ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Austin Jackson returned Tuesday to the Seattle Mariners, starting in center field, batting leadoff and insisting he is completely recovered from a sprained right ankle.
“It’s been feeling a lot better,” he said. “I’ve played some (rehab) games in center field, and I was able to cut on it. And being able to stop on a dime is always a good sign especially when you rolled your ankle like that.”
The Mariners, officially, activated Jackson from the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field after announcing their intention to do so after Monday’s 4-1 victory in the series opener.
“I just want him to be the player that he is,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’re playing pretty good baseball. Stabilize the top of our order. Get on base and score runs.”
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Jackson made an immediate impact. His leadoff single in the first inning helped the Mariners to a quick 2-0 lead, and he ran down a deep drive to the right-center gap by Evan Longoria later in the inning.
“I thought he looked fabulous,” McClendon said. “He really jump-started our offense. A line-drive base hit. Stole a base. Went to third and scored a run. Next inning, took a run away.”
The Mariners cleared roster space for Jackson by optioning struggling reliever Danny Farquhar to Triple-A Tacoma. That move, also announced late Monday, leaves the club with six relievers instead of the usual seven.
“I’m not overly concerned with that,” McClendon said, “unless the starter is out in the second inning.”
Farquhar is 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA in 20 games after going 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA last season in 66 games.
“It’s hard for any pitcher to try to make adjustments here in the big leagues,” McClendon said. “It gives Danny a chance to step back and work on the things he needs to work on.”
Jackson was batting .242 in 25 games when he suffered the ankle injury May 3 while running out a grounder in Houston. He began a rehab assignment May 16 at Tacoma and was 10-for-38 in nine games.
“The first couple of games,” he said, “it would swell up on me a little bit, which is not unexpected. But the past few games, I’ve had no problems with it. I don’t think about it anymore.”
It should be no surprise that Nelson Cruz, who leads the majors in homers, tops the early balloting to be the American League’s starting designated hitter on July 14 in the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
No other Mariners appear on the first release from Major League Baseball, which lists the top 15 outfielders and the top five at all other positions.
In short: second baseman Robinson Cano, a starter for the last five years, is paying a price for his slow start. Houston’s Joe Altuve has a big lead at second base.
Third baseman Kyle Seager, an All-Star reserve a year ago, is also not among the top five at his position.
Cruz has 1,225,255 votes for a lead of 307,206 over Kendrys Morales, the two-time former Mariner who now plays for Kansas City.
All balloting this season is online at www.mlb.com/vote.
GRIFFEY IN THE HOUSE
Ken Griffey Jr. made a pre-game swing through the Mariners’ clubhouse, which prompted this memory from third-base coach Rich Donnelly.
“In 1994, (Griffey) won the Home Run Derby at Three Rivers Stadium (in Pittsburgh,” recalled Donnelly, then the Pirates’ third-base coach. “I was the pitcher for the whole thing, and he hit five balls into the upper deck.
“That’s crazy. There were only 13 homers hit into the upper deck at Three Rivers Stadium (in its 31-year history), and he hit five in the Home Run Derby.”
Major League Baseball announced Griffey will join Roger Hansen, a special assistant to general manager Jack Zduriencik, as the Mariners’ on-site representatives June 8 at the MLB Draft in Secaucus, N.J.
HULTZEN ON DL
Put a temporary hold on left-hander Danny Hultzen’s comeback.
The Mariners placed Hultzen on the seven-day disabled list at Double-A Jackson as a precaution due to fatigue. Hultzen made three starts this month in his comeback from major shoulder surgery.
The move isn’t unexpected. General manager Jack Zduriencik previously said the club would adopt a go-slow policy with Hultzen, who missed all of last season and much of the 2013 season.
Zduriencik said Hultzen, 25, would likely skip a turn occasionally and initially be limited to three or four innings per start.
Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. He is 0-1 while allowing three earned runs and 10 hits in eight innings over his three starts.
Hi-A Bakersfield outfielder Ian Miller had four steals Monday in a 4-3 loss to High Desert and now leads the California League with 21.
Miller, 23, is also on a 12-for-24 burst over his last six games, which boosted his average to .296 with a .341 on-base percentage for 39 games.
The Mariners selected Miller in the 14th round of the 2013 draft.
It was 34 years ago Wednesday — May 27, 1981 — that Mariners third baseman Lenny Randle got down on his hands and knees to blow a swinging bunt foul in the sixth inning of a game against Kansas City at the Kingdome.
Randle’s actions were ruled illegal.
Amos Otis received credit for a single. The Mariners went on to lose 8-5.
Kyle Seager’s six RBIs were a career high. He also extended his hitting streak to 12 games with an RBI single in the first inning. That’s the longest streak this season by a Mariners player. Robinson Cano had an 11-game run from April 13-25.…Nelson Cruz reached 1,000 career hits by going 2-for-5. He got No. 1,000 with a leadoff single in the 10th, but he was then thrown out stealing. Seager followed with his game-winning homer…The last Mariner to hit a homer in extra innings on an 0-2 pitch was Edgar Martinez on Aug. 14, 2001 at Boston against Rod Beck…The Mariners have won five straight games at Tropicana Field. They had never won more than three in a row before winning Monday’s series opener.
The Mariners conclude their three-city, nine-game road trip at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Wednesday when right-hander Felix Hernandez (7-1, 2.19) faces Tampa Bay right-hander Chris Archer (5-4, 2.40) at Tropicana Field.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
The Mariners open an 11-game homestand Thursday with the first of four weekend games against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
The homestand also includes three games against the New York Yankees and four against Tampa Bay.