SEATTLE — Shortstop Ketel Marte, as expected, returned Monday to the Mariners’ active roster and went immediately into the starting lineup for the series opener against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
Marte, 22, missed 14 games after suffering a sprained left thumb May 21 while sliding into second base at Cincinnati. The Mariners were 6-8 in his absence. Marte was 4-for-20 in five rehab games at Triple-A Tacoma
"My first game was a little bit of a struggle at the plate," he said, "because it had been a long time without playing. But now, I feel good. I’m ready to come back."
The Mariners cleared space for Marte by optioning outfielder Stefen Romero to Triple-A Tacoma. Romero, 27, was 3-for-15 in eight games following his May 26 recall from the Rainiers.
While Romero made two defensive mistakes in Sunday’s loss at Texas, including a mental blunder, he previously projected as the likely odd-man out when Marte returned.
Manager Scott Servais said: "Looking at what Cleveland’s got, four right-handed starters and they’re predominantly right-handed in their bullpen. There’s not a great opportunity for him to get any starts or have any real impact in the games."
Marte batted .276 with a .307 on-base percentage in 40 games prior to his injury, including .310 and .333 in 25 games after a slow start. He was also a plus-4 in defensive runs saved prior to his injury.
FELIX ON HOLD
The Mariners, after some initial optimism, are beginning to sound as if they’re bracing for an extended absence for right-hander Felix Hernandez, who is sidelined by a strained right calf.
Hernandez is eligible to return Sunday from the disabled list, but Servais all but ruled that out.
"It’s going to take some time," Servais said. "He’s still feeling it. He’s not running or anything like that. I’d like to get his arm activated so we don’t lose too much time there."
Hernandez is walking without any noticeable limp, but when asked how he felt, he responded: "I don’t know, man. I’ve got to see the doctor."
That examination, scheduled for later Monday, could provide Hernandez and club officials with the better timetable for a projected return. He hasn’t pitched since a May 27 start against Minnesota, when he gave up six runs in six innings.
Servais said Hernandez, as a veteran who "knows his body and knows his arm," might be able to make a quick recovery to game readiness once cleared for activities. Getting that clearance is the key.
"You’ve got to wait until the point where his legs feel good," Servais said, "before we make any decisions there."
One player consistently linked to the Mariners in the upcoming draft is Boston College right-hander Justin Dunn, who has climbed to No. 25 in Baseball America’s rankings after a strong spring.
The Mariners have the 11th overall pick in the 40-round draft, which runs from Thursday through Saturday. Club officials say several players remain under consideration.
"I’ve probably said this in the past," amateur scouting director Tom McNamara said, "but we’re not too sure of who is going (to be picked) ahead of us this year. And that starts at No. 1.
"It depends on what teams want or what they’re looking for. I don’t think there are guys etched in stone in front of us. It will be interesting."
But Dunn, 22, fits one of the Mariners’ preferred profiles as a advanced college pitcher. The chief concern appears to be his relatively slight stature — scouts generally question his listed size of 6-feet-2 and 184 pounds.
Dunn’s stature is why he began the season as a reliever, but he forced his way into the Eagles’ rotation by flashing a fastball that sits at 92-95 mph along with a tight-spin slider in the mid-80-mph range.
Baseball America called Dunn as an "athletic right-hander" with a "lightning quick arm and promising off-speed pitches." He is 4-1 with a 1.49 ERA in 60 1/3 innings over 17 games, including seven starts, with 66 strikeouts and 16 walks.
Dunn was drafted three years ago as a high school senior by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 37th round. MLB.com reports many clubs liken him to Kansas City right-hander Yordano Ventura.
Center fielder Leonys Martin ran the bases prior to Monday’s game for the first time since suffering a strained left hamstring in a May 25 game against Oakland.
The Mariners, at this point, remain optimistic that he can return at some point this weekend, perhaps as soon as Friday, when he is eligible to return from the disabled list.
"He looks great," Servais said. "He’s passing all of the tests with flying colors. He feels good. We’ll give him a lighter day (Tuesday), and then we’ll see where we’re at in regard to a rehab."
The Mariners want Martin to test his hamstring in a rehab game before returning to active duty. That way, if it proves tender, they can merely extend his stay on the disabled list rather than re-start the 15-day period.
The catch is that Tacoma has an open date Wednesday, which begs the question of whether club officials believe Martin needs more than one rehab game prior to returning to active duty.
Double-A Jackson first baseman D.J. Peterson, the organization’s first-round pick in 2013, hit two homers Sunday and extended his hitting streak to 16 games in an 8-5 victory over Pensacola (Reds).
Peterson, 24, is batting .333 (21-for-63) with six homers and 13 RBIs in his streak. He has raised his average from .213 to .250 and boosted his other totals to eight and 33.
The victory reduced Jackson’s magic number to five for clinching the first-half pennant in the Southern League North Division.
It was 21 years ago Tuesday — June 7, 1995 — that the Mariners erased a two-run deficit by scoring nine runs in the eighth inning in a 10-2 victory at Baltimore.
The Mariners had just two singles through seven innings against Orioles starter Kevin Brown before striking for nine runs on just four hits. Edgar Martinez hit a grand slam, and Doug Strange hit a two-run homer.
The Mariners, at 5.13 runs a game, and the Indians, at 4.87, entered the series ranked second and third among American League clubs in scoring (behind Boston’s 5.89). The Mariners and Indians also ranked second and third in largest increase in scoring over last season at 1.08 and 0.71 runs a game. Boston also had the biggest increase at 1.27….the Mariners have been swept in four three-game series this season: All on weekends…while the Mariners entered Monday with a 12-14 record at home, they actually have a 5-4 series record at Safeco.
The Mariners and Indians continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Safeco Field. Left-hander Wade Miley (5-2 with a 5.85 ERA) will face Cleveland right-hander Cody Anderson (1-3, 6.81).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners