SEATTLE — With three open dates approaching in an eight-day span, the Mariners are tentatively planning to shift temporarily to a four-man rotation in an effort to position themselves for a postseason push over the final two months.
That means left-hander Wade LeBlanc was likely pitching Monday night to hold his spot in the rotation. The same goes Tuesday for lefty Wade Miley, who could also be in danger of a Nori Aoki-style demotion to Triple-A Tacoma.
Like Aoki, Miley doesn’t yet have five full years of major-league service time. After five years, players must give their consent to being optioned to the minors. Miley enters Tuesday’s start at 6-6 with a 5.44 ERA.
Manager Scott Servais declined to identify his rotation beyond Wednesday, when Felix Hernandez will be activated from the disabled list to start the final game against the Chicago White Sox.
But Servais previously indicated the Mariners will likely shift to a four-man unit with open dates on July 21, July 25 and July 28. They won’t require a fifth starter until Aug. 2.
Three of the four spots are set.
James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma are slotted for the first two games (July 22-23) at Toronto. For now, lefty Mike Montgomery will start the July 24 finale against Blue Jays, although LeBlanc and Miley will each have sufficient rest.
The question the Mariners face regarding Miley if he isn’t in their rotation: Would it be better to have him starting in the minors as opposed to getting mop-up innings in the bullpen?
While Miley could be sent to the minors, Montgomery and LeBlanc are each out of options, which means each are likely to shift to a long-relief role if they don’t remain in the rotation.
Hernandez and Paxton are in line to start July 26-27 in Pittsburgh, and Iwakuma will likely start the July 29 opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The July 30 game shapes up as a choice between Miley, Montgomery or LeBlanc.
The Mariners have Hernandez positioned to start the July 31 night game at Wrigley, which will be televised by ESPN. That will be the Mariners’ first appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball in more than 12 years.
Club officials remain optimistic right-hander Taijuan Walker can rejoin the rotation in early August. He discarded his walking boot Sunday and has resumed throwing in his recovery from tendinitis in his right foot.
The Mariners must make at least one roster move prior to Wednesday’s game, to clear space for Hernandez’s return from the disabled list, and two others appear likely within the next few days.
Aoki and catcher Mike Zunino are each likely to be recalled from Tacoma, which figures to get outfielder Daniel Robertson and catcher Jesus Sucre in return.
The likely corresponding move for Hernandez would be to option lefty reliever David Rollins to Tacoma. Rollins spent much of the last month shuttling between the Rainiers and the Mariners.
The Mariners could also choose to clear space for Hernandez by optioning Miley.
Shortstop Ketel Marte’s absence from Monday’s lineup had nothing to do with the sprained right ankle he suffered Friday on a slide at third base.
Instead, Marte is battling what is being characterized as a viral infection.
"Ketel is under the weather today," Servais said. "It’s a viral thing. Nothing to do with his ankle. He is not feeling well."
Shawn O’Malley started Monday at shortstop. He replaced Marte in the fourth inning of Friday’s game and on Saturday before Marte returned in Sunday’s 8-1 loss to the Astros.
It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the Mariners have four of the top 60 players in terms of at-bats ending in a hard-hit ball. That Nelson Cruz isn’t one of the four rates as, at least, a mild surprise.
The stat is compiled through a video review by Inside Edge (@InsideEdgeScout), which supplies analytical data to major- and minor-league clubs as well as the media.
Second baseman Robinson Cano ranks first among the Mariners, and 18th overall, at 21.3 percent. Third baseman Kyle Seager is 26th at 20.5 percent; first baseman Adam Lind is 44th at 19.7; and outfielder Seth Smith is 56th at 19.2.
The overall leader is Boston designated hitter David Ortiz at 28.5 percent, followed by Arizona third baseman Jake Lamb, a Washington alum, at 26.7; and New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at 24.9.
The only AL West player who ranks ahead of Cano is Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, who is 12th overall at 21.8.
Do the Mariners need a change in fashion to shake their Sunday blues at Safeco Field? They are 1-7 on Sundays at home after a brutal 8-1 loss to the Houston Astros in the series finale.
"It’s all about the uniform," Servais deadpanned prior to Monday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox. "It’s something I’ve thought long and hard about.
"I appreciate our marketing department and everybody (else) putting out different looks for the Mariners, but as I thought about it last night around one in the morning, I came to the conclusion it had to be tied to the uniform.
"I’m going to work on that. I’m going to talk to (club president) Kevin Mather and see what we can go with."
The Mariners wore cream-colored uniforms with blue piping in their loss to the Astros.
"I would like to wear the white pants with the navy blue top at home," Servais said. "And if that doesn’t work, I don’t know what we can do. There have been a number of reasons that we haven’t played well on Sundays.
"Certain days, it’s been pitching. Certain days, it’s been fielding. Some days, we haven’t hit. You can’t really pinpoint one particular area, other than uniforms."
Short-A Everett right-hander Reggie McClain struck out 10 of 13 batters faced Sunday in a 1-0 victory at Hillsboro (Diamondbacks).
"I’m not typically a strikeout pitcher," McClain told MiLB.com, "so 10 strikeouts in the first four innings, that was kind of crazy to me. I’ve never had a stretch like that that I can remember. It’s completely mind-boggling."
McClain, 23, was the Mariners’ 13th-round pick last month in the MLB Draft. He is 0-2 with a 4.96 ERA overall in five games, including three starts, for the AquaSox.
It was 22 years ago Tuesday — July 19, 1994 — that four ceiling tiles fell from the roof of the Kingdome prior to a game against Baltimore and caused the first postponement in the facility’s history.
Repairs on the Kingdome forced its closure until Nov. 5. The Mariners played their final 20 games on the road before an August strike brought the season to an end. They went 11-9 in those games, including nine victories in their last 10.
The repairs to the Kingdome also forced the Seahawks to play two preseason and three regular-season games at Husky Stadium.
Former Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Sasaki had a franchise-record 129 saves from 2000-03….Kyle Seager entered the week needing one more hit to reach 100 for the first straight year, which would match a franchise record for third basemen. Adrian Beltre had 100 or more from 2005-09…the Mariners, through Sunday, led the majors with 44 homers against left-handed pitchers. The White Sox planned to start lefties in the first two games: Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
The Mariners and White Sox will continue their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday with another match-up of left-handers at Safeco Field. Wade Miley (6-6 with a 5.44 ERA) will face Chicago’s Jose Quintana (7-8 and 3.21).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners