Seattle Mariners

Mariners notebook: Sucre viewed as defensive upgrade over Buck

Catcher Jesus Sucre hopes to last a little longer than 11 days now that he’s back in the big leagues.

The Mariners, as expected, recalled Sucre, 26, from Triple-A Tacoma before Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Twins. The move follows the late Monday decision to designate John Buck for assignment.

The move is viewed by club officials as a major defensive upgrade at the backup position behind starting catcher Mike Zunino.

“He’s proven he’s a solid backup catcher who receives the ball well and blocks well,” manager Lloyd McClendon said of Sucre. “He pretty much just shuts down the running game. “

Sucre threw out 21 of 41 opponents attempting to steal bases in Tacoma.

“I’ve been working really hard with my defense down there,” Sucre said, “especially with my footwork and throwing the ball to second.”

Further, his bat is likely to be no worse than a push; Buck batted .226 in 27 games, with one home run and six RBIs.

“That was always the point of concern (with Sucre), coming through the minor leagues,” McClendon said. “But he’s actually, in talking to people at the Triple-A level, swung the bat extremely well.

“I think he’s going to be a plus in that department.”

Sucre, who bats and throws right-handed, arrives after batting .274 in 48 games for the Rainiers, with two homers and 16 RBIs. He batted .375 over his last 10 games with Tacoma.

Sucre (whose name is pronounced SUE-cray) made his major league debut last season with the Mariners and made eight starts before suffering a left wrist injury on June 4, ending his season.

“I had a little fracture last year in my hand,” he said, “and I couldn’t get back.”

The Mariners acquired Sucre, a Venezuela native, by signing him as a minor league free agent on July 19, 2011. He spent the previous six-plus seasons in the Atlanta system.

In corresponding moves involving minor league catchers, the Mariners promoted catcher John Hicks to Tacoma from Double-A Jackson and activated Steve Baron at high Single-A High Desert and promoted him to Jackson.

Paxton’s progress

Left-hander James Paxton moved one step closer to returning from his extended stay on the disabled list by experiencing no problems while throwing 32 pitches over two innings of a simulated game.

“It went really well,” he said. “Arm is feeling great. Really loose. Some good rhythm out there. Pitches were coming along really well.

“Obviously, I have a little fine-tuning to do. But for the first sim game, I thought it was really good.”

Paxton won his first two starts this season before a strained back muscle April 8 against the Los Angeles Angels forced him to the disabled list. He made a rehab start May 25 for Tacoma, but shoulder soreness put him back on the shelf.

His latest recovery effort is — so far — going smoothly.

“He threw all four pitches (in the simulated game),” pitching coach Rick Waits said, “and they were all good. Good timing. He’s been working a lot on his timing, and his timing was excellent today.”

Plans call for Paxton to throw 50 pitches Saturday in three simulated innings. After that, the club will determine whether he requires a third simulated game or can be sent on a rehab assignment.

If he departs after Saturday, Paxton likely will head to low Single-A Everett for one start because Tacoma will be on the Triple-A All-Star break.

Top heavy

Outfielder Michael Saunders, who batted leadoff again Tuesday, seems to have found a home in the top one-third of the lineup.

A .266 hitter overall in 62 games, Saunders is batting .303 (33-for-109) in 31 games while batting leadoff (13 games), second (15) or third (three) in the lineup.

Saunders also five homers and 21 RBIs in those 31 games. He has just one homer and seven RBIs in 75 at-bats when not batting in the top one-third of the lineup.

14 K’s, no walks

Hisashi Iwakuma, Danny Farquhar and Fernando Rodney combined to record 14 strikeouts without issuing a walk in Monday’s 2-0 victory over the Twins.

It marked just the third time in franchise history that Mariners pitchers had 14 or more strikeouts without allowing a walk. Iwakuma had 10 strikeouts, and Farquhar and Rodney each had two.

The three previous occasions:

•  Randy Johnson struck out 19 without a walk in a 4-1 loss to Oakland on June 24, 1997.

•  Johnson (15) and Norm Charlton (two) combined for 17 strikeouts on June 14, 1993, in a 6-3 victory over Kansas City.

•  Mark Langston had 16 strikeouts and no walks while pitching a complete game on May 10, 1988, in a 4-2 victory at Toronto.

Charting Kuma

Iwakuma joined some select company Monday by getting the victory after pitching seven shutout innings against the Twins. In doing so, he pushed his career record to 30-15 while lowering his career ERA to 2.89.

Only two other pitchers over the past 25 years reached 30 career victories with 15 or fewer losses and a sub-3.00 ERA: Mike Mussina (30-12, 2.68) and Roy Oswalt (30-9, 2.90).

Iwakuma also improved to 5-0 against the Twins without allowing an earned run. The last pitcher to do that was Larry Jaster of the Cardinals, who threw five shutouts against the Dodgers in 1966.

Minor details

Double-A Jackson third baseman D.J. Peterson is the only Mariners prospect to crack Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 propsect rankings. Peterson was ranked 46th.

Two other players ranked by the magazine in its preseason Top 100, pitchers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, are on the big-league club. Paxton is currently on the disabled list because of a strained back muscle.

Peterson, 22, was the club’s first-round pick in 2013 and was recently promoted to Jackson from High Desert. In 78 career minor league games, he is batting .319, with 21 homers and 80 RBIs.

Looking back

It was four years ago Wednesday — July 9, 2010 — that the Mariners traded pitchers Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak, infielder Matt Lawson and pitchers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke.

Short hops

McClendon said he isn’t yet ready to announce a starter for Thursday’s series finale against the Twins. The slot became open when he opted to push back Felix Hernandez by one day to have him face first-place Oakland. … Several clubs, including Milwaukee, are showing interest in right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, whose next scheduled start is Friday for Tacoma. … The Mariners entered Tuesday with a 42-27 record since April 23. Only two teams have been better — but both are in the American League West. Entering Tuesday, Oakland was 43-26 since April 23, and Los Angeles was 42-26.

On tap

The Mariners and Twins continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday at Safeco Field. Left-hander Roenis Elias (7-7, 4.19 ERA) will face Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson (7-7, 4.17).