M’s notebook: Ex-Mariner Morales reaches deal with Twins

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — So ends the relentless speculation that designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales might be heading back to the Mariners.

Morales reached a agreement Saturday with the Minnesota Twins valued at roughly $7.6 million for the remainder of the season. The deal was first reported by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.

The deal is contingent on Morales, 30, passing a physical examination. Official confirmation from the Twins is anticipated once that occurs. The salary represents a pro-rated portion of a $12 million contract.

Because the deal comes after the completion of Major League Baseball’s annual draft, the Mariners will receive no compensation for losing Morales despite tendering a $14.1 million qualifying offer after last season.

Morales will not be subject to a qualifying offer after this season because he won’t have played a full season for the Twins. He batted .277 last season for the Mariners in 156 games with 23 home runs and 80 RBI.

The Twins’ only visit to Safeco Field is July 7-10.

Gillespie heating up

The hottest-hitting Mariner over the last two weeks? Would you believe outfielder Cole Gillespie?

OK, it’s a small sample size, but Gillespie is on an 8-for-17 binge after hitting a homer in Saturday’s 7-4 victory over Tampa Bay. His average is up more than 100 points in that span from .217 to .325.

“Anytime you can have consistent at-bats,” he said, “I think any batter is going to feel a little more positive. I wasn’t getting frustrated. I was just waiting for my opportunity.

“If (that opportunity) is now, hopefully I can string together some good ABs, some good games and get some Ws.”

Gillespie’s hot streak comes at a good time. His spot on the roster grew tenuous as his earlier struggles deepened.

The Mariners also signaled a willingness to pursue other options by signing veteran Xavier Nady to a minor-league deal on May 28. Coincidence or not, that Nady signing roughly corresponds with Gillespie’s hot bat.

“I think there was a period, too,” Gillespie said, “when I wasn’t getting in there that much. Sometimes, that has something to do with it. I’m just getting a little more of an opportunity now.

“I’m starting to get in a little bit of a rhythm here.”

Gillespie had two of the Mariners’ five hits in Friday’s 4-0 loss after getting two hits, including an RBI single in Wednesday’s 2-0 victory at Atlanta.

“Sometimes, it’s just positive results,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You get that one hit, and it can loosen you up and get you going. I think that worked for him.”

Saunders, Smoak sit

Nagging injuries kept outfielder Michael Saunders and first baseman Justin Smoak out of the starting lineup.

Saunders remains characterized as “day to day” after experiencing soreness in his right shoulder on a swing in the fourth inning of Friday’s loss. Smoak has nursed a sore left quadriceps muscle for nearly two weeks.

“It actually felt really good (Friday) in BP and before the game,” Smoak said. “The first at-bat, running down (to first) in the box, leaving the box — it’s not like it’s something crazy. It’s just a little bit of the same.”

Willie Bloomquist replaced Smoak at first base for the second time in three games. Bloomquist went 2-for-4 with two RBI.

“I thought the two days (off) would clean (Smoak) up,” McClendon said, “but he was dragging it really bad (on Friday). So he’s out of there again today.”

Pitching plans

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, it appears, will get another chance to hold a spot in the rotation.

The Mariners now list Ramirez as their starter for Monday’s series finale against Tampa Bay after pondering alternatives such as promoting right-hander Matt Palmer from Class AAA Tacoma or having a “bullpen day.”

Ramirez gave up five runs in three innings last Tuesday at Atlanta in his first start since returning from Tacoma and replacing Brandon Maurer in the rotation.

“We talked about making a change,” a club official said. “We talked about it a lot. We’re now thinking we don’t want to make a roster move or mess with our bullpen. Our bullpen has been going pretty good.”

Ramirez is 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA in seven starts.

Defensive improvement

The Mariners are one of majors’ most improved defensive clubs in ratings compiled by John Dewan of The Fielding Bible. But still below average.

Dewan’s calculations project the Mariners to finish the season at minus-8 in defensive runs saved. OK, that’s not good until you consider they finished last season at an atrocious minus-97.

So that’s a plus-89 gain over last season. Dewan’s rule-of-thumb calculation is a club gains a victory for every plus-10 of runs saved.

If true, the Mariners are nine games better this season because of their defense. That, in itself, would be nearly enough to get them to .500 after finishing last season at 71-91.

Short hops

The Rays designated ex-Mariners reliever Josh Lueke for assignment prior to the game in order to recall right-hander Kirby Yates from Class AAA Durham. Lueke was 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA in 25 appearances. He spent 2011 with the Mariners before going to the Rays in a trade for catcher John Jaso … The Mariners’ bullpen, prior to Saturday, had a 1.35 ERA in 21 games since May 14 — or the day after Fernando Rodney blew a one-run lead in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay at Safeco Field. Rodney has 71/3 scoreless innings in eight appearances since blowing that save … Robinson Cano went 1-for-4 and now has a 16-game road hitting streak … Dustin Ackley had only two RBI in his previous 16 games before his three-run double in the fifth.

Looking back

It was two years ago Sunday — June 8, 2012 — that Kevin Millwood and five relievers combined for a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Safeco Field.

Millwood pitched the first six innings before exiting because of a strained right groin. Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen closed out the gem.

The Mariners scored their only run on Kyle Seager’s RBI single in the seventh, which scored Ichiro Suzuki from second base. Pryor got his first big-league victory despite walking two of the three batters he faced.

On tap

The Mariners and Rays continue their four-game wraparound series at 10:40 a.m. Pacific time at Tropicana Field on Sunday. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (8-1 and 2.57) will face Tampa Bay righty Chris Archer (3-3 and 3.73).

Root Sports will carry the game.

The series concludes at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Monday before the Mariners return to Safeco Field for an eight-game homestand: three against the Yankees, three against the Rangers and two against the Padres.

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