At what point do the Mariners decide performance outweighs potential as they seek to mount a postseason push over the season’s final six-plus weeks?
The Mariners are 16-6 when utilityman Shawn O’Malley starts at shortstop after Sunday’s 8-4 victory at Oakland — a victory in which O’Malley contributed two singles and a walk in four plate appearances.
Ketel Marte started again Tuesday at shortstop after going hitless Monday in four at-bats, which left him 2-for-19 in five games since returning from a 20-day absence for mononucleosis.
"Ketel got sick," manager Scott Servais said, "and we’ve got to do everything we can to get him rolling again. But we also understand where we’re at in the season. I think we’re going to need both of the guys to contribute."
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O’Malley is batting .310 with a .355 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage over his last 19 games, which roughly corresponds to when he began getting regular playing time in Marte’s absence.
"It’s been fun," O’Malley said. "I’m just enjoying it. I don’t take any days for granted. You don’t know how long it’s going to last. Or it could last another 12 years. But I’m just enjoying it, doing my part."
While Marte’s post-mono slump represents a small sample size, it’s notable that O’Malley rates more than a full victory better for the entire season in the wins above replacement (WAR) metric as computed by www.baseball-reference.
Most telling, perhaps, Marte’s season-long defensive metrics are only marginally better than what O’Malley rates as a shortstop — and it was concerns over O’Malley’s skills at short that kept him from making the roster on opening day.
"His (improvement) hasn’t gone unnoticed," Servais said. "It’s how he plays, as much as the numbers. He’s the down-and-dirty, gritty, doesn’t-show-up-in-the-boxscore guy. We need a few of those guys out there. Every good team has them."
The recent move to option outfielder Guillermo Heredia back to Triple-A Tacoma created an opening for a right-handed hitter outfielder — O’Malley is a switch-hitter — as a complement to Nori Aoki or as a late-inning replacement.
"O’Malley gives us a little more positional versatility," Servais said. "He can run out there (to other positions), and we can have Marte in the lineup at the same time. O’Malley has earned the right to continue to play.
"He’ll get some outfield. He will get some shortstop."
Earlier in the season, the Mariners might have sent Marte back to the minors to allow him to play every day while sharpening his skills. At this point, though, there are only two weeks remaining before rosters can expand to as many as 40 players.
But while Marte figures to stay around, it will be interesting to watch how playing time is distributed over the final 45 games.
For his part, O’Malley will take what comes.
"I’m just trying to treat (every day) like another game," he said, "and not put too much pressure on myself. Have competitive at-bats. Put the barrel on the ball and whatever happens, happens.
"Obviously, the more playing time, and the more I practice, the more comfortable I’m going to feel and the more confident I’ll feel."
MARTIN RECALLED, PAXTON TO DL
With James Paxton requiring at least a few more days to recover from a bruised elbow, the Mariners recalled right-hander Cody Martin from Triple-A Tacoma prior to Tuesday’s game at Angel Stadium.
Martin will start Wednesday against the Angels, while right-hander Joe Wieland, who started Aug. 12 at Oakland, will shift to a long-relief role. The Mariners placed Paxton on the 15-day disabled list.
"It’s exciting," Martin said. "I’ve pretty much started the whole year in Tacoma and, really, the last five years of my career. Getting to start in the big leagues is what I want to do and where I want my career to go."
This marks Martin’s third recall of the season. He was 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA while allowing three runs in 10 innings over five previous relief appearances. He is 9-7 at Tacoma with a 3.93 ERA in 23 games, including 18 starts.
Paxton’s time on the disabled list is retroactive to Aug. 8, which means he can’t return until Aug. 23. He was hit in the elbow by a line drive on Aug. 7 in the ninth inning of a 3-1 victory over the Angels at Safeco Field.
"The swelling is down," he said. "We’re just being careful. We’re hoping for a bullpen (workout) on Thursday."
Paxton appeared on track to start Tuesday after throwing a bullpen workout Saturday and reporting no day-after problems. But swelling appeared Monday in his forearm, which prompted the move.
The Mariners believe it will be a temporary setback. The tentative plan projects Paxton to return next week to the rotation after throwing a simulated game or making an abbreviate minor-league rehab start.
"You’re probably looking middle-to-late next week," Servais said. "We want to make sure he’s 100 percent. It’s our decision. He wants to go pitch, but we want to do the smart thing.
"(Paxton will need) a sim(ulated) game or to go out and face some hitters. I don’t want to have him down for two weeks, or 16-17 days, without him facing any hitters."
TRUMPING THE KING
Mike Trout hit his seventh career homer Monday against Felix Hernandez. That includes three this season.
Those seven homers are not only the most by any current player against a current pitcher. They are the most by any player against any pitcher since 2012. No wonder Hernandez admitted: "He’s my nightmare."
Depending on how the Mariners’ rotation shakes out, Trout could get two more shots this season at Hernandez.
As things now stand, if Hernandez pitches every fifth day, he would face the Angels on Sept. 4 at Safeco Field and Sept. 14 again at Angel Stadium. But both projected games are series finales.
If Hernandez gets an extra day of rest at any point between now and Sept. 4, he could miss both series against the Angels.
First baseman/designated hitter Justin Seager often gets lost in the attention centered around older brother Kyle (of the Mariners) and younger brother Corey (of the Los Angeles Dodgers).
So take note.
Justin Seager made it four homers in three games Monday in Hi-A Bakersfield’s 6-5 loss to San Jose (Giants). He also has nine RBIs in that three-game span.
"He won the week," brother Kyle admitted.
The Mariners drafted Justin Seager in the 12th round of the 2013 MBL Draft. He is batting .226 this season in 67 games for the Blaze (although 34 walks boost his on-base percentage to .339). He also has 11 homers and 42 RBIs.
It was 19 years ago Wednesday — Aug. 17, 1997 — that Jay Buhner hit his 30th homer of the season in a 5-3 victory over the White Sox in the first game of a double-header in Chicago.
Buhner became the first player in franchise history to reach 30 homers in three consecutive seasons. He would finish the year with 40 and become the first Mariner to reach 40 in three straight seasons.
Only two other players have three or more consecutive seasons with 40 or more homers: Ken Griffey Jr. with four from 1996-99; and Alex Rodriguez with three from 1998-2000.
The Mariners entered Tuesday as the highest-scoring road club in the American League with 286 runs and certain not to lose ground to the No. 2 club — the Angels have 285. Detroit ranked third at 277, followed by Houston at 275…Felix Hernandez is only the third pitcher since 2000 to get to 150 victories prior to the end of his age 30 season. The others are Pedro Martinez (152 of his 219) and CC Sabathia (176 of his 221)…the Mariners entered Tuesday at 18-10 since the All-Star break. That .643 post-break winning percentage ranked second in franchise history. The 2001 club went 53-22 after the break for a .707 winning percentage.
The Mariners and Angels continue their four-game series at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday in Anaheim, Calif., when right-hander Cody Martin (1-2, 2.70) starts against LA lefty Tyler Skaggs (1-1, 4.37).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN in Seattle.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners