Mariners go with 3-man bench, 8-man bullpen

BALTIMORE — By placing designated hitter/outfielder Corey Hart on the disabled list, the move to activate starting pitcher James Paxton leaves the Seattle Mariners with a three-man bench while maintaining an eight-man bullpen.

That bullpen has been a strength; its 2.37 earned run average entering Saturday was more than one-half of a run better than any other American League club.

“We get an opportunity to keep it intact,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I don’t know how long that’s going to last.”

McClendon cited a reluctance to play interleague road games with a three-man bench, but the Mariners don’t have to worry about that for another two-plus weeks — a July 18-20 trip to Philadelphia.

Slow to mend

Veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist might need more than 15 days to recover from a bruised right knee suffered July 23 when he landed awkwardly after crossing first base while running out a grounder.

“His progress,” McClendon said, “is not happening as quickly as we initially thought.”

Bloomquist is eligible to return Friday. He is batting .278 with one homer and 14 RBI in 47 games. His absence means Chris Taylor and Brad Miller will continue to share shortstop/utilityman duties.

Short hops

Catcher Mike Zunino has more extra-base hits (34) than singles (31). … The Mariners’ 3.06 ERA is the best in the majors and puts them on pace to shatter the franchise record of 3.54 in 2001. … The Mariners are also last among AL clubs in runs per game at 3.81 and have scored two runs or fewer in 41 of their 109 games. They are 5-36 in those 41 games. … Robinson Cano has already matched a career high with eight steals. He previously had eight in 2011. … The Mariners and Dodgers are the only teams this season without a grand slam.

Looking back

It was 19 years ago Sunday — Aug. 3, 1995 — that Mike Blowers hit his fourth career grand slam in a 10-7 victory over the Angels in Anaheim. It came in the seventh inning against reliever Mike Butcher.

Norm Charlton pitched the ninth inning for his first save since returning to the Mariners as a free agent after being released by Philadelphia. He had 48 saves for the Mariners through 1997 before opting to become a free agent.

On tap

The Mariners and Orioles conclude their three-game weekend series at 10:35 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Camden Yards.

Right-handed Hisashi Iwakuma (9-5 with a 3.06 ERA) will oppose Baltimore right-hander Chris Tillman (7-5 and 3.97). Root Sports will broadcast the game.

The Mariners have an open date Monday before starting a nine-game homestand that consists of two games against Atlanta, four games against the Chicago White Sox and three games against Toronto.

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