By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Mariners made one roster move prior to Wednesday’s series finale against Boston and signaled the likelihood of more to come in the near future.
Right-hander Brandon Maurer will join the bullpen, at least on a interim basis, after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma. To clear space, the Mariners optioned right-hander Erasmo Ramirez to the Rainiers.
“It just makes sense,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Our pitching is our foundation. We’ve got an opportunity to protect it over the next four or five days. So why not?”
That move comes one day after Ramirez lasted just 4 1/3 innings in an 8-2 victory over the Red Sox. Maurer provides a fresh arm for a relief corps that worked the remaining 42/3 innings in Tuesday’s victory.
Maurer is 1-0 with three saves and a 3.27 earned run average in eight outings since shifting to the bullpen at Tacoma after being optioned May 30 off the big-league club. He was 1-4 with a 7.52 ERA in seven starts for the Mariners.
“He’ll be in the bullpen,” McClendon confirmed. “Obviously, the velocity is up at the Triple-A level, up to 98 (mph) out of the bullpen. So it’s intriguing.”
But Maurer’s return as a reliever means the Mariners will require a replacement for Ramirez in the rotation. The obvious candidate is right-hander Taijuan Walker, who pitched a shutout Tuesday for Tacoma.
“I’d say he’s in the discussion, yeah,” McClendon said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong in (saying) that. Yeah.”
The Mariners also opted not to activate first baseman Justin Smoak, who was eligible to return Wednesday from the disabled list in his recovery from a strained left quadriceps muscles.
“As far as Smoak, (Michael) Saunders and (Corey) Hart,” McClendon said, “they’re all on a 20-day rehab (at Tacoma). They could come (back) at any point.
“The biggest thing for me is to make sure they’re healthy, 100 percent. That with the combination of getting some at-bats and getting sharp. We’re just going to take full advantage of it.”
Smoak is batting .222 in seven games at Tacoma with six hits in 27 at-bats. He has one homer and three RBIs. Saunders is 9-for-20 in five games at Tacoma in his recovery from a sore right shoulder.
Hart is expected to require several games to return to form after suffering a strained left hamstring in a May 18 game at Minnesota. He is 5-for-17 in four games at Tacoma.
Tellingly, perhaps, Saunders took part in batting practice Wednesday at Safeco and now seems likely to be activated prior to Friday’s series opener against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
If so, the Mariners would need to make a corresponding move.
First baseman/designated hitter Jesus Montero seems a likely casualty. He has played primarily against left-handers since his June 12 recall, and the Indians are expected to start three right-handers in the weekend series.
Zunino zoning in
Catcher Mike Zunino entered Wednesday on a 6-for-16 binge over his previous four games, including two doubles and three homers. He now leads all American League catchers with 10 homers.
“It’s just constant work,” he said. “I’ve tried just about everything. It’s about time something sort of clicked.”
“I’m just trying to get balance and see the ball as early as possible,” he said. “I’m just taking a lot of swings trying to use the whole field. I’ve been able to get a couple of pitches that I’ve been able to handle.”
Only four other Mariners catchers have hit 10 or more homers before the All-Star Game: Dave Valle (10 in 1987), Dan Wilson (12 in 1996), Kenji Johjma (10 in 2006) and Miguel Olivo (12 in 2011).
The club record for homers by a catcher is 18 by Johjima in 2006 and Olivo in 2011.
Left-hander James Paxton threw from flat ground prior to the game in his ongoing recovery from a strained back muscle.
Barring a setback, Paxton will throw a bullpen workout — probably 20-25 pitches — prior to Friday’s game. It will be his first time on a mound since a May 24 rehab start for Tacoma.
Paxton experienced shoulder soreness after that start, which delayed his recovery from a strained latissimus dorsi muscle suffered in an April 8 start against the Angels.
The Mariners, through Tuesday, led the American League with 20 triples. They hit only 17 for all of last season…Kyle Seager’s four RBIs on Tuesday boosted his total this year at Safeco to 36. He had only 32 last year in all home games…The Mariners’ bullpen entered Wednesday with a 1.72 ERA over its last 38 games (19 earned runs in 99 2/3 innings)…The Mariners, through Tuesday, ranked second in the majors in run differential at plus-52. Oakland was the major-league leader at plus-126. Washington ranked third and led the National League at plus-45.
Morgan on track
Outfielder Gareth Morgan, the Mariners’ second pick in the June draft, is headed back to Arizona to begin his professional career after securing his work visa in Canada.
The Mariners selected Morgan, 18, with the 74th overall pick and shelled out a $2 million signing bonus to get him to sign. The assigned slot value for that pick was $760,300.
Morgan bats and throws right-handed and is 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds. He is expected to join Alex Jackson, the club’s top pick, in the outfield for the Arizona Mariners of the Arizona Rookie League in the near future.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker was picked by Baseball America as its Prospect Pitcher of the Day for Tuesday in recognition of his complete-game shutout in Triple-A Tacoma’s 2-0 victory over Oklahoma City (Astros).
Walker permitted four hits while walking one and striking out eight. It was the first nine-inning shutout by a Rainiers pitcher since James Paxton on July 8, 2013 at Tucson.
It was 12 years ago Thursday — June 26, 2002 — that Kazuhiro Sasaki gained his 100th career save by pitching a one-two-three ninth inning in a 1-0 victory over Oakland at Safeco Field.
In doing so, Sasaki reached triple figures faster than any player in Major League history: 160 appearances.
Sasaki finished with 129 career saves in four years for the Mariners, 2000-03, before returning to the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan’s Central League.
The Mariners have their first open date at home Thursday since April 24, but many will spend the day taking part in the club’s annual golf tournament to benefit Cystic Fibrosis Research at Newcastle Golf Club.
They return to the field at 7:10 p.m. Friday with the first of three weekend games against Cleveland at Safeco Field. Right-hander Chris Young (6-4 with a 3.23 ERA) will face Indians righty Trevor Bauer (2-3, 4.40).
Root Sports will carry the game.