Felix Hernandez is headed to the disabled list for the third time in the past two seasons.
But this is more strategic than cause for concern.
The Seattle Mariners placed Hernandez on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday because of lower back tightness, even though he dealt with the issue in each of the previous two starts.
This allows the Mariners to skip Hernandez in the rotation before the All-Star break, which begins Monday. His only scheduled start before the break was supposed to be Thursday in the series finale against the Angels.
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“We’re playing for the long haul,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “I think when we started coming into the season we thought if we got 28-30 starts that would be a great year for Felix. We’re ahead of pace for that. This is as much allowing it to calm down as well as hopefully rejuvenating him here getting into the second half.”
The 32-year-old former Cy Young winner is 8-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 19 starts this year.
Servais said they’ll keep the bullpen the way it is, meaning they wouldn’t stretch Roenis Elias into a starter.
He said they’ll likely bring someone up to make that start, which means that could be right-hander Christian Bergman, who pitched seven shutout innings in his last spot start for the Mariners, or right-handers Rob Whalen or Casey Lawrence, who have both spent some time in the Mariners’ bullpen this year, among other candidates.
In the meantime, the Mariners recalled right-hander Nick Rumbelow back from Triple-A Tacoma, as well as infielder Gordon Beckham. They optioned outfielder John Andreoli.
Hernandez said following his most recent start, when he allowed three runs in five innings in a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies, that his back wasn’t an issue.
His fastball topped at 92 mph that start, which is higher than normal for Hernandez at this stage in his career, but he lacked the bite on his changeup and curveball. But he seemed to blame that on not being able to work much between his starts as he allowed his back to heal.
“I think you saw it affecting some of his pitches,” Servais said. “The finish on some of his pitches and getting down the mound. He wasn’t quite as sharp the past couple of times out because of it. We want to be proactive instead of reactive because of it.
“He’s not excited but we’re trying to do what’s best for the long haul.”
After missing more than half of the 2017 season because of shoulder issues, Hernandez had made each of his 19 previously scheduled starts this year, including Opening Day when he was recovering from a comebacker that hit off of his forearm during spring training.
Hernandez has thrown 105 1/3 innings this season after throwing a career-low 86 2/3 innings last year.
Andreoli appeared in one game for the Mariners when he was recalled on Saturday, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against the Rockies. He was hitting .283 in 60 games for the Rainiers.
Moving Hernandez to the DL also allowed the Mariners to bring Rumbelow back from Tacoma so quickly, after optioning him there on Saturday. Players can’t be recalled for 10 days unless they’re replacing an injured player.
This will be Gordon Beckham’s return trip to the Mariners. He first was recalled on May 14 when Robinson Cano headed to the disabled list with a fractured finger and Beckham’s stay became longer when Cano was then suspended 80 games for violating major league baseball’s joint drug and prevention program.
Beckham was hitting .318 with a .418 on-base percentage for Triple-A Tacoma in 57 games. He rejoined the team even though he could have left when the Mariners optioned him on May 31. The 31-year-old has more than five years of MLB service time, so he could have declined reporting to Tacoma to become a free agent.
Beckham could be a more versatile option this time around. He played some second base and third base for the Mariners, but in Tacoma he’s played first base (13 games), second base (21), shortstop (16), third base (five) and even some left field (two).