By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
CLEVELAND — Left-hander James Paxton should rejoin the Seattle Mariners’ rotation Saturday in Baltimore after missing nearly four months because of a strained back muscle that surfaced in an April 8 start against the Angels.
Barring any setbacks over the next few days.
Paxton is scheduled to throw a standard between-starts bullpen workout prior to Wednesday’s game at Progressive Field. That follows a 78-pitch outing Sunday in a rehab start over 41/3 innings at Triple-A Tacoma.
“We’ll see what happens (Wednesday),” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “and then we’ll make a decision. Everything up to this point has been great.”
Paxton, 25, won two starts this season — both against the Angels — before suffering a strained left latissimus dorsi muscle. He is 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in six career big-league starts.
“Right now,” he said, “I feel strong. No pain. Nothing. I feel great.”
Change at top
Left fielder Dustin Ackley found himself in a new but familiar role when he batted leadoff in Tuesday’s series opener.
It marked Ackley’s first tour in that duty this season, but he batted leadoff in 103 previous games in his 452-game career. He did it 97 times in 2012 and six times last season.
“I figured I’d be back in the two-hole,” Ackley said, “but leadoff or two-hole … whatever. It’s kind of similar. At the top of the lineup. You try to get on base. Score some runs. That’s the goal.”
Ackley is the sixth player used by the Mariners this season as their leadoff hitter. The others are: Endy Chavez (31 games), James Jones (30) Abraham Almonte (23), Michael Saunders (14) and Willie Bloomquist (seven).
The move comes with Ackley on a 27-for-72 (.375) surge over the past 21 games going into Tuesday, including 17-for-40 (.425) in 10 games since the All-Star break.
“I’m just trying to jump-start our offense,” McClendon said. “We’ve lost five one-run games (since the All-Star break). I’m just trying to do something different and, hopefully, it can jump-start guys.
“It puts a little speed down toward the bottom with Jonesy (who is batting ninth). We’ve got speed at the top. We’ll see what happens.”
Going for the record
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez will try to do something Wednesday that has never been done in the majors: Pitch at least seven innings in 14 consecutive starts without allowing more than two runs.
Hernandez currently shares the record at 13 with Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver, who did it in 1971 for the New York Mets.
The previous American League record was 12 by Chief Bender of the Philadelphia A’s in 1907.
Hernandez is 7-1 with five no-decisions in his 13-game run while compiling a 1.36 ERA. He has 113 strikeouts and 17 walks in 99 innings.
Fall League assignments
Hi-A High Desert pitching coach Andrew Lorraine will serve in that role for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League. Double-A Jackson trainer B.J. Downie will also be on the Saguaros’ staff.
The AFL announced organization and staff assignments for its 2014 season, which begins Oct. 7. The Mariners will send prospects to the Saguaros along with Boston, Cincinnati, San Diego and Texas.
Player assignments will be announced at a later date.
Double-A Jackson third baseman D.J. Peterson returned Tuesday to the lineup after exiting Saturday’s game because of bruised left wrist. The injury occurred on a ground ball in a 4-1 loss at Mobile (Diamondbacks).
Peterson, 23, is generally viewed as the Mariners’ top non-pitching prospect. He is batting .297 with five homers and 16 RBI in 26 games since his promotion from High Desert.
Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo will hold a private workout Sunday for the Mariners. He is conducting similar sessions for several clubs. … Outfielder Michael Saunders, out since July 11 because of a strained left oblique, took batting practice and hopes to start a rehab assignment before the end of the week. … The Mariners entered Tuesday’s game with three of the top nine pitchers in the American League in WHIP (walk and hits per innings pitched): Felix Hernandez was second at 0.891, Hisashi Iwakuma was third at 0.994 and Chris Young was ninth at 1.102. Chicago lefty Chris Sale was the league leader at 0.864. … The Mariners also entered Tuesday with the AL worst attack. They were averaging 3.838 runs a game. Houston was next-to-last at 3.840.
It was two years ago Wednesday — July 30, 2012 — that Hisashi Iwakuma set a Mariners rookie record by striking out 13 in a 4-1 victory over Toronto at Safeco Field.
Iwakuma allowed one run and four hits in eight innings in what was his fifth career start after beginning the season in the bullpen. The 13 strikeouts remain a career high.
The Mariners and Indians continue their three-game series at 4:05 p.m. Pacific time with a marquee pitching match-up at Progressive Field.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (11-2 with a 1.99 ERA) will oppose Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber (10-6 and 2.77). Root Sports will broadcast the game.
The series concludes Thursday before the Mariners head to Baltimore for a three-game weekend series.