SEATTLE — Struggling right-hander Nathan Karns is the odd-man out in the Mariners’ rotation.
Karns is heading to the bullpen to accommodate Taijuan Walker’s return to the rotation because the Mariners opted to reward newcomer Wade LeBlanc with another start.
LeBlanc pitched six scoreless innings last Friday in his first start after being acquired from Toronto for cash or a player to be named later. He was 7-2 with a 1.71 ERA in 14 starts at Triple-A Buffalo prior to the trade.
"It’s not an easy decision to make," manager Scott Servais said prior to Tuesday’s series opener against Pittsburgh at Safeco Field.
"(Karns)was probably one of our more consistent starters for about a six- or seven-game stretch. He was throwing the ball well. It hasn’t been there the last four or five times out.
"LeBlanc threw the ball well the other night, so we’ll give Nate a little bit of a breather."
Karns, 28, is 6-2 with a 4.56 ERA in 15 starts, but he hasn’t pitched past the fifth inning in any of his last five starts. He also allowed 19 runs on 26 hits and 17 walks over 23 1/3 innings in those five games.
Servais indicated Karns is likely to start his bullpen duty by pitching long relief.
"It will probably be similar to what we did with Michael Montgomery earlier in the year," Servais said. "He can certainly take multiple innings.
"It’s a little different mentality coming out of the bullpen. You just trust your stuff and got right after them. You never know. The stuff might tick up. It did with Montgomery."
Putting Karns in a long-relief role suggests right-hander Donn Roach could be heading back to Triple-A Tacoma to clear space Wednesday when the Mariners activate Wade Miley from the disabled list.
Miley is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Pirates, and Servais said Walker, after skipping a turn, will return Thursday to the rotation for the start to a four-game series against Baltimore.
Walker threw a 40-pitch bullpen workout Sunday to test his recovery from tendinitis in his right foot. Two days later, he reported no problems. Walker’s injury forced him to make an early departure in each of his two previous starts.
"It’s the best he’s felt," Servais said. "He threw a bullpen the other day, and he’s ready to go."
LeBlanc, 31, replaced Walker in the rotation just three days after being acquired in a June 21 trade. The initial plan called for LeBlanc to shift to long relief when Walker returned to the rotation.
That changed when LeBlanc pitched six scoreless innings against the Cardinals and, one night later, Karns nearly squandered a five-run lead before exiting after five innings.
"LeBlanc threw the ball well the other night," Servais said, "so we’ll give Nate a little bit of a breather. It’s about the team right now. What’s best for the team. I really think (Karns) could grab onto a significant role down there."
KING ON THE MEND
Right-hander Felix Hernandez threw from a mound for the first time since a strained right calf muscle forced him to the disabled list after a May 27 start against Minnesota.
"It was really encouraging to see him on the mound," Servais said, "and throwing down the slope. He threw about 25 pitches. He felt great. No issues. He’ll probably throw another bullpen later this week.
"His arm looked great. It’s fresh. We were just concerned a little bit with the leg, the lower half. How that was working. But no reservations at all. A pretty welcome sight."
Coincidence or not, the Mariners were 28-19 and had a 1 1/2-game lead atop the American League West Division after Hernandez's last start. They entered Tuesday’s game at 38-38 and 11 1/2 games behind first-place Texas.
The tentative schedule previously pointed to Hernandez returned in mid-July after the All-Star break, but Servais indicated it might be sooner.
"If there’s a way to get him out there, possibly, before the break," Servais said, "I would be all in favor of it. But it’s going to depend on (trainer) Rick (Griffin) and where Felix is at. Getting him built up. Getting him comfortable.
"We don’t want to put him out there for 50 or 60 pitches.. He has to be able to go longer than that."
Servais also acknowledged Hernandez is "certainly going to need one and possibly two" rehab starts in the minor leagues. Any rehab starts would likely occur at Tacoma or Short-A Everett.
***Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush threw a 35-pitch bullpen workout as the latest test in his recovery from biceps tendinitis in his shoulder. Barring any setbacks, he is scheduled to throw Saturday to hitters in batting practice.
Outfielder Tyler O’Neill and right-hander Dylan Unsworth, teammates at Double-A Jackson, were selected Tuesday to represent the Mariners as members of the World team roster at the All-Star Futures Game on July 10 in San Diego.
O’Neill, 21, is a Canadian whom the Mariners selected in the third round of the 2013 draft. He is batting .310 for the Generals with 13 homers and 59 RBIs in 73 games.
Unsworth, 23, is a South African native who signed with the Mariners on Sept. 15, 2009 as a non-drafted free agent. He hasn’t pitched since June 7 because of hamstring injury and isn’t expected to play in the game.
Prior to his injury, Unsworth was 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA in nine starts. He is currently undergoing rehab in Peoria, Ariz.
The two 25-man rosters were selected from players in full-season leagues by Major League Baseball in conjunction with MLB.com, Baseball America and the 30 clubs.
At least one player was chosen from each major-league organization. The game, in its 18th year, will start at 4 p.m. at Petco Park, which will serve two nights later as the site of the 87th All-Star Game.
The Mariners confirmed three more signings from the recent MLB Draft and now have 25 of their 40 selections under contract, including 14 of their top 15 picks.
The latest to sign:
***Left-handed pitcher Danny Garcia, a 15th-round pick from Miami. He was assigned to Short-A Everett.
***Center fielder DeAires Moses, a 19th-round pick from Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tenn. He was assigned to Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League.
***Right-handed pitcher David Ellingson, a 34th-round pick from Georgetown. He was also assigned to Peoria.
MINOR DETAILS I
Lo-A Clinton right-hander Nick Neidert delivered seven efficient innings Tuesday in a 5-3 victory at Wisconsin (Brewers). Neidert threw just 83 pitches and limited the Timber Rattlers to two runs and three hits.
Neidert, 19, was the Mariners’ top pick — No. 60 overall — in the 2015 draft. He is 5-1 with a 2.21 ERA since joining the LumberKings in a May 24 promotion from extended spring training.
Clinton is 6-0 in the second half after qualifying for the Midwest League postseason as a wild-card team in the first half.
MINOR DETAILS II
After driving in just one run in his first 10 games, center fielder Kyle Lewis went 2-for-4 with five RBIs on Monday in Short-A Everett’s 10-1 romp over Boise (Rockies).
Lewis, 20, was the Mariners’ first-round pick — No. 11 overall — earlier this month in the MLB Draft. Through Monday, he is batting .205 (9-for-44) with four doubles and six RBIs.
It was two years ago Wednesday — June 29, 2014 — that Felix Hernandez and Fernando Rodney combined on a one-hitter in a 3-0 victory over Cleveland at Safeco Field.
Hernandez pitched the first eight innings and allowed the Indians’ only hit — a leadoff single by Lonnie Chisenhall in the fifth inning. The game was scoreless until Robinson Cano’s two-run homer in the sixth inning against T.J. House.
For Hernandez, it was his ninth game in a run of 17 starts in which he allowed two or fewer runs. He went 9-3 in that span with a 1.50 ERA.
The Mariners estimated they raised about $200,000 on Monday in their 31st annual golf tournament to fund research in the battle against cystic fibrosis, a progressive genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The event has raised more than $5.71 million since 1986…entering Tuesday, Nelson Cruz and Adam Lind each had a club-high 22 RBIs at Safeco Field…the Mariners are the only club that has at least 15 homers from six different positions.
The Mariners and Pirates conclude their two-game series at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday at Safeco Field.
The Mariners are expected to start lefty Wade Miley (6-3 with a 5.28 ERA) after activating him from the disabled list. Pittsburgh will start rookie right-hander Jameson Taillon (1-1, 4.50).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
The Mariners and Pirates play again July 26-27 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
MARINERS 2016 DRAFT PICKS
Round Player BONUS CLUB
1 (11) OF Kyle Lewis $3,286,700 Everett
2 (50) 3B Joe Rizzo $1,750,000 Peoria
3 (87) SS Bryson Brigman $700,000 Everett
4 (117) LHP Thomas Burrows $450,000 Everett
5 (147) INF Donnie Walton NOT SIGNED
6 (177) RHP Brandon Miller $250,000 Everett
7 (207) RHP Matt Festa $5,000 Everett
8 (237) UTL Nick Zammarelli $150,000 Everett
9 (267) C Jason Goldstein $25,000 Everett
10 (297) INF David Greer $135,000 Everett
11 (327) RHP Michael Koval Everett
12 (357) LHP Timothy Viehoff Everett
13 (387) RHP Reggie McClain Everett
14 (417) RHP Kyle Davis Everett
15 (447) LHP Danny Garcia Everett
16 (477) C Lyle Lin NOT SIGNED
17 (507) LF Dimas Ojeda Peoria
18 (537) RHP Robert Dugger NOT SIGNED
19 (567) CF DeAires Moses Peoria
20 (597) RF Eric Filia Everett
21 (627) CF Austin Grebeck Everett
22 (657) CF Jansiel Rivera Peoria
23 (687) RHP Jack Anderson Everett
24 (717) CF Trey Griffey NOT SIGNED
25 (747) CF Ryan Fucci NOT SIGNED
26 (777) LHP Elliot Surrey Everett
27 (807) RHP Paul Covelle Everett
28 (837) RHP Nathan Bannister NOT SIGNED
29 (867) RHP Steven Ridings Peoria
30 (897) CF Tyler Duncan NOT SIGNED
31 (927) RHP Lincoln Henzman NOT SIGNED
32 (957) RHP Kenyon Yovan NOT SIGNED
33 (987) SS Morgan McCullough NOT SIGNED
34 (1017) RHP David Ellingson Peoria
35 (1047) RHP Will Ethridge NOT SIGNED
36 (1077) 2B Joseph Venturino Peoria
37 (1107) C Eli Wilson NOT SIGNED
38 (1137) RHP James Reilly NOT SIGNED
39 (1167) SS Camryn Williams NOT SIGNED
40 (1197) C Adley Rutschman NOT SIGNED
Bonuses are shown for players selected in the first 10 rounds because those picks have an assigned slot value from Major League Baseball. The total slot value for the Mariners’ picks is $7,136,000.
To date, they have spent $6,726,700 with one pick unsigned. The slot value for that pick, fifth-rounder Donnie Walton, is $379,000.