By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — There figured to be some changes Saturday in the Seattle Mariners’ lineup after scoring just two runs in three previous games. And it started at the top when rookie James Jones replaced Michael Saunders as the leadoff hitter.
“He’s a prototypical-type leadoff guy,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ll give him his chance and see what he can do. I like what I see. I don’t think he’s overmatched at the plate.
Jones, 25, was 5-for-11 in limited big-league duty entering Saturday, but he batted .306 as a leadoff hitter in 360 career at-bats in the minors. Jones was 1-for-2 on Saturday.
“It’s the same thing wherever you hit,” he said. “Try to get on base. Try to get a good pitch to hit. And let the other guys drive me in.”
The early returns are positive: Jones had a single and two walks in five plate appearances in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Kansas City.
“He did exactly what we thought he could provide for us in the leadoff spot,” McClendon said. “He’s a pretty talented kid.”
The move comes with Saunders mired in a 0-for-10 slide over the past three games going into Saturday. Saunders spent 10 games atop the lineup; initially, he performed well — going 11-for-31 before his slump.
Saunders batted eighth in Saturday’s game. He grounded to first in his only at-bat before leaving the game in the fourth inning after suffering a hyper-extended left knee when he fell when chasing a fly ball..
McClendon also moved shortstop Brad Miller back to the No. 2 hole for the first time since May 2 despite a 1-for-19 slump that brought him into the game at .170.
The Mariners were 7-3 once Saunders replaced Abraham Almonte as the leadoff hitter. Almonte was optioned May 4 to Class AAA Tacoma.
Jones brings a speed element to the role, but McClendon noted: “When a (speed) guy gets on in front of Robby (Cano) and Corey (Hart), that helps. But the important thing is to get guys on. Speed is secondary at this point.”
Ever wonder why closer Fernando Rodney often slows the game to a crawl while trying to close out a victory in the ninth inning?
“I have to slow down my body,” he said. “Walk around and slow things down.”
That’s particularly true when, as happened in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 1-0 victory, he initially experiences command problems. He walked the first batter on four pitches, and then fell behind on the second.
“Sometimes,” Rodney said, “I feel great in the bullpen, but when I get on the mound, I feel like I have to throw a couple of more pitches (to find my command). I feel I’m too strong.”
He had no such problems Saturday in closing out a 3-1 victory for Chris Young. Rodney got two quick outs in the ninth before yielding a single. He then closed the game with a grounder to short.
Part of that, he conceded, is the adrenaline rush of the situation. Since the rules don’t permit extra warmup pitches to find a proper rhythm, Rodney attempts to reset himself through a deliberate approach.
It worked Thursday when he escaped a first-and-second jam with one out by getting a strikeout and a fielder’s-choice grounder that resulted in a force at second.
“The last two hitters,” he said, “I could feel my command was back. I made good pitches.”
It usually works. Rodney entered Saturday ranked second in the American League with 10 saves; his only blown save in 11 chances came after a two-out error.
Lefty James Paxton and right-hander Taijuan Walker are each slotted for bullpen workouts today in their ongoing recovery from injuries.
Paxton reported no day-after problems from a 25-pitch bullpen workout Friday that marked his first time on a mound since a strained back muscle (left latissimus dorsi) forced his remove from an April 8 start.
Plans call for him to throw 35-50 pitches Sunday; his next session is tentatively scheduled for midweek and should include breaking balls, which provide additional stress.
Walker is scheduled for roughly 20 pitches today in his first mound work since renewed shoulder soreness knocked him out of a April 15 rehab start for Class AAA Tacoma.
Both pitchers are on the same tentative plan: three bullpen workouts, two simulated games and then a minor-league rehab assignment.
A best-case scenario for return to active duty projects three-plus weeks from the date of the first bullpen workout.
Third baseman Kyle Seager didn’t start again Saturday because of flu-like symptoms. Willie Bloomquist replaced Seager for the second straight game. … The Mariners’ bullpen carried a 14-inning scoreless streak into Saturday’s game. … The first 10,000 moms through the gates Sunday get a “stylish” Mariners cap in recognition of Mother’s Day. All kids aged 14 and under get a “cool rope necklace.”
The Mariners promoted infielder Patrick Kivlehan to Class AA Jackson from Class Hi-A High Desert. The move came after Kivlehan, 24, batted .282 with nine homers and 35 RBI in 34 games at High Desert.
Kivlehan is in his third professional season following his selection in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
It was 18 years ago today — May 11, 1996 — that Jay Buhner went four for four with a walk and drove in a career-high six runs in an 11-1 victory over the Royals at the Kingdome.
Buhner hit a pair of two-run homers. The first opened the scoring in the second inning and came against Tim Belcher; the other was in the seventh inning against Tim Pugh. Buhner also had a double and a single.
The Mariners and Royals conclude their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. today at Safeco Field. Rookie lefty Roenis Elias (3-2 with a 3.27 ERA) will face Kansas City right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2-2 and 3.91).
Root Sports will carry the game. The Mariners open a three-game series Monday against Tampa Bay, have an open date Thursday before heading back to the road for three games in Minnesota and two games in Texas.