OAKLAND, Calif. — Just when the Mariners’ bullpen appeared to be in full lockdown mode, right-hander Tony Zych is heading to the disabled list because of tendinitis in the rotator cuff of his right shoulder.
The Mariners replaced Zych by selecting the contract of veteran right-hander Steve Johnson from Triple-A Tacoma. Zych returned Tuesday to Seattle to undergo further examinations.
"He’s had some nagging soreness in his shoulder," manager Scott Servais said, "for probably the last week or 10 days. That’s why he hasn’t been in there consistently. We tried to give him some down time."
Johnson, 28, was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA over 16 innings in seven relief appearances for the Rainiers. He spent most of his 12-year pro career as a starter before converting to bullpen duty last season while in the Baltimore organization.
"When I’m healthy and throwing strikes," he said, "I know I can be effective. I’m in a groove right now and hoping to continue it while I’m here."
Zych’s injury is the latest blow to a bullpen that already had four relievers on the disabled list: Joaquin Benoit, Charlie Furbush, Evan Scribner and Aaron Cook. The latter three have yet to pitch this season.
Even so, the Mariners’ reliever corps entered Tuesday with a 2.41 ERA that ranked fourth among the 15 American League clubs. It had limited opposing batters to a .171 average, which led the majors.
Further, the unit posted a 1.57 ERA over its last 16 games and contributed three scoreless innings in Monday’s 4-3 victory over Oakland. But losing Zych hurts; he is the bullpen’s top power arm with 19 strikeouts in 12 innings.
"We still have strikeout guys," Servais countered. "They just don’t all throw 95 or 96 (mph) like Tony does. (Nick) Vincent will continue to pitch in those (high-leverage) roles. (Joel) Peralta has done a nice job.
"(Vidal) Nuno will continues to pitch a bunch. It could increase the leverage roles for (Mike) Montgomery. We’ll just have to wait to see how the lineups and match-ups look.
The Mariners were able add Johnson to the active roster without a corresponding space-clearing move because they created an opening Monday be assigning right-hander Joe Wieland to Tacoma after he cleared waivers.
Johnson is the son of former pitcher Dave Johnson, who spent parts of five seasons in the big leagues with three clubs.
"He’s taught me everything," Steve Johnson said. "It’s nice to have someone who has been through the exact same thing as you. Going through the grind of the minors and getting that call-up and being sent back down. All of that."
The Mariners signed Johnson as a minor-league free agent on March 16 after he was released by Texas. He is 5-1 with a 4.25 ERA in 27 career big-league games, including five starts, over parts of three seasons with the Orioles.
"Attacks the strike zone," Servais said. "He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but the reports in Triple-A have been very good. His numbers line up with that. A guy who can go multiple innings out of the bullpen."
Zych, 25, was 1-0 with 3.00 ERA in 12 innings over 10 appearances, while recording 19 strikeouts in 12 innings. He struck out the side Sunday in a one-inning outing against Kansas City.
"He threw the ball outstanding on Sunday," Servais said, "but he came in (Monday) and was real sore. So we thought it was best to get him checked out."
AOKI ON THE RISE
The most consistent player in the majors over the last four seasons believes he is finally finding his form atop the Mariners’ lineup.
Left fielder Nori Aoki had two hits and reached base three times Monday in a 4-3 victory over Oakland in the series opener. That marked his first multi-hit game since April 13.
"I think it’s getting better day by day," said Aoki, who boosted his average to .225. "I feel a lot more comfortable. I just need to stay positive from here on and get on base as much as I can."
The average is deceptive.
Aoki has 11 walks this season, including nine in his last seven games. His on-base percentage is .317 overall and .483 in his recent surge.
"The key for me," Servais said, "is he’s been walking a ton lately. Even though he wasn’t swinging the bat great, he was still finding a way to get on base. You’re not seeing the wild swings.
"He does some different unorthodox stuff in the box, but he is staying on the ball better."
Aoki’s hallmark, since arriving in 2012 from Japan, has been his consistency. He batted .288, 286, .285 and .287 over his four previous seasons with three clubs while compiling OBP’s of .355, .356, .349 and .353.
That consistency, particularly the OBP skills, are what attracted the Mariners to Aoki in last winter’s free-agent market. He agreed to a one-year deal for $5.5 million that includes a vesting option for 2017 if he reaches 480 plate appearances.
Through 25 games, Aoki, now 34, is on pace for a 667 plate appearances — just shy of the 674 he had in 2013 while playing for Milwaukee.
The goal now, as Aoki seemingly emerges from his early slump, is to return to his accustomed production levels. An ascension to his well-established norm.
"It’s more just taking care of one day at a time," he said. "Know what I did wrong today, look at the video, and do what I need to maintain my talent where it needs to be. That also means taking care of my body physically."
Robinson Cano joined another select club Monday when he led off the fourth inning by recording his 450th career double.
Hornsby, Alomar and Biggio are in the Hall of Fame.
Cano already holds the distinction of being the only player in history to reach 30 doubles in each of his first 11 seasons. He needs 26 more this season to extend that streak to 12 years.
A winning record through a tough 25-game opening schedule by the Mariners hasn’t gone unnoticed by the folks at www.Bovada.lv, the online gaming site.
The latest Bovada odds now peg the Mariners as a 22/1 shot to win the World Series. That’s down from 40/1 odds when the season opened.
Further, the Mariners are now 2/1 co-favorites with Texas to win the American League West Division. They were a 4/1 choice behind Houston (5/4) and Texas (11/4) when the season started.
The Chicago Cubs remain the World Series favorites at 5/1 and are an 11/4 pick to win the National League pennant. Boston, Chicago and Toronto rate a 12/1 co-favorites to win the AL pennant.
Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill reached base safely in all 22 of his games, entering Tuesday, and had at least one hit in 20 of them.
O’Neill, 20, was batting .313 with a .383 on-base percentage and led the Southern League with six homers and had a share of the league lead with 18 RBIs. He had four homers and nine RBIs in his last eight games.
The Mariners selected O’Neill with in the third round of the 2013 draft, and he was the organization’s co-minor league player of the year last season when he batted .260 with 32 homers and 87 RBIs in 106 games at Hi-A Bakersfield.
It was one year ago Tuesday — May 4, 2015 — that Felix Hernandez became the all-time strikeout leader for a Venezuelan-born pitcher by getting eight and pushing his career total to 1,995 in a 3-2 victory at Anaheim.
Hernandez passed Johan Santana, who had 1,988 in a 12-year career from 2000-12. Hernandez has a franchise-record 2,170 strikeouts as he enters his scheduled start Wednesday against the Athletics.
The Mariners entered Tuesday with a 20-11 record at the Oakland Coliseum since the start of the 2013 season…Monday’s 4-3 victory was the Mariners’ seventh straight one-run victory at the Oakland Coliseum…closer Steve Cishek has a 10-inning scoreless streak after closing out Monday’s victory.
The Mariners and Athletics concluded their three-game series at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday at the Oakland Coliseum. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (2-2 with a 1.38 ERA) will face Oakland lefty Sean Manaea (0-0, 7.20).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners