M’s sign utility man Garko

Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu likes to have options with his lineups, and general manager Jack Zduriencik gave him another on Monday.

The Mariners signed designated hitter/first baseman/catcher Ryan Garko to a one-year contract, hoping to have filled their need for a productive right-handed hitter.

Garko will make $550,000, with a possible salary of $1.075 million if he reaches 600 plate appearances. The Associated Press said he would get an extra $25,000 each time he reaches 325, 350 and 375 plate appearances, stepping up to $50,000 each for 425, 450 and 475 appearances, then $100,000 each for 500, 550 and 600 appearances.

Garko expects to play mostly against left-handed pitchers from the DH and first base spots.

He’s a career .313 hitter against left-handed pitchers, 47 points higher than he hits against right-handers.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m here to help against left-handed pitching, whether it comes at first base or DH, or to be around to catch if the opportunity comes up,” Garko said. “I’m fortunate to have had success against left-handers in the past.”

The 29-year-old came up with the Indians and played his best season in 2007 when he batted .289 with 21 homers and 61 runs batted in. Last year, he was batting .285 with 11 homers and 39 RBI before the Indians traded him in July to the San Francisco Giants. In the National League for the first time, he struggled with a .235 average, two homers and 12 RBI in 115 at-bats.

“I wanted to return to the American League,” Garko said. “I feel like I’m a better fit over there. I have experience with the pitchers and the cities and the stadiums.”

In 35 career at-bats at Safeco Field, Garko has a .313 average, .371 on-base percentage, .719 slugging percentage and a 1.090 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

Garko said he talked with other teams but believes the Mariners offer a good fit with the role he will play on a team that he has watched closely this offseason.

“I was watching what Jack (Zduriencik) was doing in Seattle and thinking how much I wanted to be up there,” Garko said. “I believe in the moves he has made this offseason and where the team is going. I’m real excited to be a part of it.”

Garko said he’s eager to rejoin two of his former Indians teammates, pitcher Cliff Lee and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

“I was pretty surprised when Cliff got traded back to the American League,” he said. “I’m excited to play behind him again. He works fast and he throws strikes. Franklin is big-time now and I can’t wait to see what the new Guti is like. He’s a dynamic player, a good friend and a good guy.”

To make room for Garko on the 40-man roster, the Mariners designated left-handed pitcher Gaby Hernandez for assignment. They have 10 days to trade, release or outright Hernandez to the minor leagues.

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