As expected, the Mariners bolstered their thin bullpen prior to Saturday’s game against the White Sox and sought to balance their lineup by recalling first baseman Dae-Ho Lee from Triple-A Tacoma.
Joining the relief corps are switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, acquired earlier this month from Toronto in a waiver claim, and hard-throwing righty Dan Altavilla, who is making the jump directly from Double-A Jackson.
Closer Edwin Diaz made a similar move in early June, but manager Scott Servais cautioned against holding Altavilla to Diaz’s standards.
"Careful, I don’t want to put that on anybody," Servais said. "We certainly did not expect Edwin Diaz to do what he’s done. But (Altavilla) is a young guy that we’ll give an opportunity to."
The Mariners cleared space for Venditte, who was recalled from Tacoma, and Altavilla after Friday’s 3-1 victory by optioning outfielder Nori Aoki and infielder Mike Freeman to the Rainiers.
"Aoki getting sent out was probably the toughest conversation," Servais said. "Nori has done an outstanding job since he’s been back here. He’s been a catalyst at the top of the lineup.
"Just looking at what’s coming down the pike here, the number of left-handed starters we’re going to face, the number of starts he was going to get was going to be limited. We need pitching."
Lee returns from an eight-day remedial trip to Tacoma after the Mariners opted to put reliever Tom Wilhelmsen on the 15-day disabled list because of spasms in his lower back. Otherwise, Lee would not have been eligible to return until Monday.
As it is, Lee went immediately into Saturday’s lineup as a right-handed bat against Chicago lefty Jose Quintana and figures to start again Sunday when the White Sox send out another lefty in Carlos Rodon.
"Hello, everybody," Lee bellowed while waving as he entered the clubhouse. "Hi, guys! Hello! I’m back."
Lee, 34, was 14-for-27 in seven games at Tacoma after getting just four hits in his last 51 big-league at-bats. He batted .246 overall in 84 big-league games with 13 homers and 41 RBIs.
"He wasn’t swinging the bat well," Servais said. "I think just going down there and taking a deep breath, kind of regrouping, (was all he needed). He’s proven he can hit in this league. It’s just a matter of getting the confidence back."
Venditte, 31, compiled a 1.08 ERA in five appearances at Tacoma following the Aug. 6 waiver claim the brought him from the Blue Jays. He was 2-2 with a 4.58 ERA in 34 big-league games over the last two years with Oakland and Toronto.
"It’s a huge opportunity," he said, "especially when you get picked up like that. There are some expectations for you to go to Triple-A and perform well. Fortunately, I was able to do that."
While Venditte is capable of pitching with either hand, and switches accordingly against each hitter, the Mariners plan to use him primarily against left-handed batters as a counterpoint to right-handers Steve Cishek and Nick Vincent.
"That was the main reason we acquired him," Servais confirmed, "to come in and get the lefties out in the fifth, sixth, seventh innings."
Venditte’s career splits support the plan. He permits a .175/.242/.298 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) against lefties, but that jumps to .271/.350/.471 against right-handers.
Altavilla, 23, turned into one of the organization’s top prospects this season after switching to the bullpen. He compiled a 1.91 ERA in 43 games as Jackson’s closer.
Wilhelmsen’s time on the disabled list is backdated to Friday, which means he is eligible to return Sept. 10 at Oakland. He has a 3.20 ERA in 22 games since returning to the Mariners as a free agent on June 22.
"I know it’s something that he’s dealt with here in the past," Servais said, "and he’s been able to work through it. But we really don’t have time to give him five or six days. I hate to lose him, but we do have to have healthy guys who can pitch."
Aoki and Freeman must remain in the minors for at least 10 days unless, like Lee, they replace a player placed on the disabled list. That means they can’t be recalled until Sept. 6.
GETTING THE WORD
Altavilla’s call-up story started Friday while he was at his apartment in Jackson, Tenn. The Generals’ game against the Tennessee (Cubs) had been rained out, and he was killing time before a bus trip to Biloxi (Brewers).
These stories never get old for those around the game. Altavilla’s tale comes with an added twist. It’s not unprecedented for players to make the jump directly from Double-A, but it’s still rare.
Let Altavilla take it from here.
"I got the call from the skipper (Daren Brown)," he related, "and he said, `Try to get back as fast as you can.’ At that time, I didn’t really know what was going to happen.
"I came back, went into his office. He said, `Hey, you’re not going to travel with us on the bus to Biloxi tonight You’re going to meet the big club in Chicago.’ I was just at a loss for words. What a great feeling."
His first phone call? You guessed it.
"I called my mom," he said. "My sister has a daycare, and they were together, and I told them to put it on speaker phone. I broke the news to them, and they both started crying. Tears of joy.
"My mom and sister can’t (get here tonight). My sister is getting married this off-season, so she’s having her bridal shower. But my dad, my uncle and a few other family members are going to be here tonight."
When Altavilla arrived Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field, he did something else that many players do on their first day in the big leagues. He walked onto the field and just looked around.
"I opened my eyes wide," he said. "I did a 360. Wow, what an unbelievable park."
Wait until he sees Safeco Field.
A WINNING AUGUST
The Mariners, by winning Friday, improved to 16-9 in August and, with five games remaining, clinched a winning month.
Their record this month also erased August’s distinction as the franchise’s most-difficult month. The Mariners entered Saturday 503-598 throughout their 40-year history in August for a .456 winning percentage.
The franchise’s worst record now belongs to July at 469-565 for a .454 winning percentage. The Mariners will remain about .454 in August even if they lose their five remaining games.
Their records in other months: March/April 443-487 (.476); May 518-577 (.473); June 525-543 (.492); September 471-542 (.465); and October 37-43 (.463).
Short-A Everett became the fifth of the Mariners’ seven affiliates to secure a postseason berth Friday when it clinched first place in the Northwest League North Division with a 9-2 victory over Vancouver (Blue Jays).
Those affiliates that previously clinched a postseason berth: Double-A Jackson, Lo-A Clinton, Rookie Peoria and the Dominican Academy.
The Mariners have a good chance for a seven-for-seven sweep because its two remaining affiliates — Triple-A Tacoma and Hi-A Bakersfield — each entered Saturday atop their divisions.
It was one year ago Sunday — Aug. 28, 2015 — that Jack Zduriencik was fired as the Mariners general manager after nearly seven seasons. Coincidentally, the Mariners were then also playing the White Sox in Chicago.
Assistant general manager Jeff Kingston replaced Zduriencik on an interim basis until Sept. 28, when the Mariners hired Jerry Dipoto to serve as executive vice president and general manager.
Kingston received a promotion to vice president while remaining assistant general manager.
The Mariners and White Sox conclude their four-game series at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (4-8 with a 4.14 ERA) will face Chicago lefty Carlos Rodon (4-8, 4.02).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
The Mariners open a three-game series Monday at first-place Texas.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners