SEATTLE — Start the rehab clock on Seattle Mariners outfielder Austin Jackson, who began a minor-league rehab assignment Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma against Las Vegas (Mets) at Cheney Stadium.
Jackson suffered a sprained right ankle May 3 while running out a ground ball in third inning of a 7-6 loss at Houston. He tested his recovery from the ankle in recent days through a increasingly strenuous series of drills.
Rehab assignments can last up to 20 days for non-pitchers, but Jackson is expected to return within a week. He is eligible for activation as soon as Tuesday’s series opener at Baltimore.
“We’ll see,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “One thing I want is I want him swinging well when he comes back.”
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Jackson, 28, was batting just .242 through 25 games at the time of his injury but had started 23 of 25 games in center field. He went 2-for-4 Saturday as the Rainiers' designated hitter in a 6-3 loss.
The Mariners face an interesting roster decision when they activate Jackson.
Do they send utilityman Brad Miller to the minors to hone his outfield skills or jettison a veteran such as Dustin Ackley, Willie Bloomquist, Justin Ruggiano or Rickie Weeks?
MORE IN THE TANK?
Right fielder Nelson Cruz is on pace, through Friday, to win the Triple Crown. He led the American League leader with 15 home runs and a .358 average and was tied with Oakland's Stephen Vogt for the RBI lead with 30.
But the best, McClendon contends, is yet to come.
“Really, to be truthful,” McClendon said, “I don’t think he’s gotten hot to the point where it’s just ridiculous. He’s grinding at-bats out, and he’s getting his hits. He’s going the other way.
“If they make a mistake, he hits it out. I’ve seen him to the point where he gets hot, and he hits good pitches out of the ballpark. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Cruz initially offered a blank look when told his manager believes he can be even more productive. Then he brightened into a smile and said, “Sure. Yeah.”
The Mariners' streak of consecutive outings by a starting pitcher allowing three or fewer earned runs ended Saturday at 10 games when Felix Hernandez gave up a season-high four runs in six innings.
Even so, the rotation has a 2.60 ERA in that span with 20 earned runs in 69 1/3 innings. The recent surge lowered the unit’s season ERA, prior to Saturday, to 3.97, which ranked sixth among the 15 American League clubs.
The Mariners’ rotation had a 3.48 ERA in 2014, which ranked third in the league behind Oakland and Tampa Bay.
The open date Monday isn’t likely to affect the Mariners’ rotation. The tentative plan is to roll the cycle through the upcoming road trip.
Barring a change, that means Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and J.A. Happ will face the Orioles on Tuesday through Thursday in Baltimore. The Orioles have yet to announce their rotation plans.
Felix Hernandez and James Paxton are slotted to start the first two games next weekend against the Blue Jays in Toronto before Walker returns for the May 24 series finale.
That lines up Elias, Happ and Hernandez to face the Rays from May 25-27 at Tampa Bay.
It was 22 years ago Sunday — May 17, 1993 — that Mike Blowers became the 13th player in history to hit grand slams in consecutive games when he connected against Craig Lefferts in 16-9 victory at Texas.
A day earlier, Blowers hit a grand slam against Bobby Witt in a 7-0 victory at Oakland.
Blowers batted .420 with the bases loaded over the course of his 11-career with seven homers and 92 RBIs in 81 at-bats. He is currently in his ninth season as an analyst on Mariners’ telecasts.
Note: The Mariners have not hit a grand slam in their last 131 opportunities, dating to Sept. 28, 2013. It is the second longest drought in franchise history behind a 133 plate appearances from 1979-81.
James Paxton enters his start Sunday with a streak of 12 scoreless innings over his previous two outings…The Mariners recorded their third walk-off victory Friday when Nelson Cruz delivered a two-out RBI single that beat Boston 2-1. They had only two walk-off victories in 2014…Cruz has two of those walk-off hits. He also had a single on April 19 that beat Texas. He has eight walk-off RBIs in his career…Robinson Cano’s first-inning double in Friday’s game was his 200th career hit against Boston. That is his second-highest total against any opponent. He has 211 against Baltimore…Cruz’s 15 homers through the Mariners’ first 35 games matches a franchise record for that span. Ken Griffey Jr. also had 15 in the first 35 games in 1997.
The Mariners and Red Sox conclude their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Lefty James Paxton (1-2, 4.31) will pitch against Boston right-hander Steven Wright (1-0, 4.22).
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN and 97.3 FM.
The Mariners have an open date Monday before embarking on a nine-game, three-city trip to Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay.