Slumping first baseman Dae-Ho became the latest example of the Mariners’ postseason-push mentality when he was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma prior to Friday’s series opener against Milwaukee at Safeco Field.
"The thing with Dae-Ho," manager Scott Servais said, "is he’s been on a pretty significant slide since the All-Star break. He can’t get his timing going. His confidence is down."
The Mariners optioned Lee and right-hander Joe Wieland to the Rainiers and replaced them by recalling Stefen Romero from Tacoma and activating former closer Steve Cishek from the disabled list.
Romero will replace Lee as the primary first baseman against left-handed pitchers. He was in the starting lineup Friday when Brewers lefty Brent Suter made his major-league debut.
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"This is an opportunity for (Romero)," Servais said. "At some point, you just have to take a deep breath and say, `What do I have to lose?’ For me, that’s been our battlecry here for quite a while."
Lee, 34, became something of a cult hero earlier this season by hitting two game-winning homers and building his average to .319 on June 4 with a .354 on-base percentage and a .582 slugging percentage.
A month later, on July 4, his slash numbers were holding solid at .294/.339/.515, but he suffered a bruised hand in Houston and it grew steadily worse over the next week before forcing him to the bench.
"It’s been a physical challenge," he said. "It wasn’t a big deal, but I (went into a slump). My timing has been on and off. I’m missing some pitches, and I’ve lost confidence in my batting."
Lee departs for Tacoma mired in a 4-for-52 funk that pared his slash numbers to .246/.308/.440. He has one homer in 20 games since the All-Star break after hitting 12 in his first 64 games.
The Mariners are hoping a remedial tour at Tacoma can work for Lee as it worked for outfielder Nori Aoki, who is batting .316 in 23 games since returning from a month-long stay with the Rainiers.
"I want to do my part," Lee said, "but I haven’t been doing that lately. Jerry (Dipoto, the general manager) said I would be playing every day (at Tacoma) to help me get my batting going. That’s the plan we have."
The Cishek-for-Wieland swap was less surprising.
Cishek made two one-inning rehab starts earlier this week at Short-A Everett in his recovery from a torn labrum in his left hip. The numbers weren’t great, but that didn’t faze Cishek or the Mariners.
"I was trying four-seamers (straight fastballs) as opposed to two-seamers," he said. "I could have thrown more sliders and, probably, gotten them out. When you throw a fastball in the zone, those kids are up there hacking.
"The hip feels good. I have so much more range of motion now. I feel a lot better there. Now, it’s just fine-tuning, and I’ll be good to go."
Cishek was 2-6 with 25 saves and a 3.40 ERA before being diagnosed with the injury after an Aug. 1 appearance against Boston. He returns in a different role; the closing job belongs to rookie Edwin Diaz.
"Shrek will be in our bullpen setting up," Servais confirmed. "We’ll put him in the right spots to help us out. We’re not going to overexpose him early. Let’s get him going."
The Mariners promoted Wieland from Tacoma on Aug. 12 because they needed a starter for their depleted rotation. He allowed six runs and nine hits in five-plus innings that night in a 6-3 loss at Oakland.
Rather than start Wieland again, the Mariners recalled right-hander Cody Martin from Tacoma to start Wednesday against the Angels in Anaheim. He gave up two runs in 4 1/3 innings before the bullpen closed out a 4-3 victory.
Romero, 27, was 3-for-15 over eight games in an earlier promotion but was optioned back to Tacoma after a defensive lapse in the outfield on June 5 in a 3-2 loss at Texas.
As he often did in the past, Romero put up strong Triple-A numbers: 19 homers, 80 RBIs and a .314 average in 96 games.
Romero spent time at first base in spring training and logged 15 games there for Tacoma — but he made only two starts at first base since June 23.
"We feel good about it," Servais said. "He handled it OK in spring. He’s going to get work in there, and we’ll make sure he’s prepared the best he can."
LINING UP THE ROTATION
Right-hander Felix Hernandez, who will start Saturday, is tentatively scheduled to get an extra day of rest before his next start on Aug. 26 against the White Sox in Chicago.
Before that happens, lefty James Paxton should and right-hander Taijuan Walker could return to the rotation.
Pushing Hernandez back one day permits Paxton to slide into an Aug. 25 return to the rotation — if he suffers no setbacks during or after a scheduled three-inning rehab start Saturday for Tacoma against Las Vegas (Mets) at Cheney Stadium.
Paxton suffered a bruised left elbow when struck by a line drive in the ninth inning of an Aug. 7 victory over the Angels at Safeco Field.
Walker’s return is iffier at this point, but current plans call for right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to get an extra day of rest before his next start on Aug. 24 in the homestand finale against the New York Yankees.
Iwakuma pitched seven innings Thursday in a 6-4 loss at Anaheim, while Walker pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings for Tacoma in a 6-4 victory at Nashville.
"I’m certainly encouraged by (Walker’s performance)," Servais said. "We all know that we need him, and that he can help us at some point. The timing for when he comes back? We’re not quite sure yet.
"His pitch usage (Thursday) night was a little different by design. We want him to throw more off-speed pitches — curveballs, sliders and change-ups. He did that, and the results were good."
With rookie lefty Ariel Miranda scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale against the Brewers, the Mariners are currently listing the first two games against the Yankees — Aug. 22-23 — as to be determined.
Right-hander Cody Martin looms as Monday’s likely starter, although that is subject to him being needed this weekend as a long reliever.
That leaves a spot open Tuesday, when Walker would be on his normal rest.
One day after getting approval from other major-league owners, the Mariners completed the paperwork Friday on an ownership transition that elevates John Stanton to chairman of the board and chief executive officer.
Stanton replaces Howard Lincoln in those roles and also becomes the franchise’s designated control person to Major League Baseball. Lincoln served as chairman and CEO since 2000.
The Mariners’ ownership group, known as First Avenue Entertainment LLLP, did not change, but Nintendo of America reduced its stake in the franchise from 55 percent to 10 percent. FAE also owns a 71-percent stake in Root Sports.
Nintendo held a controlling stake in the Mariners since purchasing the club from Jeff Smulyan for $100 million in 1992. Lincoln was a key player in Nintendo’s action and will continue to represent its interests on the club’s board of directors.
The Mariners previously announced the planned transition on April 27 after determining $1.4 billion value for the franchise and its share in Root Sports. The value of the transferred shares is believed to be $630,000.
The move required the approval of other MLB club owners, which occurred Thursday in Houston at their quarterly meetings. Friday’s financial filings completed the process.
Stanton is a wireless industry pioneer who became one of the club’s minority owners in 2000. In April, he said no changes were planned in the club’s management structure.
"Mariners fans have been so positive, so patient with the team," Stanton said in a statement released by the club, "and we want to reward them with playoff and World Series baseball here at Safeco Field.
"I want express my deepest appreciation to Howard Lincoln for his 17 years of leadership and a smooth transition in the last four months.
"The future of Mariners baseball is bright. The right management team is in place and focused on winning. It is an honor to lead this franchise, and I am ready to get started and excited for the challenges ahead."
The Mariners’ seven minor-league affiliates on Thursday passed the organization’s victory total for last season — despite fielding one few club.
The seven clubs carried a combined record of 393-270 (a .593 winning percentage) into Friday’s games. A year ago, the organization had eight affiliates and finished a combined 392-443 (a .469 winning percentage).
It was 26 years ago Saturday — Aug. 20, 1990 — that first baseman Tino Martinez, the club’s first-round pick in the 1988 MLB Draft, made his major-league debut by going 2-for-4 in a 6-4 loss at Texas.
Martinez spent six years with the Mariners before a Dec. 7, 1995 trade sent him to the New York Yankees with pitchers Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir for third baseman Russ Davis and pitcher Sterling Hitchcock.
The Mariners and Brewers continue their three-game series at 6:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (7-4 with a 3.34 ERA) will face Milwaukee right-hander Wily Peralta (5-8, 6.00).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
Star Wars Weekend at Safeco Field continues with a post-game showing of The Return of the Jedi on the MarinersVision screen.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners