Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez reaches for a ball against the Tigers in the first inning of a game May 18, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez reaches for a ball against the Tigers in the first inning of a game May 18, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Mariners place Felix on 10-day DL

The teams says the struggling former ace is dealing with back tightness, but rest is also likely a reason.

By TJ Cotterill / The News Tribune

Felix Hernandez is headed to the disabled list for the third time in the past two seasons.

But this seems more for strategic purposes than actual injury concern.

The Seattle Mariners placed Hernandez on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday because of lower-back tightness, even though he pitched through the issue in each of his previous two starts.

What this allows is for the Mariners to skip Hernandez in the rotation before the All-Star break, which begins Monday. His only scheduled start before the break was supposed to be Thursday in the series finale against the Angels.

This means Hernandez can effectively reset before the second half of the season. The 32-year-old former Cy Young winner is 8-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 19 starts this season.

The Mariners are likely to use left-hander Roenis Elias for a spot start to take his place or they could call up right-hander Christian Bergman, who pitched seven shutout innings in his last spot start for the Mariners, or right-handers Rob Whalen or Casey Lawrence among other candidates.

In the meantime, the Mariners recalled right-hander Nick Rumbelow from Triple-A Tacoma, as well as infielder Gordon Beckham. They optioned outfielder John Andreoli.

Hernandez said following his most recent start, when he allowed three runs in five innings in a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies, that his back wasn’t an issue.

His fastball topped out at 92 mph that start, which is higher than normal for Hernandez at this stage in his career, but he lacked the bite on his changeup and curveball. But he seemed to blame that on not being able to work much between his starts as he allowed his back to heal.

“I’m getting work tomorrow, for sure,” Hernandez said following the Friday start. “I have to go out and get to my stuff and routine and be ready for the next one.”

After missing more than half of the 2017 season because of shoulder issues, Hernandez had made each of his 19 scheduled starts this year, including Opening Day when he was recovering from a comebacker that hit off of his forearm during spring training.

Hernandez has thrown 105 1/3 innings this season after throwing a career-low 86 2/3 innings last year.

Andreoli appeared in one game for the Mariners when he was recalled on Saturday, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against the Rockies. He was hitting .283 in 60 games for the Rainiers.

Moving Hernandez to the DL also allowed the Mariners to bring Rumbelow back from Tacoma so quickly, after optioning him there on Saturday. Players can’t be recalled for 10 days unless they are replacing an injured player.

Beckham is making a return trip to the Mariners. He first was recalled on May 14 when Robinson Cano headed to the disabled list with a fractured finger, and Beckham’s stay became longer when Cano was then suspended 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s joint drug and prevention program.

Beckham was hitting .318 with a .418 on-base percentage for Tacoma in 57 games. He rejoined the team even though he could have left when the Mariners optioned him on May 31. The 31-year-old has more than five years of MLB service time, so he could have declined reporting to Tacoma to become a free agent.

Beckham could be a more versatile option this time around. He played second base and third base for the Mariners, but in Tacoma he’s played first base (13 games), second base (21), shortstop (16), third base (five) and even some left field (two).

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