Mariners’ Saunders could begin rehab assignment Thursday

SEATTLE — Outfielder Michael Saunders, barring a setback, could start a rehab assignment Thursday at Tacoma in his recovery from a strained left oblique suffered July 10 on a swing against Minnesota.

Veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist, in contrast, continues to recover slowly from a bruised right knee, which occurred July 23 while he ran out a ground ball against the New York Mets.

Saunders underwent a full on-field workout prior to Tuesday’s game against Atlanta, but Bloomquist said he’s been restricted, so far, to work in the pool and low exertion on an exercise bike.

“I thought I’d be better at this point than I am right now,” Bloomquist said. “It’s getting better, but I thought I would be a little closer than I am now. No jogging yet. I couldn’t begin to think about jogging yet.”

Best tools

Does it surprise anyone that Felix Hernandez was picked as the American League’s best pitcher by the league’s managers for Baseball America’s annual “best tools” survey?

Injured Yankees rookie Masahiro Tanaka was second, followed by Tacoma native and new A’s lefty Jon Lester.

Hernandez was also having the AL’s best changeup, while teammate Hisashi Iwakuma was picked as having the league’s second-best command (behind new Detroit lefty David Price.)

Robinson Cano drew mention as the AL’s third-best hitter behind Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles outfielder Mike Trout. Cano was picked as the No. 2 defensive second baseman behind Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.

Improving odds, too

The AL managers aren’t the only group that views Hernandez as the AL’s top pitcher. He is also now a 9-4 favorite to win the Cy Young Award in the latest odds posted by Bovada, the online gaming service.

Chicago lefty Chris Sale is second at 3-1, followed by Detroit right-hander Max Scherzer, the 2013 recipient, at 6-1. Oakland right-hander Sonny Gray and Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber are 7-1.

Cano is tied for third in Bovada’s odds to win the AL’s Most Valuable Player award. Cano and Chicago first baseman Jose Abreu are each listed at 10-1. Trout is a prohibitive favorite at 2-5, while Cabrera is 7-1.

Cabrera was the 2012 and 2013 recipient.

Prime time power

The Mariners’ telecasts on Roots Sports are the top-rated, prime-time program in the Seattle market since the start of the season, according to numbers obtained by Forbes magazine.

It’s a trend throughout the industry. The magazine said 12 clubs are the top-rated program in prime time since start of the season.

Forbes reported the Mariners’ telecasts on Root Sports Northwest are drawing 5.72 household rating for the period of March 31 through July 24. That translates to 106,000 households.

Clean saves

Fernando Rodney’s reputation as a tight-rope closer — what McClendon terms a “top-stepper” (in regard to his position in the dugout — might be undeserved.

Among AL closers, only Kansas City’s Greg Holland has more “clean saves” than Rodney. A clean save is defined as the closer retiring every batter he faces.

Holland has 15 “clean” saves through Monday. Rodney is tied with Boston’s Koji Uehara with 13. Angels closer Huston Street has 16 clean saves, but 13 came while pitching for San Diego in the National League.

Short hops

If the White Sox hold to their current plans, the Mariners won’t face All-Star lefty Chris Sale in their upcoming four-game weekend series at Safeco Field. Chicago lists Scott Carroll, Jose Quintana, Hector Noesi and John Danks as its four starters. … Telltale stat: The Mariners, prior to Tuesday, were 37-16 in games when they hit a homer and 22-5 when they hit more than one. They 20-38 when they failed to hit a homer. … The Mariners, prior to Tuesday, had played 68 games decided by two runs or less. That matched Baltimore for the most among AL clubs.

Minor details

Double-A Jackson is remembering the late Tony Gwynn, and honoring his family, by wearing a No. 19 uniform patch for the remainder of the season. Gwynn died from cancer on June 16.

“We have placed a 19 patch on our home uniforms to honor Tony and his family,” Generals general manager Jason Compton said. “This is something we wanted to do because of the great relationship we have with (his brother) Chris.”

Chris Gwynn is the Mariners’ director of player development.

Looking back

It was 37 years ago Wednesday — Aug. 6, 1977 — that Ruppert Jones hit the first inside-the-park homer in Kingdome history. It came in the seventh inning of a 9-2 victory over the New York Yankees.

The Mariners had just knocked out Catfish Hunter with a three-run homer by Leroy Stanton when Jones sent a drive past center fielder Mickey Rivers and circled the bases.

Glenn Abbott pitched a complete game for the victory in front of a crowd of 42,146.

On tap

The Mariners and Braves conclude their two-game series at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Chris Young (9-6 with a 3.19 ERA) will oppose Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran (10-7 and 2.69).

Root Sports will broadcast the game.

The nine-game homestand continues Thursday with the start of four weekend games against the Chicago White Sox.

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