M’s notebook: Fan in Storen savors Griffey celebration weekend

SEATTLE — Seattle Mariners reliever Drew Storen calls this weekend “a crazy circle-of-life moment” at Safeco Field.

Each day in the three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels is packed with moments and events designed to celebrate Ken Griffey Jr.’s career and his recent induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

You might remember that Storen, acquired in a July 26 trade from Toronto, grew up as a Mariners fan in Indiana because of Griffey. Storen was fully invested, too, with all of the caps, jerseys and everything else.

“I remember for my eighth or ninth birthday,” he recalled, “I came out here the same weekend. The Blue Angels were flying over the city. My birthday is August 11, and we came out here to see him play.

“Now to see him get his number retired and all of the Hall of Fame stuff, it something you can’t script.”

The Griffey celebration weekend began Friday when the Mariners gave away 20,000 bobblehead dolls and placed his Hall of Fame plaque on display near Section 142 on the main level.

Gates open to the public at 3:40 p.m. Saturday with the first 20,000 getting a replica of Griffey’s Hall of Fame plaque. The ceremony to retire Griffey’s No. 24 starts at 5:30 p.m.

First pitch for the game against the Angels is scheduled for 6:40 p.m.

The Griffey weekend concludes Sunday when the first 20,000 fans get a replica Griffey jersey from 1989, which was his rookie season.

As for Storen, he appears to be adapting well to a change of scenery after a rough four months in Toronto, which acquired him from Washington in a January trade for outfielder Ben Revere.

Storen, 28, entered the weekend on a streak of three straight scoreless appearances.

“I’m just kind of making my pitches,” he said. “It’s such a small line between success and failure out of the bullpen. It’s just little things. Pitch selection and location. A little extra tilt here and there. So far, so good.”

And this weekend, Storen gets a dugout view for Saturday’s ceremony to retire Griffey’s number.

“I walked past him today on the field,” Storen said, “and said, ‘Hey.’ I didn’t know what else to say. There are very few athletes in general, but especially baseball guys, who make (me) go, ‘Oh, wow.’ He’s one of them.”

Karns on the shelf

Right-hander Nathan Karns is still in the let-it-calm-down phase in recovering from a strained muscle in his lower back, but the early indications are far from positive.

“He is going to be down for a while,” manager Scott Servais said. “I know he had a shot and some things to calm it down. But I don’t expect to see him back anytime soon.”

Karns aggravated what he had viewed as general soreness on a swing in a July 29 game against the Cubs in Chicago. A day later, he was placed on the disabled list.

“It’s there throughout the whole day,” said Karns, who continues to move gingerly around the clubhouse. “It’s in a location where it just takes time. That’s all we can do about it.”

Pending roster move

The Mariners must make a corresponding roster move Saturday in order to activate right-hander Taijuan Walker from the disabled list for his scheduled start against the Angels.

The choice appears to hinge on whether club officials choose to continue operating with an 11-man staff, which effectively leaves them with a six-man bullpen — one fewer than normal.

The Mariners went to an 11-man staff recently when their schedule had three open dates in an eight-day span, which meant they could get by with four starters. They are currently in a stretch of playing 33 games in 34 days.

Outfielder Guillermo Heredia looms as the likely odd-man out if the Mariners choose to revert to a 12-man staff. If they stick with 11 pitchers, the likely casualty is long reliever Cody Martin.

Walker reports no problems with the foot tendinitis that forced him to the disabled list after a July 5 start in Houston. He said he experienced no discomfort Monday while pitching 4 1/3 innings for Triple-A Tacoma in a rehab start.

“Before, I could feel it when I was warming up,” he said. “But it was good. I hit 98 (mph). I know (velocity) isn’t everything, but to hit 98 means I’m using my legs. I can’t throw 98 with just my arm.”

Rehab updates

Ketel Marte was expected to play shortstop Friday in his rehab assignment at Short-A Everett after beginning his tour Thursday by going 1-for-4 with a double as the designated hitter.

Thursday was Marte’s first game action since being diagnosed with mononucleosis after a July 17 game against Houston. While he is likely to be activated next week, his playing time will be monitored.

“When he comes back,” Servais said, “it’s not going to be, ‘Go out there and play 11 days in a row.’ It’ll be play a couple and get a day off. Kind of work him back into it.”

— Right-handed reliever Nick Vincent was scheduled to pitch one inning Friday for Everett in his first game action since a strained muscle in his middle back forced him to the disabled list after a June 26 appearance.

Former Olympians

On a night when Olympics held their opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, the Mariners had four former Olympians, including a gold-medal winner, in their dugout.

First baseman Dae-Ho Lee was a member of South Korea’s gold-medal team in 2008. Outfielder Nori Aoki played in the 2008 Games for Japan. Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma was a bronze-medal winner in the 2004 Games for Japan.

Servais played for he United States in the 1984 Games.

Minor awards

Hi-A Bakersfield right-hander Zack Littell was picked by Minor League Baseball as the player of the month for July in the California League after going 4-0 with an 0.84 ERA in five starts.

Littell, 20, is 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA in six games at Bakersfield following a July 4 promotion from Lo-A Clinton, where he was 5-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 16 starts. He was an 11th-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.

Minor tools

What prospects have the “best tools?” Baseball America polled managers and coaches in every full-season league and published the results this week from its annual survey.

— Triple-A Pacific Coast League: Tacoma first baseman/designated hitter Dan Vogelbach, who spent much of the season at Iowa, was picked as having the best strike-zone judgment. Ex-Rainier Efren Navarro, now with Memphis, was picked as the best defensive first baseman. Pat Listach was picked as the best manager.

— Double-A Southern League: Jackson’s Tyler O’Neill was picked as the best hitter and as having the best outfield arm. Right-hander Edwin Diaz (since promoted to the majors) was picked as the best reliever (no surprise).

— Hi-A California League: Bakersfield’s Drew Jackson was picked as the best defensive shortstop. Austin Wilson was picked as possessing the best outfield arm.

— Lo-A Midwest League: Clinton’s Mitch Canham was pick as the best manager.

Minor citations

Double-A Jackson lefty Ryan Yarbrough placed No. 14 on Baseball America’s weekly Prospect Hot Sheet, which seeks to identify 20 prospects currently in top form.

Yarbrough, 24, won his last two starts without allowing no runs over 13 innings. He also permitted just four hits while striking out 11 and walking one.

“Yarbrough doesn’t have the stuff to dominate,” Baseball America reported, “but he can locate and gets good angle on his pitches. It adds up to a potential back-of-the-rotation option for Seattle in the not-to-distant future.”

A fourth-round pick in 2014, Yarbrough is 11-4 overall with a 3.02 ERA in 21 starts.

Looking back

It was 39 years ago Saturday — Aug. 6, 1977 — the Ruppert Jones became the first player to hit an inside-the-park homer at the Kingdome. It came in the 59th game played at the facility.

Jones circled the bases on a two-out drive to center field in the seventh inning against New York Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle, who had just entered the game after Catfish Hunter surrendered a three-run homer to Leroy Stanton.

The Mariners won the game 9-2 in front of a crowd of 42,146. Note also: the game took just 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Short hops

Further proof that Mike Zunino has supplanted Chris Iannetta as the Mariners’ primary catcher: Zunino started Friday even though Iannetta has a .607 on-base percentage in his career against Angels starter Tim Lincecum. Zunino has started 11 of the last 14 games … Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen has stranded 12 of 13 inherited runners since returning to the Mariners … The Mariners entered the weekend with a .379 average (158-for-417) when putting the first pitch of an at-bat in play. That ranked second in the majors to Baltimore’s .388.

On tap

The Mariners and Angels continue their three-game series at 6:40 p.m. Saturday when right-hander Taijuan Walker (4-7 with a 3.66 ERA) returns from the disabled list to face Los Angeles lefty Tyler Skaggs (1-0, 0.00).

It will be Walker’s first major-league outing since being placed on the disabled list because of tendinitis in his right foot after a July 5 start at Houston. He allowed two runs in 4 1/3 innings last Monday in a rehab start at Triple-A Tacoma.

The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN.

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