KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The four games at Kauffman Stadium that closed the Mariners’ pre-break schedule highlighted Ketel Marte’s potential as a impact shortstop and the growth yet required to realize it.
In Thursday’s series opener, Marte made a spectacular running catch on looping two-out flare with a runner on third. The play underscored his speed and sheer athleticism.
Two days later, Marte inexplicably broke for second base, and then stopped, when the Mariners had a first-and-third threat with one out in a tie game. Inexplicable, that is, until Marte explained he had the count wrong.
On Sunday, the roller-coaster surged upward again when Marte went deep into the hole to backhand a third-inning grounder and throw out Alcides Escobar at first base. He also bunted for an RBI single with two outs in the fourth.
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"I’m going to progress," Marte said. "I work hard every day. I know what I can do. I know I have the talent. We all have highs and lows. So you keep working."
Marte’s 13 errors at the All-Star break are tied for the most among American League shortstops — tied with Tampa Bay’s Brad Miller, the one-time Mariner whom Marte supplanted.
"What you’re watching is a 22-year-old develop at the big-league level," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s got good range. He’s got plenty of arm. I think he’s cleaned up some things from spring training."
The Mariners turned away from Miller because they saw him as a defensive liability. That view is supported, at least somewhat, by Miller’s current peripherals, which include a minus-15 rating in terms of runs saved above average.
No other AL shortstop is worse than minus-9. Marte is a minus-3 in the formula devised by Baseball Info Solutions.
Unlike their view on Miller, the Mariners see Marte as a 22-year-old on an upward path. His biggest booster remains All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, who doubles as Marte’s primary mentor.
"I’ve been saying this since the first day: He’s pretty special," Cano said. "He’s a guy who just needed a chance to play every single day. He’s learning. He starting to learn the situations. He’s special. Not only on defense but also offensively."
Marte reaches the All-Star break with a .272 average in 72 games with .298 on-base percentage and a .355 slugging percentage. It’s closing in on a year since his July 31, 2015 promotion, and his career slash is .277/.321/.376 in 129 games.
Defensive metrics generally show him to be major-league average.
"Is there plenty of work to be done?" Servais asked. "Yes. Is he a guy you feel comfortable putting out there? Yes, I do. Every day.
"I’ve seen a lot of growth. We see him more under control and understanding the speed of the runner. How hard the ball is hit. I’m seeing it getting better and better. There’s nothing to suggest he can’t handle the position for a long time."
Right-hander Taijuan Walker is tentatively expected to return to the mound in roughly two weeks after undergoing an examination Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., by Dr. Bob Anderson that confirmed Walker is battling tendinitis in his right foot.
Anderson is a foot-and-ankle specialist who has treated numerous pro athletes.
Plans call for Walker to spend the next week in a walking boot before resuming baseball activities. Barring any setbacks, he is expected to return to the mound after another week — which projects to a July 24 return.
Even if that schedule holds, Walker will, at that point, have gone 19 days since his July 5 start at Houston. That makes it likely that he will return to the mound in a minor-league rehab assignment.
Walker first encountered the problem in a June 14 start at Tampa Bay. He made one more start before skipping a turn in the rotation. He returned June 30 against Baltimore and, while he pitched well, felt renewed discomfort.
He lasted just four innings on July 5 at Houston before the problem forced him from the game. The following day, the Mariners placed him on the 15-day disabled list. Walker was 4-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 starts prior to going on the DL.
It appears likely the Mariners will shift temporarily to a four-man rotation following their first cycle after the All-Star break to take advantage of three open days in an eight-game span.
The Mariners play six straight days out of the break with a pair of three-game home series against Houston and the Chicago White Sox. Felix Hernandez is tentatively slotted for the final game in that run — July 20 against Chicago.
That means the Mariners will need five starters to get to Hernandez.
Tentative plans call for James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley to start the three games against the Astros. Wade LeBlanc and Mike Montgomery, or vice versa, will start the first two games against the White Sox.
After July 19, the Mariners won’t need a fifth starter again until Aug. 2.
CANO IN DERBY
Second baseman Robinson Cano departed for San Diego after the game as the Mariners’ only representative at the All-Star Game, which is Tuesday at Petco Park.
First, though, Cano is participating in the Home Run Derby, which starts at 5 p.m. Monday and can be seen on ESPN. Cano is one of eight participants and is matched in the first round against Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.
Cano previously participated in the Home Run Derby from 2011-13 while a member of the New York Yankees. He won the 2011 title at Chase Field in Phoenix.
The Mariners are closing in on a deal with Luis Veloz, a 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 29 international prospect.
Veloz had been strongly linked to the Mariners prior to the start of the July 2 signing period before discussions hit a snag. He is 6 feet 2, 170 pounds and bats and throws right-handed.
The Mariners previously reached deals with Venezuelan shortstop Alexander Campos, ranked as the No. 49 international prospect, and Dominican right-handed pitcher Juan Then.
"Veloz is a strong player with mature physical tools and a projectable body," Baseball America reported. "His quick bat speed is what stands out at the plate and he should grow into at least average power once he gets stronger."
Lefty Luiz Gohara pitched six shutout innings Saturday and right fielder Alex Jackson hit a home run in leading Lo-A Clinton to a 3-0 victory at Quad Cities (Astros).
Gohara, 19, allowed just three hits while striking out five and walking one in his second start for the LumberKings after opening the season with three starts at Short-A Everett. He is 5-0 overall with a 1.38 ERA in 26 innings.
Jackson, 20, is batting .326 over his last 25 games with eight doubles, four homers and 18 RBIs after a slow start. He is batting .238 overall in 46 games with 11 doubles, eight homers and 32 RBIs.
***Hi-A Bakersfield trailed Visalia (Diamondbacks) by five runs in the ninth inning Saturday before staging a seven-run rally for a 9-7 victory. The Blaze parlayed three singles, two doubles, three walks and two errors into seven runs.
Bakersfield entered Sunday with a five-game lead in the California League North Division.
It was 37 years ago Monday — July 11, 1979 — that Tom Paciorek went 4-for-4 and led the Mariners to a 16-1 victory over the New York Yankees, who were the two-time defending World Series champions, at the Kingdome.
The 16 runs were, at the time, a franchise record. That record wasn’t matched until 1993 and not exceeded until 1994. The current record dates to April 29, 1999, when the Mariners posted a 22-6 victory over Detroit at the Kingdome.
The Mariners and every other club gets a four-day break for the All-Star Game, which is Tuesday at Petco Park in San Diego.
The season resumes at 7:10 p.m. Friday, when the Mariners open a three-game weekend series against Houston at Safeco Field. The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
The Mariners are expected to start left-hander James Paxton (2-3 with a 3.91 ERA). Houston has not identified a starter.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners