ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s two days and counting for the Seattle Mariners in their decision to operate with a shortened relief corps. Even manager Lloyd McClendon acknowledges it can’t continue much longer.
“I think we’re close (to making a move),” he said. “I don’t think it’s (Thursday). It may not even be the next day, but I think we’re close.”
The Mariners opted to operate with a six-man bullpen by optioning Danny Farquhar to Triple-A Tacoma after Monday’s game in order to clear roster space when outfielder Austin Jackson returned from the disabled list.
General manager Jack Zduriencik, at the time, characterized the decision as a short-term move that represented something of a gamble.
“We’re prepared to (make another move to add a reliever),” he said. “We’ll go game to game, day to day. We’ll see how it falls into place.”
Rules prevent the Mariners from recalling Farquhar for 10 days unless he replaces a player placed on the disabled list. So what happens if they need someone sooner?
The leading candidate appears to be right-hander Dominic Leone, who had his third straight scoreless outing Tuesday when he pitched two innings in closing out Tacoma’s 4-3 victory at Omaha.
The Mariners demoted Leone, as they did Farquhar, after a series of poor big-league outings: six runs in 8 1/3 innings over eight appearances. But Leone had a 2.17 ERA last season in 57 games as a rookie.
If not Leone, other possibilities include Mayckol Guaipe, Lucas Luetge and recently-signed Kevin Gregg.
Guaipe is described as “Yoervis Medina with better command” and had a 2.55 ERA in 14 outings at Tacoma before giving up five runs in the eighth inning Monday in an 8-5 loss at Omaha.
Luetge, a lefty, shuttled between Tacoma and the big leagues in recent years, but his current numbers — 13 runs and 19 hits in 19 1/3 innings — make him an unlikely promotion candidate.
Gregg has given up one run in three innings over three outings since joining the Rainiers after compiling a 10.13 ERA in 11 games for the Reds. He missed most of last season because of an elbow injury.
Promoting Gregg would require a corresponding roster move, which would likely require the Mariners to designate one of the veteran non-pitching reserves for assignment.
It is that decision — choosing which veteran to jettison — that pushed the Mariners into their six-reliever gambit. Delaying the decision, even by a few days, bought time to reexamine trade possibilities.
Brad Miller’s emergence as a viable super utilityman appears to put four players at risk: outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Dustin Ackley, veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist and DH/outfielder Rickie Weeks.
The Mariners could also delay that decision a while longer by optioning Taylor back to Tacoma and returning Miller to shortstop. Taylor is batting just .169 in 17 games.
Nelson Cruz is just the fourth player to hit a ball into the Rays Touch Tank in right-center field in the 18-year history of Tropicana Field. His three-run homer in the ninth inning provided the only runs in Wednesday’s game.
The Touch Tank is a 35-foot, 10,000-gallon aquarium filled with cownose rays taken from the Tampa Bay waters. Fans are permitted to feed the rays during games.
The first player to reach the tank was Arizona’s Luis Gonzalez on June 24, 2007. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera did it on June 30, 2013. And Tampa Bay’s Jose Lobaton did in on Oct. 7, 2013 in postseason.
HEART BEATING STRONGER
Sure, Cruz has been slugging at a Most Valuable Player-type pace since the start of the season. And he did it again Wednesday by hitting a three-run homer that secured a sweep at Tampa Bay.
But the entire heart of the Mariners’ lineup is now starting to pump some thump.
Robinson Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager have started all 24 games in May as the three-four-five hitters and are batting a combined .297 with 11 doubles, 15 homers and 40 RBIs.
“We’re a different lineup,” McClendon said, “and they’re both (Cano and Seager) starting to swing the bat the way they’re capable of. I think it stretches our lineup. We got a lot deeper.”
It was 17 years ago Thursday — May 28, 1998 — that Edgar Martinez became the first player to hit a ball onto the the lower catwalk at Tropicana Field.
Martinez’s drive came in the first inning against Tampa Bay right-hander Jason Johnson and resulted in a three-run homer. The Mariners, behind Jaime Moyer, went on to win 5-2.
Kyle Seager’s hitting streak ended at 12 games when he went 0-for-4. It also ended a 21-game streak, a career-high, of reaching base at least once…Felix Hernandez is the only American League pitcher with two shutouts. The last time a Mariners pitcher had two shutouts in the club’s first 46 games was Randy Johnson in 1993…Hernandez lowered his career ERA against the Rays to 1.94. That is best by any opponent with a minimum of 10 starts. The previous leader was Pedro Martinez at 1.99…the Mariners’ last three road shutouts have come at Tropicana Field…The Mariners have won six in a road at The Trop. Their best previous streak was three.
Want a first-hand look at the pitcher who won the Cy Young Award last season over Felix Hernandez? That opportunity is available at 7:10 p.m. Thursday when the Mariners open a four-game series against Cleveland.
Indians right-hander Corey Kluber (2-5, 3.49) will face lefty James Paxton (3-2, 3.52) in the series opener. Kluber is the reigning Cy Young winner.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
The 11-game homestand continues next week with three games against the New York Yankees and a four-game series rematch against Tampa Bay.