Opponent: Oakland Athletics.
When: 6:05 p.m.
Where: Safeco Field.
TV: Fox Sports Net.
Radio: KOMO (1000 AM).
Pitchers: Seattle left-hander Erik Bedard (1-0, 3.27 earned run average) vs. right-hander Justin Duchscherer (1-0, 1.80).
Johjima’s future set, but what about Clement?
The Mariners solidified their catching through 2001 by signing Kenji Johjima to a three-year contract extension Friday.
Where does that leave their best minor league prospect, left-handed-hitting catcher Jeff Clement?
At Class AAA Tacoma. As a catcher. For now.
That was as much detail about Clement’s immediate future as Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi was willing to divulge.
With the Mariners’ offense struggling to score runs and Clement hitting for power and average at Class AAA Tacoma, there’s been speculation that the club could bring him up at designated hitter or another position.
Bavasi said he’s more interested in getting the current hitters on track, and that Clement will remain in the minors as a catcher.
“We’re not giving up on him as a catcher,” Bavasi said. “A left-handed hitting catcher with power, those are real tough to find. This doesn’t change Jeff’s track to the big leagues much at all.”
What could change it is a continued slump by the offense, particularly right fielder Brad Wilkerson and DH Jose Vidro, provided Clement continues to hit. Going into Friday’s game at Tucson, Clement was the Tacoma Rainiers’ most productive player with five home runs, 16 RBI and team-leading .375 average.
“When I saw Jeff early in the year, he was locked in,” Bavasi said. “He’s close. It’s nice when they’re tearing it up, but you still have to have a need here. Right now, we’re still trying to get this 25 to all be healthy and all click on what we think are all cylinders. If that’s not enough, then we’ll go out and get him.”
Then the question will be what position will Clement play?
“This guys is a catcher and he’s going to catch well,” Bavasi said. “But if Kenji is still tearing it up and this guy’s bat is forcing him into the big leagues, then we’re going to have to call some sort of audible. Somebody is going to look at another position. It might be him, it might be Kenji, it might be both of them. Luckily for us, in the American League we have the DH to play with.”
Johjima is secure with the Mariners through the 2011 season after signing an extension worth $24 million, according to the Associated Press.
Johjima, who became the first Japanese catcher to play in the major leagues, said he never considered testing the free agent market after this season.
“This was the team that gave me the chance to play in the major leagues,” he said. “The team took a big risk because it was the first team to sign a Japanese catcher. I respect that and I want to play here.”
Johjima and the Mariners had been working on the extension since spring training. Although he said it wasn’t a factor in his early hitting struggles — he entered Friday batting .200 with no home runs and five RBI — the Mariners believe it will help him focus on his play.
“I know it’s been on his mind since spring training,” manager John McLaren said. “Hopefully it’s behind him and he can play relaxed baseball.”
Someone must go: The Mariners must make a roster move when they bring left-hander Erik Bedard off the disabled list to start tonight’s game.
One possibility is right-handed reliever Roy Corcoran, who was called up from Class AAA Tacoma when J.J. Putz went on the DL April 2. Corcoran has pitched well, however, 1.69 ERA in 102/3 innings entering Friday.
Another is seldom-used right-hander Cha Seung Baek, whose relief outing Friday was his first time in a game since April 13. Baek is out of minor league options and the Mariners would risk losing him on a waiver claim.
“It’s a tough decision and I don’t know if we’ve made it yet,” McLaren said. “We talked about it last night, we talked today and I don’t think we’re there yet.”