CHICAGO — Nathan Karns’ recent problems can be traced, the Mariners believe, at least in part to a strained muscle in his lower back.
The Mariners placed Karns on the 15-day disabled list prior to Saturday’s game and replaced him on the active roster by recalling right-hander Cody Martin from Triple-A Tacoma.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious (with Karns),” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s more of a spasm. But he’s going to be down a few days and, where we’re at bullpen-wise, we thought it would be more beneficial for us to get somebody else here.”
This marks Martin’s second big-league tour this season. He was 1-0 in two appearances from June 2-4 while allowing one run in four innings. Martin was 9-6 with a 3.95 ERA in 22 games, including 17 starts, at Tacoma.
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“I’ve been throwing the ball really well,” he said. “I’ve been back to full-time starting. I worked on a lot of things early in the year. Since the last time I was here, I’ve really turned a corner.
“Hopefully, that translates to getting back up here and staying. Just throwing strikes and getting ahead of guys. Early in the year, I was walking a lot of guys.”
Martin, 26, has a 2.42 ERA in 10 appearances since being optioned back to Tacoma. He hasn’t pitched since July 25, when he worked six innings in a 6-4 victory at Salt Lake (Angels).
“He provides some length,” Servais said. “Today was his day to start in Tacoma. So he’s fresh, and he can help us out there if we get in a jam. He did a nice job when he was here last time.
“It’s not overpowering, but he knows how to pitch. A good curveball. He’s been on a really good run at Triple-A.
Karns, 28, began the season in the rotation but shifted to the bullpen due to ineffectiveness in late June. Club officials had hoped the quality of his pitches would benefit from appearing in shorter outings.
Instead, Karns regressed even further; he allowed 13 runs and 15 hits over 13 1/3 innings in seven relief appearances. He gave up five runs in two-plus innings Friday in a 12-1 loss to the Cubs.
Servais said Karns reported a sore back “a few weeks ago” but “hadn’t said much about it recently.”
Karns aggravated the problem Friday in a swing. Prior to that, he pitched two scoreless innings. After his at-bat, which resulted in a ground out, he gave up three runs the following inning without getting an out.
“It was something I was able to manage (before that),” he said. “After my swing, it just continued to get tighter. I tried to pitch through it because it was my job to be the long guy. It came into effect in that third inning. I couldn’t get any balls down.”
Karns is 6-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 22 appearances, including 15 starts.
READY FOR PRIME TIME?
The Mariners close out their weekend at Wrigley Field by appearing on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball for the first time in more than 12 years.
The Mariners aligned their rotation to put right-hander Felix Hernandez in the spotlight. It will be his third start since returning July 20 from a 7 1/2-week stay on the disabled list.
“It’s another game,” Hernandez insisted. “I’ve just got to go out there and do my job.”
Hernandez is 5-4 with a 3.45 ERA in 12 starts, but he has allowed nine runs and 19 hits over 12 2/3 innings in his two previous starts since returning from the disabled list.
The Mariners’ last appearance on Sunday Night Baseball was June 6, 2004, when they scored three runs in the ninth inning for a 5-4 walk-off victory over the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field.
Willie Bloomquist scored the winning run when Jolbert Cabrera was hit by a pitch from Billy Koch with the bases loaded.
PLAN FOR WALKER
Right-handed Taijuan Walker is scheduled for five innings Monday when he makes a rehab start at Tacoma as the next step in his recovery from tendinitis in his right foot.
“Unless he has an extended inning in the middle there,” Servais said, “that’s what we’re hopeful for. And we’ll reevaluate coming out of that. Can he make the next turn or does he need another rehab?
“I’d like to get him back here as soon as we can.”
If all goes well, Walker could return to the rotation as Aug. 6 against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. That is the night the Mariners will retire Ken Griffey Jr.’s No. 24 in a pre-game ceremony.
Monday’s game at Cheney Stadium will mark Walker’s first game action since July 5, when discomfort in his foot force his departure from a start at Houston after four innings. He was 4-7 with a 3.66 ERA prior to being placed on the disabled list.
The Mariners are nearing a decision deadline on rehabbing reliever Charlie Furbush, who collected a victory Friday while retiring just one batter in Triple-A Tacoma’s 2-1 victory over El Paso (Padres).
Furbush has made seven appearances since beginning his rehab assignment on July 8 for tendinitis in his right shoulder biceps. Rehab assignments are limited to 30 days for pitchers.
Friday marked a milestone for Furbush in that he pitched on back-to-back days for the first time in his assignment. He has not pitched in a big-league game since July 7, 2015.
The Mariners continue to be linked to a possible deal with Cincinnati to acquire shortstop Zack Cozart, but the likelihood of also acquiring outfielder Jay Bruce in a any trade appears diminished.
Several other clubs are pursuing Bruce in a trade.
Cozart, 30, entered Saturday with a .267 average in 93 games. He also had 15 homers, 41 RBIs, a .319 on-base percentage and a .464 slugging percentage. His defensive rating put him at plus-4 in runs saved above average.
It is not known what the Reds are seeking in return.
Cozart has about $1 million remaining this year on his $2.925 million salary and will be eligible for arbitration in the off-season. He is on track to qualify for free agency after the 2017 season.
***Speculation regarding Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill, the organization’s most advanced hitting prospect, spiked Friday when he was pulled from the game at Jacksonville. But his exit had nothing to do with a possible trade.
O’Neill was hit by a pitch on the left elbow, which remained swollen on Saturday. While there is no structural damage, he might miss a few games.
Rayder Ascanio collected his third walk-off hit of the season Friday with a two-run single that lifted Lo-A Clinton’s to a 4-3 walk-off victory over Wisconsin (Brewers). The LumberKings scored three runs in the ninth inning.
Ascanio, 20, is batting .262 overall in 97 games with a .339 on-base percentage and a .307 slugging percentage. A native Venezuelan, he signed with the Mariners in 2012 as a 16-year-old.
ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
The Arizona Fall League, which begins Oct. 11, announced its organization and staff assignments. The Mariners will again contribute players to the Peoria Javelinas, who are based at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Cincinnati, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Toronto will also supply the Javelinas with players. The Fall League has six teams in the Phoenix area and is typically viewed as a finishing school for top prospects.
The players assigned to the Fall League will be announced at a later date. The season run through Nov. 9.
The Mariners supplied Brant Brown to serve as the Javelinas’ hitting coach. He is in his fourth year as the Mariners’ minor-league outfield coordinator after spending six years as a hitting coach in the Texas system.
Jared Sandberg will be the Javelinas’ manager. He currently manages Triple-A Durham in the Tampa Bay system.
It was 18 years ago Sunday — July 31, 1998 — that the Mariners traded left-hander Randy Johnson to Houston for infielder Carlos Guillen, right-hander Freddy Garcia and a player to be named later who became lefty John Halama.
Johnson had been 130-74 with a 3.42 ERA in 10 years with the Mariners. He also compiled a 39.3 wins above replacement (WAR) rating in that span or an average of 3.93 a season.
Guillen compiled a 9.1 WAR in six years with the Mariners. Garcia had an 18.8 WAR in six years, and Halama had a 5.4 in four years. The three combined in averaging a 2.08 WAR per year.
The Mariners and Cubs conclude their three-game series at 5:08 p.m. Pacific time Sunday at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (5-4 with a 3.45 ERA) will face Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks (9-7, 2.39). The game can be seen on ESPN and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners