SEATTLE — Ketel Marte’s return to active duty as the Mariners shortstop is now only limited by the requirements of the 15-day disabled list.
"I feel good," Marte said after testing his recovery from a sprained left thumb Saturday by hitting "flips" in the batting cages. "I can do everything now."
Marte also took ground balls in pre-game drills before the Mariners continued their three-game weekend series against the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field. Again, no problems.
But Marte isn’t eligible to return until June 6. He suffered the injury May 21 on a slide at second base and, a day later, was placed on the disabled list. The minimum stay is 15 days.
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Plans call for Marte to join Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday when the Rainiers open a four-game series against Salt Lake (Angels) at Cheney Stadium. Marte is expected to play in all four games.
Marte, 22, was batting .276 in 40 games when he suffered the injury, including .315 over the previous month. He was also on pace to finish at plus-13 in runs saves in a total zone defensive rating.
Luis Sardinas started Saturday at shortstop for a third straight game.
Before opting to put center fielder Leonys Martin on the disabled list Friday because of a strained left hamstring, the Mariners considered shortening their bullpen in order to keep him on the active roster.
Had Martin been judged likely to miss just three or four days, club officials were leaning toward keeping him on the active roster instead of losing him for 15 days, which covers a key three-game series next month at second-place Texas.
That debate died when the latest medical exam on Martin projected a longer recovery period.
"It was a situation where, `Is it going to be seven days?" Servais said. "`Is it going to be 10 days? I think with a speed player, with a hamstring injury like that, it’s delicate. You probably want to given him a little more time.
"If he played first base or third base or (was a) DH or something like that, it would be a little bit different. But when the speed is such a big part of his game and how he plays… We just thought it was best to be cautious with this."
Martin is expected to be ready when eligible to return June 10 from the disabled list. Even so, it raises an interesting question: Which reliever would the Mariners have jettisoned?
Right-hander Steve Johnson currently fills the mop-up role, but he’s worked nine scoreless innings over his last seven appearances. He struck out five over two innings in Friday’s 7-2 loss to the Twins.
Johnson’s success could squeeze out right-hander Joel Peralta, whose ERA jumped from 2.51 to 4.50 after allowing six runs in 5 2/3 innings in his last seven outings. He also allowed three of four inherited runners to score in that span.
Putting Martin on the disabled list seemingly only delays that decision.
Right-hander Tony Zych is amping up his throwing program in his recovery from tendinitis in his rotator cuff, and club officials continue to closely track right-hander Edwin Diaz at Double-A Jackson as a promotion possibility.
With veteran catcher Chris Iannetta slumping badly under the heaviest workload pace of his career, backup Steve Clevenger started Saturday and appears positioned for increased playing time.
Iannetta entered Saturday in an 8-for-54 slide over the last 17 games, which dropped his average from .250 to .205. His on-base percentage in the span was .266 after posting a .346 mark through his first 22 games.
One likely reason is fatigue.
Iannetta, 33, started 36 of the Mariners’ first 47 games, which puts him on pace to start 124 games. He never started more than 105 in any of his 10 previous seasons, and he started just 80 last season for the Los Angeles Angels.
"I’ve got to find a way to back him off," Servais said. "It’s hard because he’s got such a good thing going with our pitchers. It’s a huge difference…But I am cognizant of it with Chris and the pace he’s on."
Clevenger, 30, carried a .171 average into Saturday’s game, although he batted .287 last season in 30 games at Baltimore.
Right fielder Alex Jackson has two homers in eight games, through Friday, since his promotion to Lo-A Clinton from extended spring training — but just one other hit in 27 at-bats.
He does have seven walks, which boosts his on-base percentage to .286.
Jackson, 20, has generally been viewed as the organization’s highest-ceiling prospect since his selection with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft. But his production has yet to match that assessment.
While he has 12 homers and 57 RBIs in parts of three professional seasons, he also owns a .216/.321/.387 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) over 447 plate appearances in 108 games.
It was one year ago Sunday —May 29, 2015 — that right-hander Taijuan Walker turned around what had been a disappointing season by pitching eight scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory over Cleveland at Safeco Field.
Walker was 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA in nine previous starts. Beginning with his victory over the Indians, he closed the season at 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA over 20 starts.
The Mariners, after losing Friday to the Twins, are 3-5 after an open date. That includes a loss in the season opener at Texas…reliever Steve Johnson recorded seven straight outs via strikeout over his last two outings before Miguel Sano ended the ninth inning Friday with a pop to third base…Even after giving up seven runs Friday, the Mariners entered Saturday with the American League’s best ERA at 3.28. Chicago was second at 3.41. Minnesota was last at 5.01.
The Mariners and Twins conclude their three-game weekend series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (2-4 with a 2.70 ERA) will face Minnesota right-hander Ricky Nolasco (1-3, 5.54).
Walker is 0-4 in his last five starts with a 3.96 ERA.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners