Mariners to continue with six-man starting rotation

A few pregame notes as the Mariners begin a seven-game homestand with three against the White Sox (whose first baseman is former Jackson High and UW star Brent Lillibridge):

• Manager Eric Wedge said the Mariners will keep Anthony Vasquez as a starter, meaning they’ll operate with a six-man starting rotation. It’ll allow the Mariners to ease the workload on their young pitchers, which will be handy in September when the M’s have only one day off (Sept. 15) before the end of the season.

• M’s first baseman Justin Smoak was cleared by doctors Thursday to begin taking ground balls. Two weeks ago tonight, Smoak suffered a broken nose and broken cheekbone when he was hit in the face by a grounder that took a high hop. Wedge said Smoak would field grounders and take batting practice the next two or three days before the team decides what he’ll do next.

• Third baseman Chone Figgins did agility work and ran the bases during batting practice as he comes back from a strained right hip flexor. If Figgins gets through the next few days without any problems, he could go on a minor league rehab assignment next week, Wedge said. “We’ll see how he recovers from that tomorrow,” Wedge said. “A hip flexor is something you’ve really got to be careful with.”

• Reliever Dan Cortes, on the 15-day disabled list because of a bruised left ankle, is doing well and probably wouldn’t be on the DL if the Mariners didn’t need a roster spot for pitcher Anthony Vasquez in Tuesday’s double-header at Cleveland. Cortes suffered the injury last week in a home-plate collision against the Rays.

• Tonight will be the 1000th Mariners regular-season game at Safeco Field, which opened midway through the 1999 season. Of those games, the Mariners were the “visiting” team four times (three against the Marlins this season in a series moved from Florida and one in 2007 against the Indians to make up a snowed-out game in Cleveland). The Mariners are 545-454 all-time at Safeco.

The Mariners also played nine postseason games at Safeco in 2000 and 2001.

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