SEATTLE — Logan Morrison is putting the Mariners in a pleasantly tough position whenever club officials deem Justin Smoak and Corey Hart to be ready to return from the disabled list.
Saturday’s game against the Indians marked Morrison’s 17th straight start at first base since returning from the disabled list and, from all signs, he is tightening his grip on the position.
“I do (feel like it’s coming),” said Morrison, who missed nearly two months because of a strained left hamstring. “I went from hitting one ball hard a game to hitting two balls hard a game.
“They were still finding gloves for a while but, hopefully, we can get some more grass.”
Morrison has bumped his average from .150 to .240 since his return and entered Saturday on an 8-for-14 burst over the previous four games. He also is providing some much-needed thump: Four homers in his last 15 games.
“He’s done a nice job,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “and he’s swinging the bat extremely well. He’s been an important part of our offense.
“As we move forward, we’ll continue to evaluate and see what makes us better. If you’re asking me for an answer of whether he’s going to play first base over Justin Smoak or Corey Hart, I don’t have that answer right now.”
Like Smoak, Hart is also on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Tacoma. Smoak is recovering from a strained left quadriceps injury, while Hart hasn’t played since May 18 because of a strained left hamstring.
“They’re getting better,” McClendon said. “They’re both getting anxious. They’ve been texting me. We’ll see.”
The clock is ticking.
Rehab assignments are limited to 20 days for non-pitchers — and Smoak started his on June 18; Hart on June 21. One big difference: Smoak has an option remaining and can be sent to the minors after his 20-day session.
Walker likely returning
Look for right-hander Taijuan Walker to be recalled from Tacoma in time to start Monday’s series opener at Houston.
“As of now, if all goes well, and it’s not official,” McClendon said after Saturday’s loss to the Indians, “we’ll start Walker (on Monday) and a (corresponding) move is pending.”
Walker pitched a complete-game shutout in his last start for Tacoma and would be ready to start Monday on his normal rest schedule.
Generally regarded as the organization’s top prospect prior to the season, Walker experienced shoulder soreness shortly after arriving in February for spring training. A recurrence in April further delayed his return.
The Mariners would need to make a corresponding space-clearing move to accommodate Walker on their 25-man roster. That move will, almost certainly, involve a pitcher.
All right in left
Left fielder Dustin Ackley, through Friday, had saved seven runs in June with his defensive play, according to stats compiled by ESPN. That tied for the second-highest total in the the majors for the month.
Surprise? So is Ackley, who responded: “Really? I’ll take it.”
Ackley’s defense helps ease his disappointing bat: A 13-for-83 slide over the last 25 games brought him into Saturday with a .220 average.
“It’s bad,” McClendon agreed. “He’s grinding. He’s trying. Actually, he’s putting together some pretty good at-bats. He’s just not having positive results. He’ll continue to work and, hopefully, he’ll come out of it.
“The thing where it hasn’t hurt us is we’ve been winning. Listen, we need him to be successful out there. We need him to be productive.”
As for Ackley’s defense?
“I think he’s done a 100 percent turnaround,” McClendon said, “and I mean from what I saw in spring training. He was rough around the edges. Now, he looks the part.”
The same ESPN metric showed third baseman Kyle Seager at plus-five for the month. The June leader, through Friday, was Kansas City outfielder Jarrod Dyson at plus-8.
Three other outfielders matched Ackley at plus-7: Kansas City’s Alex Gordon, Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and Atlanta’s Jason Heyward.
Politicking for Felix
The All-Star Game is just over two weeks away, and McClendon has some advice for Boston manager John Farrell, who will run the American League squad for the July 15 game at Minnesota.
It concerns Felix Hernandez.
“He should start the All-Star Game,” McClendon said. “If they want to win, he should start.”
Hernandez starts Sunday’s series finale against the Indians. If the Mariners roll five starters over the next two weeks, Hernandez would be positioned to start the All-Star Game on his regular schedule.
McClendon is also pushing for Seager and closer Fernando Rodney as possible selections. Second baseman Robinson Cano had a big lead in fan voting to determine the starters in the last balloting update.
Endy Chavez served Saturday as the starting designated hitter for just the third time in his 13-year career. All three times have been this month…Lefty James Paxton reported no day-after problems following his 25-pitch bullpen workout on Friday in his recovery from a strained back muscle… Brad Miller entered Saturday on a .313 surge (26x83) with a .864 OPS in 26 games since May 29…Kyle Seager, through Friday, had 53 RBIs in 56 games since April 23. The only players with more since that date were Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion (57) and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (54).
The Mariners passed the one million count in attendance Saturday for the 30th straight year. Saturday’s crowd of 23,012 pushed the season total to 1,003,512 for 42 home dates.
The last time they failed to reach one million was 1984, when they drew 870,372 at the Kingdome for a 74-88 club. The finished last season at 1,761,661.
Their average of 23,893 puts them on pace to finish with 1,935,344. That would be their best season attendance since drawing 2,085,630 in 2010.
It was four years ago Sunday — June 29, 2010 — that Cliff Lee became the first Mariners pitcher in 12 years to pitch three consecutive complete games when he beat the Yankees 7-4 in New York.
The last Mariners pitcher to accomplish that feat: Randy Johnson in July 1998.
The Mariners and Indians complete their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (9-2 with a 2.24 ERA) will face Cleveland lefty T.J. House (0-1, 4.88).
Root Sports will carry the game.
The Mariners open a three-game series Monday at Houston. After an open date Thursday, they play three weekend games against the White Sox in Chicago before returning home.