By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The willingness to take a third strike, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon contends, is one quality that distinguishes newcomer Austin Jackson as a prototypical leadoff hitter.
“This may sound strange,” McClendon explained, “but he’s not afraid to strike out 3-2 looking. If you’re going to be a good leadoff hitter, you’ve got to take your walks.
“You have to have the ability to take close pitches on 3-2 to get walks. I think he understands 3-2 is not an automatic fastball count in today’s world of baseball. That’s a pretty good leadoff hitter in that respect.”
The Mariners acquired Jackson from Detroit just prior to last Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline in a three-team deal that sent minor-league infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay.
And make no mistake: While the Tigers positioned Jackson lower in the lineup for much of the season, McClendon sees his new center fielder as a prototypical leadoff hitter.
“I don’t view him,” McClendon said, “as a No. 5 or 6 hitter.”
Jackson, 27, is batting .269 overall with a .329 on-base percentage in 105 games. He batted leadoff Thursday for the sixth time in six games since joining the Mariners.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Jackson said. “I like the top of the lineup. But at the same time, I think wherever I’m hitting, I’m going to get comfortable there.”
McClendon tutored Jackson over the four previous seasons as Detroit’s hitting coach and contends the Mariners should reap the benefit of a player poised to blossom in the prime of his career.
“He struck out at an alarming rate his first couple of years,” McClendon said. “Every year since, it’s come down. I think he’s at a point now where he’s close to being that complete player…
“That complete two-way player, who is going to hit .300 with 15 home runs, score 100, and drive in 70 out of the leadoff spot. That’s a pretty good leadoff hitter.”
Brad Miller took early infield work at second base, which seems to solidify Chris Taylor’s emerging status as the starting shortstop.
“I’ll try to get Brad in there to keep him sharp,” McClendon said. “But, listen, right now the kid’s (Taylor) going to play. He’s performed well. He’s playing great on defense, and he’s gotten some big hits for us.”
Taylor entered Thursday with a .367 average (11-for-30) and with at least one hit in all eight of his previous starts. Miller is batting .199 in 90 games with eight homers and 26 RBI.
Bloomquist needs surgery
Veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist will undergo arthroscopic surgery Friday morning on his troublesome right knee after getting a second opinion from a Los Angeles specialist.
Dr. Edward Khalfayan, the Mariners’ medical director, will perform the procedure. Club officials said a recovery timetable will be determined after the operation.
“Something is not the way it’s supposed to be,” said Bloomquist, who suffered what was diagnosed as a bruised right knee July 23 while running out a ground ball in a 3-2 loss to the Mets at Safeco Field.
“If it was how I was supposed to be, I’d be getting ready to play right now. That’s the way I see it.”
The decision to undergo surgery came after Bloomquist and club officials received an evaluation from Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who specializes in knee, shoulder and elbow injuries for the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.
Bloomquist, 36, is batting .278 with one homer and 14 RBI in 47 games. He returned to the Mariners last December as a free agent by agreeing to a two-year deal for $5.8 million.
McClendon continues to hedge on his choice for starting pitcher for Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox, but he pretty much confirmed it won’t be Tom Wilhelmsen or anyone from the club’s reliever corps.
“I would say, in all likelihood, it’s not going to be our bullpen,” McClendon said. “We did that last time because we were so close to the All-Star break. We could afford to do it. I just can’t imagine (doing it this time).”
Wilhelmsen worked 22/3 innings in a spot start July 10 in a 4-2 loss to Minnesota when McClendon wanted to adjust his rotation for an upcoming series against division-leading Oakland.
The likeliest choice for Sunday remains right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, who was scheduled for an abbreviated outing Thursday for Triple-A Tacoma against Fresno (Giants) at Cheney Stadium.
Another candidate, right-hander Taijuan Walker, is listed as Tacoma’s starter for Sunday’s game against Fresno.
Van Slyke ailing
First-base coach Andy Van Slyke is on restricted duty after feeling something “pop” in his right knee while throwing early batting practice in the cages.
Chris Woodward replaced Van Slyke as first-base coach.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has a 1.97 ERA through 24 starts, which puts him on pace to join rarified company.
The pros at Stats LLC note that only three American League pitchers in the designated-hitter era (post 1973) have made at least 20 starts and finished with an ERA below 2.00:
Ron Guidry had a 1.74 ERA for the 1978 Yankees; Roger Clemens had a 1.93 ERA for the 1990 Red Sox; and Pedro Martinez had a 1.74 ERA for the 2000 Red Sox.
It was 14 years ago Friday — Aug. 8, 1997 — that Randy Johnson struck out 19 Chicago White Sox while pitching a five-hitter in a 5-0 victory at the Kingdome.
Johnson walked three and threw 148 pitches in the complete game. Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez hit homers in the victory, which boosted the Mariners to 65-49 and into first place in the American League West.
The Mariners and White Sox continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (9-6 with a 2.94 ERA) will oppose Chicago lefty Jose Quintana (6-7 and 3.04).
Root Sports will telecast the game.
The series continues at 6:10 p.m. Saturday — note the time. Former manager Lou Piniella will be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame in a pre-game ceremony.