SEATTLE — The Mariners are about to test the depth of their rotation after placing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma on the 15-day disabled list just prior to Friday’s series opener against Minnesota.
Iwakuma informed club officials after his start last Monday that his shoulder felt “fatigued.” He then began taking anti-inflammatories in hopes of alleviating the problem prior to his scheduled Friday bullpen workout.
When Iwakuma reported the same symptoms in that workout, the Mariners moved quickly by placing him in the disabled list for what they characterized as a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.
The Mariners then recalled reliever Lucas Luetge from Triple-A Tacoma. Luetge arrived in time for Friday’s game against the Twins at Safeco Field.
“We thought it was best to back (Iwakuma) off,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “and put him on the DL to give him time.
“It’s a long season, and we certainly don’t want this thing to be an aggravated issue as we go through the next 5 1/2 months. At this point, we’re hoping that it’s nothing more than just shoulder fatigue.”
The Mariners backdated Iwakuma’s time on the disabled list to Tuesday, which makes him eligible to return on May 6.
Luetge’s promotion could be brief because the Mariners are also expected to recall lefty Roenis Elias from Tacoma prior to Sunday to fill Iwakuma’s next scheduled slot in the rotation.
Zduriencik declined to confirm Elias as Iwakuma’s replacement in the rotation but acknowledged “the obvious is the obvious.”
Elias is 2-0 in three starts for the Rainiers despite an 8.04 ERA but was 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA last season in 29 big-league starts. He was slotted to pitch Saturday at Sacramento.
Iwakuma departed Safeco Field prior to the game in order to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam.
“At this point in time,” Zduriencik said, “based on what he’s saying, it sounds like some of the things he’s had in the past, where he just needed to back off.”
Iwakuma was an All-Star in 2013 and won 15 games last year, but he struggled this season in three starts — going 0-1 while allowing 13 runs and 20 hits in 16 1/3 innings.
“I actually feel pretty good on the mound,” he said last Monday after giving up four runs in 5 1/3 innings against Houston. “Even today, I felt like my stuff was working. It’s just some of the pitches that were up in the zone.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon was less convinced, saying: “He has not been sharp. The ball was up again tonight. We’ve got to figure out a way to get him down in the zone. (His) fastball command just had not been good.”
PAXTON: BE MORE AGGRESSIVE
Mariners lefty James Paxton is taking a simple approach — be aggressive — in his effort to regain his form as he lugs an 8.40 ERA into Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field.
“I think I just need to get back to attacking the zone,” he said, “instead of trying to pick at the corners and kind of pushing the ball in there. I just need to attack it more.
“I think I was just trying to be too perfect (in his three previous starts). Hit the corners… I just wasn’t being myself. I was trying to be someone I’m not. I was just trying to be too fine.
“I become not as aggressive in letting go of the ball when I do that. I just need to get back to attacking like I did last year.”
McClendon reinforced that need to be aggressive a day after Paxton’s disastrous outing last Sunday, when he surrendered an early 2-0 lead against Texas by yielding seven runs in the third inning.
“I think he’s going to be better,” McClendon said. “Let’s hope so.”
Paxton (0-1) actually pitched well in his first start which, ironically, is the only game he lost; he limited the Angels to two runs and four hits over six innings on April 7 in a 2-0 loss.
Since then, he’s failed to hold early multi-run leads against the Dodgers and Rangers before gaining no-decisions. The Mariners overcame from two five-run deficits last Sunday after Paxton exited in beating Texas.
“For me, the past is the past,” he said. “I can’t change it. All I can focus on is what I can do right now to get better.”
Paxton offered a key “tell” to track Saturday night against the Twins.
“The pushing of the ball,” he said, “was causing me to go toward third base. Whereas when I’m being aggressive and attacking, I’ll go straight toward the plate.”
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez entered Friday’s start just 15 strikeouts shy of overtaking former Minnesota Cy Young winner Johan Santana as the all-time leader among Venezuelan-born pitchers.
Hernandez had 1,974 prior to Friday’s game, while Santana sits at 1,988 for his 12-year career.
Santana, now 36, is currently on Toronto’s disabled list as he works to recover from his latest shoulder injury. He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2012 with the New York Mets.
The rest of the Venezuelan-born top five: Carlos Zambrano (1,637), Freddy Garcia (1,621) and Wilson Alvarez (1,330).
LINING IT UP
The Mariners used their 15th lineup in 16 games for Friday’s series opener against the Twins. Left fielder Dustin Ackley batted sixth for the first time this season.
It marked Ackley’s fifth different spot in the lineup. He previously served twice as the leadoff hitter; batted second on three occasions; seventh in four games and eighth once.
One thing hasn’t changed: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager have batted three-four-five in all 16 games.
Hi-A Bakersfield catcher Tyler Marlette entered the weekend ranked among the California League leaders in numerous offensive categories.
Marlette, 22, was fourth in batting average (.375), seventh in on-base percentage (.419), fourth in slugging percentage (.625) and fifth in OPS (1.044).
The Mariners selected Marlette in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. He entered the season ranked at No. 9 on the TNT Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects.
It was 34 years ago Saturday — April 25, 1981 — that manager Maury Wills, seeking an edge for his pitchers, had the Kingdome grounds crew surreptitiously move the batter’s box one foot closer to the mound.
Oakland manager Billy Martin wasn’t fooled and reported his suspicions to umpire Bill Kunkel. Wills’ scheme got exposed, and he subsequently received a two-game suspension.
Mariners starter Jerry Don Gleaton, with the plate again 60 feet and 6 inches from the mound, gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings in a 7-4 loss. The A’s improved to 16-1; the Mariners fell to 4-11.
The Mariners used their 15th lineup in 16 games. …Mariners broadcaster and former player Mike Blowers turned 50 on Friday. He spent six of 11 big-league seasons with the Mariners and is in his ninth year as one of the club’s broadcasters…Mike Zunino has played in all 16 of the Mariners’ games. The only other catcher to play in all of his club’s games is Kansas City’s Salvy Perez.
The Mariners and Twins continue their three-game series at 6:10 p.m. Saturday when lefty James Paxton (0-1, 8.40) opposes Minnesota right-hander Trevor May (1-1, 4.76).
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN.