BOSTON — Manager Scott Servais signaled the latest tweak in his bullpen Saturday by letting lefty Mike Montgomery work the final 3 1/3 innings behind rookie Adrian Sampson in a 6-2 loss to Boston.
Montgomery is shifting back to lower-leverage situations in the middle of games rather than being spotted as a match-up lefty. Those match-up and higher-leverage situations will now switch primarily to Vidal Nuno.
"We’re giving (Montgomery) a chance to stretch out and work on some pitches," Servais said. "That’s probably when he’s done best for us — when he goes multiple innings instead of trying to match him up.
"He gets into more of a rhythm. He pitches instead of just going out and throws. More than that, Nuno continues to do a very good job. We had him in that spot earlier on.
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"Not that we tried to get away from (Nuno) for any reason. We just gave Monty some opportunities."
Nuno inherited a 1-0 lead Sunday in the sixth inning but surrendered the tying run in an eventual 2-1 loss to the Red Sox in the series finale.
Montgomery suffered losses in three straight late-inning appearances before his outing Saturday at Fenway Park. His ERA jumped from 1.50 to 2.72 after he gave up eight runs and 14 hits over 9 2/3 innings in his last seven outings.
Even after Sunday’s hiccup, Nuno had a 1.75 ERA in 25 appearances and just four walks in 25 2/3 innings. In contrast, Montgomery has walked 15 and hit five batters in his 39 2/3 innings.
"Nuno does get righties out, too," Servais said. "What you like with him is he’s going to always throw strikes with multiple pitches.
"That’s very valuable when you’re coming in with guys on base. Instead of just getting locked in and thinking, `OK, I’ve just got to stuff them with my fastball.’"
Injured ace Felix Hernandez is expected to begin regular flat-ground throwing by mid-week in his recovery from a strained right calf muscle that surfaced after his May 27 start against Minnesota.
"Felix is feeling better," Servais confirmed, "and he’s going to start throwing, playing catch, probably Tuesday or Wednesday, and start stretching it out from there. He’s not having any issues. His normal, everyday living is fine."
Even so, Hernandez isn’t expected to rejoin the rotation, under a best-case scenario, until mid-July after the All-Star break.
Lefty Wade Miley, the Mariners’ other injured starting pitcher, remains on track to rejoin the rotation June 28 when eligible to return from the disabled list.
The Mariners placed Miley on the disabled list Friday because of what they characterized as a impingement in his left shoulder. He has already progressed to the point when he is soft tossing.
"It’s exactly what we figured it was," Servais said. "We just needed to calm it down. Give it two or three days (with no activity). Skip a start or two. And get him back out there."
Miley’s absence puts right-hander Adrian Sampson in line for another start June 23 at Detroit. Sampson allowed four runs and eight hits over 4 2/3 innings in Saturday’s loss to the Red Sox.
Lo-A Clinton continued its remarkable one-year turnaround Saturday by clinching a spot in the Midwest League playoffs with a 6-3 victory over South Bend (Cubs).
The LumberKings had a chance to win Western Division first-half pennant but lost Sunday and settled for a wild-card berth. At 39-31, they finished one game behind Peoria (Cardinals).
Even so, the postseason spot comes one year after Clinton finished a combined 46-93. It marks the LumberKings’ first postseason berth since 2013, and the first time they clinched a spot in the first half since 2008.
***Double-A Jackson set a franchise record for victories Sunday by closing out its first-half season with a 4-0 victory over Tennessee (Cubs). The Generals finished the first half at 46-24.
Jackson’s previously won 45 games in the second half of a season: 45-25 in 1999, and 45-23 in 2000. All full-season leagues below Triple-A divide their seasons into two halves.
The Generals previously clinched the North Division’s first-half pennant and, like Clinton, have executed a one-year turnaround. A year ago, Jackson finished a combined 53-84.
Jackson right-hander Dan Altavilla is heading to the Southern League all-star game as a replacement for reliever Emilio Pagan, who was promoted Friday to Triple-A Tacoma.
Altavilla, 23, converted this season to bullpen duty and is 4-1 with eight saves and a 2.28 ERA in 22 appearances. He was a fifth-round pick in 2014. The Southern League all-star game is Tuesday in Pear, Miss.
Pagan, 25, was 4-1 with nine saves and a 1.17 ERA in 18 games at Jackson. He made his debut Saturday at Tacoma by pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Pagan was a 10th-round pick in 2013.
It was one year ago Monday — June 20, 2015 — that Edgar Martinez replaced Howard Johnson as the Mariners’ hitting coach. Martinez was the only on-field staff member retained when Scott Servais replaced Lloyd McClendon as manager.
Robinson Cano needs one more homer to join Bret Boone as the Mariners’ only second baseman to reach 20 in multiple seasons. Boone did it four times…Franklin Gutierrez has played 146 games over his last three seasons (2013, 2015 and 2016). He has 33 homers, 81 RBIs and a .269 average in that span…the Ken Griffey Jr. countdown to Cooperstown hit five weeks on Sunday. He will be inducted July 24 into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The Mariners begin the final stop in their three-city trip when they open a four-game series against the Tigers at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time Monday at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Right-hander Nathan Karns (5-2 with a 4.06 ERA) will face Tigers right-hander Mike Pelfrey (1-7, 4.79). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners