ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Outfielder Austin Jackson is returning from the disabled list, and the Seattle Mariners, for now, are buying time in order to find space for him on their roster.
The Mariners optioned struggling reliever Danny Farquhar to Triple-A Tacoma after Monday’s 4-1 victory over Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field. Jackson will be activated prior to Tuesday’s game.
That moves leaves the Mariners with a six-man bullpen.
“For a temporary period of time,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “this is the right thing to do. It keeps our position players intact. We feel pretty good about who we’re sending to the mound the next couple of days.”
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Lefty J.A. Happ will start Tuesday against the Rays, and Felix Hernandez will start Wednesday afternoon’s series finale. They Mariners then open an 11-game homestand Thursday at Safeco Field.
Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon each acknowledged a six-man bullpen to be a temporary solution.
“We’ll go game to game, day to day,” Zduriencik said. “We’ll see how it falls into place, but Jackson is ready to come back.”
Jackson suffered a sprained right ankle May 3 at Houston while running out a grounder. He has played nine games at Tacoma on a rehab assignment; he batted .263 (10-for-38).
“From a physical standpoint,” McClendon said, “he’s ready. He’s had some at-bats down there. We need him back in the lineup.”
The move to demote Farquhar comes amid mounting struggles that have left him 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA in 20 appearances. He was 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA a year ago in 66 games.
“I think I’m not too far off,” he said. “There were a couple of outings a little earlier where I felt I was lost. I feel like I battled back from that. Just catch a break here and there, and I’m back to where I was.”
Players optioned to the minors can’t be recalled for 10 days unless replacing a player on the disabled list. That means the Mariners must promote someone else if they need a bullpen arm over the next few days.
Monday’s decision merely delays a move connected to another position player. Possibilities include optioning either utilityman Brad Miller or shortstop Chris Taylor to the minors.
Neither appears likely at this point. The alternative, barring a trade or injury, would be to jettison one of four veteran players:
***Dustin Ackley. The Mariners signaled the clock was ticking on Ackley by demoting him this year to platoon status. If Miller, also a left-handed hitter, can play the outfield — as it appears he can — Ackley’s spot looks tenuous.
Ackley is batting just .186 with an even more abysmal .227 on-base percentage. He’s a notoriously slow starter, so the question is whether the Mariners want to see if he snaps out of it.
There’s also the issue of whether the Mariners are willing, even after six years, to give up on a player who was the second overall pick in the 2009 draft.
***Willie Bloomquist. Miller’s new role begs an obvious question: Why do the Mariners need Bloomquist as a second utility player? Bloomquist, 37, will be a free agent after the season and offers none of Miller’s upside.
Then there’s a game like Saturday, when Bloomquist delivered a two-run double and a threw out a runner at second in a 3-2 victory at Toronto. And McClendon, like most managers, likes having veterans on the bench.
***Justin Ruggiano. It is, perhaps, telling that while Ruggiano started the first three games in center field following Jackson’s injury, he started only three of the next 15. The Mariners used Ackley on 11 occasions.
That might be nothing more than a left/right platoon split. Or it might represent a final chance for Ackley to prove himself before Jackson returned. But Ruggiano is batting .200 (albeit with a .314 on-base percentage.)
Note, though, that when the Mariners broke spring camp, Ruggiano was viewed as the club’s backup center fielder in addition to being a platoon partner in right field with Seth Smith.
***Rickie Weeks. He is the player who appears the least affected by Miller’s shift to a utility role. Weeks is a right-handed hitter, in contrast to Miller’s lefty bat, and now only seems to play left field in a pinch.
Instead, Weeks’ duty has evolved primarily into providing the Mariners with a designated hitter for games when they face a left-handed pitcher and choose to play Nelson Cruz in right field.
Weeks is often the club’s best power threat on the bench although, to date, he’s been more threat than production: a .176/.282/.279 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 78 plate appearances.
What’s harder to measure is Weeks’ perceived value as a no-nonsense presence in the clubhouse, although that figures to be a factor when club officials weigh their options.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Taijuan Walker’s final numbers weren’t great Sunday when he gave up four runs over 5 2/3 innings in an 8-4 loss at Toronto but, a day later, McClendon took an upbeat view.
“I thought he did great,” McClendon said. “I thought he competed well, even when he got in trouble. We purposely did not go to the mound because I wanted to see what he was going to do.
“He got himself out of that fifth inning.”
Walker didn’t allow a hit through four innings but gave up five, including a pair of two-run homers, in a four-run fifth.
“It was tough for a young pitcher,” McClendon said, “but I thought he kept his composure. I thought he continued to compete. He made a mistake pitch to the left-hander (Ryan Goins).
“And 3-2 to (Edwin) Encarnacion, I think you’ve got to go at him right there. He just happened to hit it out.”
The loss dropped Walker to 1-5 and left him with a 7.33 ERA for his nine starts.
“The thing I thought was important is he competed well,” McClendon said. “When he left the ballgame in the sixth inning, we still had a chance to win the ballgame.”
Third baseman Kyle Seager extended his hitting streak to 11 games Monday with a double in the sixth inning. It marks his fifth career streak of at least 10 games.
Seager is 15-for-40 in that span (.375) and has raised his average from .238 to .272. His career best is a 16-game streak from April 11-27, 2013.
MEMORIAL DAY NUMBERS
Here’s a stat nugget from the folks at Stats, Inc.:
The Mariners have the baseball’s best all-time record, percentage-wise, on Memorial Day at 24-12 (.667).
Tampa Bay at 4-11 (.267).
REMEMBERING THE VETS
The Mariners, Rays and all clubs throughout the majors wore commemorative caps and jerseys, which will be auctioned off by Major League Baseball.
All net proceeds will be donated to the Welcome Back Veterans program, which supports veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
It was 20 years ago Tuesday — May 26, 1995 — that Ken Griffey Jr., after hitting a home run in the fifth inning, robbed a homer from Baltimore’s Kevin Bass in the seventh inning at the Kingdome.
Griffey suffered two broken bone in his left wrist and underwent surgery the following day. He didn’t return until Aug. 15.
The Mariners went on to win the game 8-3 behind Randy Johnson.
Tampa Bay put first baseman James Loney on the disabled list prior to the game because of a broken middle finger on his left hand. He suffered the injury Sunday on a head-first slide at third base. The Rays replaced Loney by recalling infielder Tim Beckham from Triple-A Durham…Tampa Bay also recalled utilityman Jake Elmore to replace reliever Preston Guilmet, who was optioned to Durham after Sunday’s game.
The Mariners and Rays continue their three-game series at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Lefty J.A. Happ (3-1, 3.61) will face Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Colome (3-1, 4.81).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.