Mariners Insider Blog

Mariners notebook: Johnson’s success earning him higher-leverage duty

Steve Johnson is carving out a bigger niche in the Mariners’ bullpen.
Steve Johnson is carving out a bigger niche in the Mariners’ bullpen. AP

SEATTLE — Did manager Scott Servais signal another change in bullpen roles Monday when he summoned Steve Johnson to replace starter Nathan Karns in the seventh inning?

There were two outs, and San Diego had the tying run at the plate. It was Johnson’s first hold/save situation in 10 outings since his May 3 promotion from Triple-A Tacoma.

"I think he’s earned it," Servais said. "He’s been very good, going after righties and lefties. I thought it was a good matchup for him there."

Johnson responded by striking out Wil Myers for his 15th strikeout in 11 1/3 innings. Joaquin Benoit replaced Johnson to start the eighth inning, and the Mariners later turned a close game into a 9-3 rout.

"Obviously, I haven’t been in too many of those situations," Johnson said, "but I just try to come in and do what I’ve been doing. Stay on a roll."

And he has been on a roll.

Johnson has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances, which covers 10 1/3 innings. Overall, his ERA is down to 0.79.

"I’m just throwing my fastball," he said, "and it’s been able to get by guys. I’m mixing it up and changing speeds when I need to. I’m just trying to throw a bunch of strikes in there. Right now, they seem to be swinging and missing a lot."

The Mariners, under ideal circumstances, likely would have used Nick Vincent to replace Karns in the seventh inning, but Vincent threw 49 pitches in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.

So Servais went to Johnson instead of veteran Joel Peralta, who has struggled in recent games, particularly against right-handed hitters. Peralta pitched the ninth inning after the Mariners built their lead to seven runs.

Either Johnson or Peralta projects as the odd-man out when Mariners need to clear space in their bullpen for either Tony Zych, who is on the disabled list, or Edwin Diaz, whose development is being fast-tracked at Double-A Jackson.

ALL-STAR BALLOTING

The standings suggest the Mariners are contenders, but that’s having little impact in the early returns on the All-Star balloting to determined the American League’s starting unit.

Robinson Cano ranks third among second basemen, and Nelson Cruz is fifth among designated hitters. No other Mariners are among the top five at their positions — or top 15 in the outfield balloting.

Cano is a six-time All-Star and a five-time starter but, despite a strong first two months, is nearly 270,000 votes behind the second-base leader, Houston’s Jose Altuve. Cano is nearly 120,000 votes behind Kansas City’s Omar Infante.

Cruz is a four-time All-Star who was elected the last two years as the starting DH, but he trails the early leader, Boston’s David Ortiz, by more than 750,000 votes.

Kansas City’s Kendrys Morales ranks second to Ortiz, followed by Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion and Detroit’s Victor Martinez.

Online balloting continues through 8:59 p.m. Pacific time on June 30. The All-Star Game is July 12 in San Diego.

INJURY UPDATES

Shortstop Ketel Marte began a rehab assignment Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma that is tentatively scheduled to run through Saturday’s game at Las Vegas (Mets) after a four-game series against Salt Lake (Angels) at Cheney Stadium.

Marte is recovering from a sprained left thumb suffered May 21 on a slide at second base in Cincinnati. He is scheduled to be activated prior to the June 6 game against Cleveland at Safeco Field.

"He’s going to travel with (the Rainiers) for one game," Servais said, "because I don’t want to give him two days off before we open (a homestand). Fingers crossed, he becomes active when we get off the trip on Monday."

***Center fielder Leonys Martin took batting practice prior to Tuesday’s game for the first time since suffering a strained left hamstring while stealing second base on May 25 against Oakland at Safeco.

Plans call for Martin to accompany the Mariners on their road trip to San Diego and Texas, but he will likely take part next week in a short rehab assignment at Tacoma before his scheduled June 10 return from the disabled list.

***Zych is tracking for a bullpen workout, Servais confirmed, early next week after the Mariners return from their road trip. Zych indicated Monday that he hoped to be throwing from a mound within a week.

Servais said: "Once he gets a couple of bullpens underneath him, we’ll look at (a) rehab (assignment) and go from there. He definitely moving in the right direction."

Zych hasn’t pitched since May 1 because of tendinitis in his rotator cuff.

***Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush is "feeling better," Servais said, but has yet to resume his throwing program. Furbush hasn’t pitched since last July and is recovering from tendinitis in his left shoulder biceps.

PLAYING DRESS-UP

Servais implemented some new wardrobe guidelines for the trip to San Diego.

"The dress policy is you have to wear a jacket," he said, "but some accessory or something has to say something about where you’re from or where you grew up. Or where you went to college. Your favorite team."

Servais gave the players and other members of the traveling party a heads-up about 10 days ago.

"We talk a lot about how we have guys from six different countries," he said. "Very diverse. So let’s have a little fun with it."

And for his part?

"I’ve got the green blazer in there," revealed Servais, a Wisconsin native and diehard fan of the Green Bay Packers. ""A combination of Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren and the ‘90s. That’s where I’m going."

And, yes, he planned to sport a cheesehead.

IANNETTA’S VALUE

While catcher Chris Iannetta entered Tuesday mired in a 9-for-61 slump, which dropped his average from .250 to .202, he continues to provide a value beyond the numbers.

Listen to pitcher Nathan Karns in the aftermath of Monday’s 9-3 victory over the Padres.

"Iannetta is such a luxury to have back there," said Karns, who allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings. "He has such great knowledge of so many hitters across the league. It really makes it easy on me.

"I’ve just got to go out there and execute pitches. For the most part, I’ve just been following his lead this year. It’s a very strong luxury to have out there."

The Mariners, through Monday, had a 3.05 ERA when Iannetta is behind the plate. That jumps to 4.37 when backup Steve Clevenger plays. The league average is 4.09.

MINOR AWARDS

Jackson swept the Southern League’s weekly awards when outfielder Tyler O’Neill and right-hander Ryan Yarbrough were picked as the player and pitcher of the week for May 23-29.

O’Neill, 20, batted .333 (8-for-24) with six extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in six games. He is batting .315 overall in 48 games with nine homers and 38 RBIs. The selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft.

Yarbrough, 24, won two starts while yielding just one earned run and nine hits in 13 innings. He also struck out 13 and walked only two. He is 6-1 with a 2.38 ERA in 10 starts.

The Mariners picked Yarbrough in the fourth round of the 2014 draft.

LOOKING BACK

It was 13 years ago Wednesday — June 1, 2003 — that the Mariners set a franchise record by opening the game with seven straight hits in a 9-5 victory at Minnesota.

The Mariners had five straight singles by Randy Winn, Carlos Guillen, Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez and Mike Cameron before Greg Colbrunn delivered a two-run triple. Jeff Cirillo capped the burst with an RBI single for a 6-0 lead.

All of the damage came against Twins lefty Kenny Rogers. By winning, the Mariners improved to 37-18, which gave them a five-game lead over second-place Oakland in the American League West Division.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Padres begin the southern half of their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday at Petco Park in San Diego.

Right-hander Felix Hernandez (4-4 with a 2.86 ERA) will face Padres lefty Christian Friedrich (1-1, 1.65). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.

After two games in San Diego, the Mariners head to Texas for a three-game weekend showdown.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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