HOUSTON -- Lucas Luetge grew up about two hours from Minute Maid Park and attended college in Houston, but the reliever's experience in the park was limited to one inning in a game while playing for Rice University in a tournament, until he made the trip with the Mariners for this weekend's series.
"That wasn't really playing here," he said of his brief college experience. "This is the real thing. I always told myself I'd play here one day. This is the place I grew up watching baseball, whether it was here or the Astrodome. So it's kind of where your dreams start.
"You can watch on TV, but until you're there in person you feel like, 'Oh man, I want to play on that field.' It really is a dream come true. Playing in any stadium is exciting, but I'm really excited about this one."
Luetge said he attended numerous Astros games while in college, though when he grew up in Industry, Texas, he wasn't strictly devoted to that club.
"I was a fan of lots of teams. My bedroom wasn't filled with Astros stuff or anything, but this was the closest stadium and we supported them," he said.
Luetge said he bought about 35 tickets for friends and family for Friday's game.
Ramirez to make start for Mariners on Tuesday
HOUSTON -- The Mariners haven't officially announced their pitching rotation beyond this weekend's series with the Astros, but manager Eric Wedge said right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will be recalled from a brief stint with Class A Everett to start Tuesday against the Indians at Safeco Field.
Ramirez made one start for Seattle eight days ago, then was optioned to Everett in order to get a start in during the All-Star break.
The 23-year-old Nicaraguan pitched 5 1/3 innings for Everett in Wednesday's 7-6 victory over Vancouver, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts in a no-decision.
Ramirez missed the first three months of the season while coming back from a strained elbow, pitched seven games for Triple-A Tacoma and then gave up seven runs and six hits with four walks in 4 2/3 innings in an 8-7 loss to the Red Sox in his first game for the Mariners.
If the youngster hadn't been sent down to Everett, he'd have gone 11 days between starts before his turn came back up on Tuesday against the Indians. Tacoma was on its own All-Star break on Wednesday, so Everett provided the best option.
The Mariners are carrying an extra pitcher in the bullpen since Ramirez was sent down, so they'll likely option one of their relievers to Tacoma to make room on the 25-man roster. Bobby LaFromboise and Hector Noesi were recalled from Tacoma when Ramirez was optioned out along with Blake Beavan, but neither pitched in the three-game weekend sweep of the Angels.
Ibanez hoping to remain with Mariners
HOUSTON -- Raul Ibanez's prodigious first half with the Mariners has resulted in his name coming up as a potential Trade Deadline candidate for a contending team, but the 41-year-old outfielder said Friday he's had no discussions on that topic with general manager Jack Zduriencik and isn't looking to leave Seattle.
"I like being here," Ibanez said prior to the Mariners' series opener against the Astros on Friday. "I like being a part of this team and I'd like to win here."
With Seattle sitting 11 games out of a Wild-Card playoff berth at the midseason break, would he be interested in getting dealt to a club with a better shot at the postseason?
"I would say it's July and why can't we do that here? That would be my response," Ibanez said. "Why can't we do that here? Yeah, I want to play in the playoffs, right here. I think we've been playing good baseball the last couple of weeks, and I'd like to see that continue."
Ibanez has been in the postseason five of his 18 years in the Majors: once with Seattle in 2000, three times with the Phillies from 2009-11 -- including their World Series team in '09 -- and last year when he played a huge role for the Yankees.
But he's never been traded in his career and didn't sound eager to change that now after signing a one-year deal with Seattle and becoming the oldest player in Major League history with 20-plus homers and 50-plus RBIs at the All-Star break.
Ibanez is tied for fourth in the American League in home runs with 24 and also leads the Mariners with 56 RBIs while batting .267 going into Friday's game.
"It's never happened and that's even more confirmation for me as to why I don't think about it," he said of a potential trade. "A lot of times you end up worrying and stressing about things that never happen. I try not to worry and stress and think about things like that. I try to do my job."
Ibanez spent his All-Star break lifting weights, swimming with his kids and staying busy.
"When you get to 40, you have to work out," he said. "I always joke with these guys and say, 'Inactivity is the enemy of middle-aged players.'"
He watched part of the All-Star Game, including the dramatic moment when last year's Yankee teammate, Mariano Rivera, entered the game to an empty field and pitched in his final Midsummer Classic.
"That was awesome," Ibanez said. "Just amazing. A great moment just for the game of baseball and everything that he's done. Not just what he's done, but how he's done it. He's the ultimate professional, first-class. Obviously, the greatest relief pitcher ever, but also one of the greatest human beings I've ever had the privilege of being around. It was great. I was on the couch and I felt like standing up and clapping."
Mariners offense rolling in July
HOUSTON -- The Mariners ranked 13th in the American League in batting average and tied for 11th in runs out of 15 teams in the first half, but the club has taken a big step up in the first two weeks of July.
In the 13 games this month prior to the All-Star break, the club led the Majors in scoring (5.85 runs per game), home runs (22), slugging percentage (.499) and OPS (.853), as well as second in batting average (.289) and extra-base hits (51).
As the second half began Friday in Houston, the Mariners were hitting .244 as a team with a .309 on-base percentage and .401 slugging percentage through 95 games. The club finished last season at .234/.296/.369.
The Mariners were already at 115 home runs heading into Friday, tied for second in the Majors behind only the Orioles' 132. Seattle totaled 149 home runs in 2012 and had 83 after the first 95 games.
"I like the feel and energy of the ballclub, both young and old," manager Eric Wedge said. "We've been playing some good baseball teams and playing some pretty good baseball. Even the losses we had were hard fought. So we just need to keep going with that now and hopefully be more consistent with that in the second half."
• Michael Morse remained behind in Seattle to continue rehabbing his strained right quadriceps, but manager Eric Wedge said the hope is the outfielder can start a Minor League rehab stint in Tacoma this coming week.
Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and reliever Stephen Pryor began rehab stints with Tacoma on Thursday, though neither played that night, while Jesus Montero was reinstated from the disabled list on Thursday and went 1-for-5 with a triple as the designated hitter in an 8-7 loss at Fresno. Montero had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee in early June.
Wedge said catcher Jesus Sucre continues having trouble with a bruised left wrist and there is no timetable on his return.
• Jeff Datz traveled to Houston with the Mariners, his first road trip since being diagnosed with cancer on his neck two months ago, but Darren Brown will remain the third-base coach for now, according to manager Eric Wedge.
"We wanted to get Datzy back on the trip and see how he handled the flight and the plane," Wedge said. "We're still going to give that a little time. But it's good to have him back, good to have him around, no doubt."
• Veteran right-hander Jeremy Bonderman, released by the Mariners earlier this month, has accepted a Minor League contract from his former Tigers team and will continue his comeback attempt with Triple-A Toledo.