Seattle Mariners

Mariners notebook: Trade rumors continue to swirl as deadline nears

Alex Rios? Josh Willingham? Chris Denorfia? Marlon Byrd? Could one of those outfielders be wearing a Seattle Mariners’ uniform by the weekend? What about left-handed pitcher and Tacoma native Jon Lester?

Someone else? Utilitymen Ben Zobrist or Emilio Bonifacio, maybe?

The rumors keep circulating around the Mariners as the hours count down to the non-waiver trading deadline at 1 p.m. (PDT) on Thursday.

The Mariners — no secret, here — are trying hard to bolster their attack. Their clear preference, also well-known, is to obtain a right-handed-hitting outfielder. But they are also looking for upgrades in other areas.

“I don’t know what else will happen,” said general manager Jack Zduriencik, who is on the trip along with most of his senior staff. “We’ll continue to have conversations. ... Who knows what’s around the corner?”

The Mariners have been linked to nearly every right-handed hitter believed to be available — plus Lester, Tampa Bay ace David Price and others.

Officials from rival clubs say the Mariners have the necessary prospects to make deals for immediate help.

So far, though, it’s just talk — lots of talk and much of it is conflicting. Example: There were two reports Wednesday from Boston, within minutes of each other, contending the Mariners were “in” and “not in” on Lester.

“Right now, nothing is imminent,” one Mariners official said before adding, “but that could change.”

In other words: stay tuned for a few more hours.

Note: Trades can take place after the deadline, but the players involved must first clear waivers. Players must be on a club’s roster by Sept. 1 in order to be eligible for postseason play.

Leadoff philosophy

Left fielder Dustin Ackley, back atop the lineup, contends one popular view for the leadoff role — making a concerted effort to see pitches — is a counter-productive approach.

At least for him.

“In Triple-A when I started leading off,” he said, “I think it was (a matter of) getting those thoughts out of there. The more you tried to overthink being the leadoff hitter, and trying to see pitches, that’s when you get yourself in trouble.”

Ackley was the Mariners’ leadoff hitter Wednesday for the second consecutive game. He was 3-for-5 in Tuesday’s win when he filled the role for the first time since last season.

“I think you’ve just got to take it as no different from hitting second,” he said. “You’re going to see pitches when you see pitches. You’re going to get pitches to hit.

“It’s just a different spot. That’s it. Just take the same at-bats you’ve always been taking.”

Lately, Ackley’s at-bats have been almost exactly what the Mariners want to see. He entered Wednesday on a 30-for-77 surge (.390) since the first of July. His average has climbed from .214 to .256.

“This is the guy I envisioned him being,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Same swing. He’s getting hits. He’s attacking the outside pitch. He’s swinging at strikes, and he’s got some positive results.”

The secret, Ackley believes, is not only not trying to see more pitches, but also simply not thinking at all once he gets into the batter’s box.

“The goal all year,” he said, “has been to get my swing to the point where I don’t have to think about it; where I can just go up there and hit. That’s where it’s been the last couple of weeks.”

Paxton’s progress

Left-hander James Paxton took another step toward an anticipated Saturday return to the rotation by reporting positive results from a 45-pitch bullpen workout.

“I was feeling great,” he said. “In my mind, I’m ready to compete.”

The Mariners are likely to wait until at least Thursday — to see whether Paxton experiences any day-after problems — before confirming plans to activate him after nearly four months on the disabled list.

“I’ve been waiting a long time,” he said. “To be able to go out there, throw as hard as I want and not have any pain at all, or any tightness the next day, is really good.”

Paxton exited an April 8 start against the Los Angeles Angels because of what was later diagnosed as a strained back muscle. A late May rehab assignment ended when he experienced shoulder soreness.

Short hops

Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma reached the 2,000-inning milestone by pitching through the seventh in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over the Indians. Counting 1,541 innings over 11 seasons in Japan, Iwakuma is now at 20032/3 for his career. ... Manager McClendon said he’s “hopeful” that outfielder Michael Saunders can begin a rehab assignment by the end of the weekend. Saunders took batting practice again in his recovery from a strained left oblique suffered July 10.

Minor details

Two of the Mariners' top prospects, third baseman D.J. Peterson and outfielder Austin Wilson, returned Tuesday from injuries.

Peterson, 22, went 0-for-4 with a walk as the designated hitter in Double-A Jackson’s 2-1 loss at Mobile (Diamondbacks). He suffered a bruised left wrist last Saturday while fielding a grounder.

After starting the season at Advanced-A High Desert, Peterson is batting .286 in 27 games at Jackson with five homers and 16 RBIs. He was the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2013.

Wilson, 22, marked his return from a foot injury, which occurred June 24 at Single-A Clinton, by hitting an inside-the-park homer in his second at-bat in a rehab start for Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League.

A second-round pick in 2013, Wilson was batting .298 at Clinton with 11 homers and 52 RBIs in 65 games at the time of his injury.

On tap

The Mariners and Indians conclude their three-game series at 4:05 p.m. (PDT) on Thursday at Progressive Field. Right-hander Chris Young (9-6, 3.04 ERA) will oppose Cleveland righty Zach McAllister (3-6, 5.65). Root Sports will broadcast the game.

The Mariners then head to Baltimore for three weekend games.