Here’s how bad it’s getting for the Mariners regarding their injury-depleted rotation: First baseman Danny Valencia didn’t start Saturday because of a hand injury, which could have a domino effect that reaches the rotation.
Manager Scott Servais said Valencia suffered the injury Friday on a slide at third base on a triple in the second inning. The injury is believed to minor — Valencia played all 10 innings in Friday’s loss — but he wasn’t in Saturday’s lineup.
The Mariners compensated by shifting utilityman Taylor Motter from second base, where he had been filling in for injured Robinson Cano, to first base. Backup infielder Mike Freeman started at second base.
Tacoma scratched first baseman Dan Vogelbach from its lineup Saturday at Iowa (Cubs). If Valencia remains unavailable Sunday, Vogelbach looms as a likely recall candidate prior to the game.
The Mariners would likely clear space for Vogelbach by optioning either Freeman or outfielder Boog Powell to Tacoma.
Put all of that on hold for a moment, and consider the rotation.
The Mariners haven’t designated a starting pitcher for Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox after creating a hole earlier this week when they optioned Chase De Jong to Triple-A Tacoma in order to recall Casey Lawrence.
That move added an extended-inning reliever, Lawrence, to the bullpen over the last few days. Lawrence pitched two innings Thursday in a 5-4 victory over Chicago in the series opener.
While Servais said Sunday’s starting pitcher remains undetermined, he cited Lawrence and lefty Dillon Overton, another starter currently serving as a long reliever, as possibilities.
Servais said the Mariners could also make a roster move to recall a pitcher from Tacoma, either to serve as Sunday’s starter or (more likely) to replace Lawrence or Overton as a long reliever.
De Jong can’t be recalled, unless he replaces a player on the disabled list, because it hasn’t been 10 days since he was optioned to Tacoma. That positions right-hander Chris Heston as the likeliest candidate.
Heston pitched four innings Wednesday for the Rainiers at Omaha (Royals) and would be available Sunday for multiple innings. Right-hander Emilio Pagan is also on the 40-man roster, but he’s a short reliever.
Here’s how Valencia’s injury potentially affects the pitching staff:
If Valencia is available Sunday, then no problem. The Mariners recall a pitcher, probably Heston, after clearing space by, most likely, optioning Freeman or Powell to Tacoma. Vogelbach stays at Tacoma.
That would leave the Mariners with a two-man bench Sunday, but Cano should be activated Tuesday from the disabled list. Either Powell or Freeman would have been the likely candidates at that point for a corresponding space-clearing move.
If the Mariners add a pitcher prior to Sunday’s game, Cano would instead replace a pitcher Tuesday on the 25-man roster, which would restore a three-man bench.
But if Valencia remains unavailable Sunday, it’s hard to envision the Mariners playing, essentially, with a one-man bench. Instead, Vogelbach would likely be recalled.
OTHER INJURY UPDATES
Outfielder Mitch Haniger resumed on-field activities Saturday after a precautionary one-day pause due to soreness in his strained right oblique muscle.
“If that all goes well,” Servais said, “I think he could move into a possible rehab (assignment) in the next day or two. He had the one setback. Felt a little soreness. But he feels good today.”
Haniger was batting .342 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 21 games when he suffered the injury April 25 at Detroit.
***Lefty James Paxton is scheduled for another bullpen workout Sunday in his recovery from a strained forearm muscle, which surfaced after a May 2 start against the Angels.
Barring a setback, Paxton will make one minor-league rehab start next week in hopes of rejoining the rotation after the upcoming eight-game road trip. He was 3-0 with a 1.43 ERA in six starts prior to his injury.
***Cano went through full pre-game workouts Saturday and said he’ll be ready Tuesday when eligible to return from the disabled list. He hasn’t played since May 10 because of a strained right quadriceps muscle.
Cano was batting .296 with eight homers and 28 RBIs in 34 games when placed on the disabled list.
UNSCRAMBLING THE BULLPEN
While the Mariners’ troubled bullpen remained in scramble mode heading into Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field, it is now a little easier to glimpse a smoother road.
Former closer Edwin Diaz resurrected his once-dominant form Friday by pitching two strong innings in a 2-1 loss to the White Sox.
It was just one outing, but it was a clear step in the right direction after the Mariners stripped Diaz from his closer duties earlier in the week following a series of shaky outings.
“A really good first step,” Diaz said. “I just need to keep working. But it was a good sign. I’ve been working on staying back on the rubber, and I felt a little better.”
The Mariners believe Diaz’s problems stemmed from rushing through his delivery, which meant his arm lagged behind the rest of his body. The result was an inability to command his slider and a fastball that lacked movement.
A few bullpen sessions with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. identified the problem and implemented corrective measures, but Diaz passed a major test Friday by implementing those changes in a game.
“He was able to locate his fastball to the glove side,” Servais said. “You didn’t see it running off the plate like we’ve seen the last few times and quite a bit this spring.
“He was able to get it to the glove side. That really helps his breaking ball. He gets his hand out front, driving it, and get some depth to the breaking ball.”
Diaz threw 29 pitches Friday, which meant he’s unlikely to pitch Saturday night. Further, he’ll probably get at least one more lower-leverage test outing before the Mariners put him back into the closer’s role.
But Friday allowed the Mariners to begin thinking about a restored bullpen in which their collection of setup relievers can work to bridge the game to Diaz.
“I’ll take one more good one,” Servais said, “and see where we’re at.”
It was 23 years ago Saturday — May 20, 1994 — that Ken Griffey Jr. became the third youngest player in history to reach 150 career homers.
Griffey ignited a five-run first inning with a two-run blast against Roger Pavlik in a 19-2 victory over Texas at the Kingdome.
At the time, Griffey was 24 years, 180 days old. The two younger players to reach 150 homers were Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews.
The Mariners also set several then-club records in that victory: largest winning margin (17 runs), most RBIs (19) and most total bases (42).
The Mariners and White Sox conclude their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Casey Lawrence (0-3 with an 8.80 ERA) or lefty Dillon Overton (0-0, 5.14) are the likeliest candidates to oppose Chicago left-hander Derek Holland (3-3, 2.43).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners