Leadoff left to Jones, for now

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comMay 11, 2014 

SEATTLE — There figured to be some changes Saturday in the Seattle Mariners’ lineup after scoring just two runs in their three previous games. And it started at the top when rookie James Jones replaced Michael Saunders as the leadoff hitter.

“He’s a prototypical-type leadoff guy,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ll give him his chance and see what he can do. I like what I see. I don’t think he’s overmatched at the plate.”

Jones, 25, entered Saturday’s game 5-for-11 in limited big league duty, but he batted .306 as a leadoff hitter in 360 career at-bats in the minors.

“It’s the same thing wherever you hit,” he said. “Try to get on base. Try to get a good pitch to hit, and let the other guys drive me in.”

The move came with Saunders mired in a 0-for-10 slide over the previous three games. Saunders spent 10 games atop the lineup. Initially, he performed well — going 11-for-31 before his slump.

Saunders batted eighth Saturday.

McClendon also moved shortstop Brad Miller back to the No. 2 hole for the first time since May 2 despite a 1-for-19 slump that brought him into the game at .170.

The Mariners were 7-3 once Saunders replaced Abraham Almonte as the leadoff hitter. Almonte was optioned last Sunday to Triple-A Tacoma.

Jones brings a speed element to the role, but McClendon noted: “When a (speed) guy gets on in front of Robby (Cano) and Corey (Hart), that helps. But the important thing is to get guys on. Speed is secondary at this point.”

Saunders carried an overall .225 average into Saturday’s game with one homer and seven RBIs in 31 games.

RODNEY’S APPROACH

Ever wonder why closer Fernando Rodney often slows the game to a crawl while trying to close out a victory in the ninth inning?

“I have to slow down my body,” he said. “Walk around and slow things down.”

That’s particularly true when, as happened in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 1-0 victory, he initially experiences command problems. He walked the first batter on four pitches and fell behind on the second.

“Sometimes,” Rodney said, “I feel great in the bullpen, but when I get on the mound, I feel like I have to throw a couple of more pitches (to find my command). I feel I’m too strong.”

Part of that, he conceded, is the adrenaline rush of the situation. Because the rules don’t permit extra warm-up pitches to find a proper rhythm, Rodney attempts to reset himself through a deliberate approach.

It worked Thursday when he escaped a first-and-second jam with one out by getting a strikeout and a fielder’s-choice grounder that resulted in a force at second.

“The last two hitters, I could feel my command was back,” he said. “I made good pitches.”

It usually works. Rodney entered Saturday ranked second in the American League with 10 saves. His only blown save in 11 chances came after a two-out error.

BULLPEN WORKOUTS

Left-hander James Paxton and right-hander Taijuan Walker are slotted for bullpen workouts Sunday in their ongoing recovery from injuries.

Paxton reported no day-after problems from a 25-pitch bullpen workout Friday that marked his first time on a mound since a strained back muscle forced his removal from an April 8 start.

Plans call for him to throw 35-50 pitches Sunday. His next session is tentatively scheduled for midweek and should include breaking balls, which provide additional stress.

Walker is scheduled for roughly 20 pitches Sunday in his first mound work since renewed shoulder soreness knocked him out of a April 15 rehabilitation start for Triple-A Tacoma.

Both are on the same general plan: three bullpen workouts, two simulated games and then a minor league rehab assignment.

A best-case scenario for return to active duty projects three-plus weeks from the date of the first bullpen workout.

SHORT HOPS

Third baseman Kyle Seager didn’t start again Saturday because of flulike symptoms. Willie Bloomquist replaced Seager for the second consecutive game. ... The Mariners’ bullpen carried a 14-inning scoreless streak into Saturday’s game. ... The first 10,000 moms through the gates Sunday get a Mariners cap in recognition of Mother’s Day. All kids aged 14 and under get a rope necklace.

LOOKING BACK

It was 18 years ago Sunday — May 11, 1996 — that Jay Buhner went 4-for-4 and drove in a career-high six runs in an 11-1 victory over the Royals at the Kingdome.

Buhner hit a pair of two-run homers. The first opened the scoring in the second inning and came against Tim Belcher. The other was in the seventh inning against Tim Pugh. Buhner also had a double and a single.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Royals conclude their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias (3-2, 3.27 ERA) will face Kansas City right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2-2, 3.91). Root Sports will broadcast the game.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners

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