a series of personnel moves.
Center fielder Leonys Martin, two days after being benched, was designated for assignment. That cleared space to recall Dan Vogelbach from Triple-A Tacoma in a move that ends Danny Valencia’s status as the full-time first baseman.
That move, at least, was expected because it provides a fresh arm. De Jong pitched four scoreless innings in Saturday’s loss, which effectively means he’d be unavailable for a few days.
More moves are on the horizon as the Mariners seek to pull themselves out of an April spin. They carried a 7-12 record into Sunday’s series finale against Oakland, including a 1-9 record in road games.
"Expectations for our ballclub are very high," manager Scott Servais said. "They should have been. We talked about it in spring training. I thought we were ready for it. We haven’t played that well on the road, particularly.
"We’ve got to pick it up."
Shortstop Jean Segura is expected to return Tuesday from the disabled list when the Mariners open a three-game series at Detroit. Adding Segura likely means utilityman Mike Freeman will be optioned back to Tacoma.
Veteran reliever Steve Cishek should also return later this week from the disabled list. He made his third rehab appearance Sunday, pitching for Double-A Arkansas, in his recovery from October surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
Martin, 29, was batting just .111 in 15 games after a poor spring when, in what now seems a disastrous move, he made a radical adjustment to his swing. He recently reverted to his former approach with little success.
The Mariners have seven days to reach a resolution on Martin either through a trade, a release or, if he clears waivers, sending him to the minors on an outright assignment.
While the Mariners could attempt to trade Martin, they are more likely to see whether he (and his $4.85 million salary) can clear waivers. If so, Martin would need to accept a remedial assignment to the minors in order to receive his salary.
"If he does happen to clear waivers," Servais said, "he comes back with us, goes to Tacoma and gets it right. Quite frankly, I think that’s what he needs. He needs to go out and play for a while and get some confidence back again.
"We could see him back here."
The Mariners signaled their intention Friday by benching Martin, shifting Jarrod Dyson from left field to center field, and putting Guillermo Heredia in left. Dyson and Heredia are now positioned for full-time duty in center and left.
Vogelbach is expected to split time at first base with Valencia, whose average dropped to .145 when he went hitless Saturday in three at-bats. Valencia could also see occasional duty at third base or in the outfield.
"Danny’s struggles against right-handed pitching, we’ve seen it," Servais said. "And the bottom of our lineup hasn’t been able to get much going."
Once Segura returns, Taylor Motter will resume his duties as the roster’s utilityman. Motter is also a candidate to split time at first base with Vogelbach, if Valencia’s struggles deepen, and serve as a backup to Heredia and Dyson.
BACK TO PLAN A
Recalling Vogelbach returns the Mariners to their original plan — a platoon at first base between him and Valencia.
That plan changed when Vogelbach struggled through much of spring training, which resulted in the bitter disappointment of a March 23 demotion to Tacoma.
"I needed to go down, and I needed to work on things," he said. "I didn’t earn my spot in spring training. I didn’t perform the way I needed to perform. Quite frankly, that means I didn’t make the team."
Vogelbach recaptured his form at Tacoma, batting .309 in 16 games with a .409 on-base percentage. He was 10-for-30 (.333) with four walks and 10 RBIs in his last 10 games.
"He’s been swinging the bat very well in Tacoma," Servais said. "Doing what he does. He controls the strike zone. A lot of deep counts. That’s what we want him to do here. Just be who he is."
Vogelbach went 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI single in Sunday’s 11-1 victory over the Athletics.
The Mariners acquired Vogelbach in a trade last July from the Chicago Cubs in the expectation that he would be a long-term fit in their lineup. His minor-league resume shows a consistent ability to hit, hit with power and control the strike zone.
Recalling Vogelbach less than three weeks into the season underscores the Mariners’ unwillingness to wait any long for Valencia to recapture his 2016 form, when he batted .287 in 130 games for Oakland with 17 homers and 51 RBIs.
It wasn’t just a day off Saturday, as it turns out, for third baseman Kyle Seager.
The Mariners also scratched Seager from Sunday’s lineup, and Servais acknowledged the reason for the move was a sore right hip. Freeman started at third base for a second straight game.
"It’s been a couple of days," Seager said. "Just from swinging, I guess. But I’ve been getting treatment on it, so it’ll be fine."
The injury isn’t believed to be serious. Seager entered Saturday’s game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, and delivered an RBI triple, and finished the game at third base.
Seager is expected to return Tuesday to the lineup when the Mariners open a three-game series in Detroit.
Three things to note heading into Tuesday’s pitching matchup between right-hander Felix Hernandez and Detroit right-hander Jordan Zimmermann:
***Hernandez 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 career starts against the Tigers, including 5-2 and 3.06 in eight starts at Comerica Park. Zimmermann won his only previous start against the Mariners, which came in 2014 at Safeco Field while pitching for Washington.
***Ian Kinsler has four homers in 82 career at-bats against Hernandez. He is batting just .232 (19-for-82) but has 12 walks for a .351 on-base percentage. The King won’t miss injured Miguel Cabrera (11-for-28 with two homers).
***Segura is expected to be activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game — and he is 7-for-16 in his career against Zimmermann. Carlos Ruiz is 4-for-22.
It was 23 years ago Monday — April 24, 1994 — that Ken Griffey Jr. hit a game-winning homer at Baltimore that cleared the outer wall at Camden Yards and landed on Eutaw Street.
The three-run blast came against Brad Pennington and capped a four-run eighth inning in a 7-6 victory.
The Mariners have an open date Monday before opening a three-game series Tuesday in Detroit.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (2-1 with a 3.65 ERA) will pitch the series opener against Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (1-1, 5.94) at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time at Comerica Park.
Detroit will be without first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list after suffering a strained right groin muscle in Friday’s game at Minnesota.
The Tigers replaced Cabrera on their roster by recalling ex-Mariners catcher John Hicks from Triple-A Toledo.
Tuesday’s game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners