By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
HOUSTON — Center fielder Abraham Almonte’s ongoing struggles finally persuaded the Mariners that he requires a remedial tour at Class AAA Tacoma to get turned around.
Almonte, 24, was optioned to the Rainiers after Sunday’s 8-7 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. The move came with him mired in a 4-for-37 slump that dropped his average to .198.
“I told him, ‘I still believe in you,’” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but you need to go play. And if you play well, you’ll be back.’”
The Mariners plan to recall outfielder James Jones from Tacoma, where he is batting .313 with a .382 on-base percentage in 20 games.
Jones is expected to join the Mariners in time for tonight’s game at Oakland and draw regular duty in center field. That will likely push Michael Saunders to right field.
Jones, 25, has only limited experience above Class AA, but McClendon believes he projects as a leadoff hitter and possesses the necessary tools to be an impact defensive player.
Almonte’s demotion came two days after he committed two errors in Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Astros in 11 innings.
“I’ve just got to keep working and get my good feeling back at the plate,” he said Sunday after learning he was optioned to Tacoma. “Then everything will be OK.”
Don’t look for the Mariners to ask veteran closer Fernando Rodney to go more than one inning, as he did Saturday, on many occasions.
“I don’t like it,” McClendon said, “but we had to do what we had to do. I just don’t think he’s that type of guy. He’s a high-pitch guy. So to have him go more than one is not ideal.”
The Mariners were threatening to blow a seven-run lead in the late innings to the Astros before Rodney stranded three runners in the eighth inning after replacing Yoervis Medina.
Rodney then hit the leadoff hitter in the ninth before retiring the next three hitters in closing out a 9-8 victory for his seventh save in eight chances.
“When you do that,” he said, “you have to pull something extra out for the next day. That’s the only difference.”
Or rest the next day.
McClendon declared Rodney to be unavailable prior to Sunday’s series finale at Minute Maid Park. Instead, McClendon used former closer Danny Farquhar for a six-out save in Sunday’s 8-7 victory.
“I didn’t want that, no,” McClendon said. “It is what it is. We were where we were at that time, but he did a great job. And our bullpen is cleaned up as a result of it.”
Rodney worked more than one inning in just five situations over the previous two years at Tampa Bay. He secured the save on four occasions, and only once did he pitch the following day.
And when he did, he blew a save.
“It worked out (Saturday),” Rodney said, “but I know it’s not going to be something that will happen often. Maybe once a month.”
Probably not that often.
Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush turned in another disappointing outing by yielding hits to the only two batters he faced after inheriting a four-run lead to start the eighth inning.
When both runners scored later in the inning, Furbush’s ERA spiked to 7.71 at eight runs (and 15 hits) in 91/3 innings over 14 appearances.
It was a particularly rough weekend for Furbush, who failed to retire any of four batters Friday in the 11th inning of a 5-4 walk-off loss to the Astros in the series opener.
“I’m concerned with his command,” McClendon admitted, “and I’m concerned with his ability to execute his pitches.
“We’re just going to have to continue to give him touch-and-feels in the bullpen because regardless of how disappointed I am in how he’s going about it lately, he’s a big, big part of what we’re going to be in (terms of) our success this year.
“We need Charlie Furbush to be successful. We’ve got to get him right.”
Hisashi Iwakuma exited Saturday after 81 pitches in his first outing since returning from the disabled list, but that reflected his efficiency over 62/3 innings — not any caution regarding his right middle finger.
“He’s fine,” McClendon said. “He actually threw 86 in his rehab outing (on April 27 for Tacoma). “There’s not any reason why he can’t go 100 or 105 pitches next time out.”
In short, a normal outing for a healthy Iwakuma.
“I was very focused in the game,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I had the adrenaline rush as well. So I didn’t feel tired.”
Michael Saunders is 8-for-18 in the last four games after going 2-for-5 in Sunday’s victory. His average is up to .263. … Robinson Cano went 2-for-5 and has a .338 average in 17 career games against the Astros. … John Buck doubled his season hit total by going 3-for-4. He entered the day at 3-for-16. … Farquhar’s six-out save was the longest of his career. He had 16 saves last year but all but one were one-inning saves. The other was 11/3 innings.
It was 23 years ago today — May 5, 1991 — that Greg Briley ended the longest game in Kingdome history by hitting a walk-off homer for a 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees in 16 innings.
Briley’s two-run shot against Rich Monteleone followed a one-out double by Omar Vizquel and came after the Yankees took a 4-3 lead in the top of the inning on Kevin Maas’ homer against Bill Krueger.
The game lasted 5 hours, 31 minutes.
The Mariners open a four-game series at 7:05 p.m. today at Oakland when right-hander Chris Young (1-0 with a 3.04 ERA) faces A’s lefty Scott Kazmir (4-0 and 2.11). Root Sports will carry the game.
The series continues at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday night before the clubs play a traditional doubleheader at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday. The doubleheader is the result of an April 4 postponement due to unplayable grounds.