SEATTLE -- Struggling starter Erasmo Ramirez was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners, with newly converted reliever Brandon Maurer recalled to take his roster spot in time to join Seattle's bullpen for Wednesday night's game against the Red Sox.
The move opens up a spot in the Mariners rotation that will need to be filled by Monday, which would have been Ramirez's next turn when Seattle opens a six-game road trip in Houston. No decision has been announced on who'll start that game, but all signs point to top prospect Taijuan Walker being ready to join the club after throwing a four-hit shutout for Tacoma on Tuesday night against Oklahoma City.
Manager Lloyd McClendon would say nothing more than that Walker "is in the discussion" to fill the rotation vacancy, but clearly was pleased with the 21-year-old's performance in his six games for Tacoma since returning from a sore shoulder that sidelined him much of the spring.
"Taijuan threw the ball extremely well," McClendon said of his 109-pitch shutout on Tuesday. "That's very good. I was really happy to hear that. He came through it good and continues to progress. And hopefully he continues to get better."
Walker made three starts for Seattle late last season and appeared in line for a rotation berth this spring until his shoulder problems cropped up. The youngster has gone 2-1 with a 4.11 ERA in six outings for Tacoma.
"His starts have been fine," McClendon said. "The one before [the shutout], he had some ups and downs, but all pitchers do. From a health standpoint, he's feeling better, he's throwing, he's answering the bell every five days. The velocity is up and he's building, so that's encouraging."
Maurer, 23, started seven games for the Mainers earlier this season and went 1-4 with a 7.52 ERA before being sent down and moved into the bullpen in Tacoma. The 23-year-old has gone 1-0 with three saves and a 2.79 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings for the Rainiers, and will continue in a relief role now, though McClendon said his role now likely is to just bridge the gap until another starter is added.
McClendon said Maurer was added instead of bringing up a position player -- with Justin Smoak eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday -- because "pitching is our foundation. It's the rock of this team and we have an opportunity to protect it over the next four to five days, so why not?"
Maurer has done well in his new role in the bullpen and McClendon said he could be used either in a long or short role for now, depending on what needs arise. As for his potential as a reliever?
"We'll see," said McClendon. "It gives him less chance to think about things and obviously the velocity is up at the Triple-A level to 98 out of the bullpen. So it's just intriguing."
Ramirez, 24, will be given a chance to regain his command now in Tacoma. The young right-hander has gone 1-4 with a 4.58 ERA in 11 starts over three different stints with the Mariners this year. He lasted more than five innings in just one of his five outings since being recalled in early June and was lifted after 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday when he walked five and allowed five hits on 93 pitches.
Seager deserving of All-Star consideration
SEATTLE -- Kyle Seager hasn't been among the top five third basemen in American League All-Star voting results over the first month of balloting, but that might be a growing oversight considering the numbers he has been putting up recently.
Consider this. A's third baseman Josh Donaldson is the runaway leader in the latest tally with 2.4 million votes. Donaldson's offensive numbers going into Wednesday's games: .248/.331/.474 with 12 doubles, 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 76 games.
As for Seager? The Mariners' third sacker has a .260/.334/.469 line with 19 doubles, 11 home runs and 53 RBIs.
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is second in the third-base voting at just over 1.3 million, has hit .321/.363/.488 with eight homers and 36 RBIs. Baltimore's Manny Machado is third in the voting, but he missed the first month following knee surgery and has hit just .237 with four homers and 12 RBIs in 49 games.
Evan Longoria of the Rays and Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays are fourth and fifth, respectively, in the balloting. Longoria is hitting .264 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs, while Lawrie is at .244 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs.
Robinson Cano is currently the only Mariners player among the top five at his position in the balloting as he leads all AL second basemen. But Seager at least belongs in the conversation at third base and fans can still vote for him and other starting position players at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 8:59 p.m. PT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15, on FOX.
Manager Lloyd McClendon believes Seager has the potential to be one of the elite third basemen in baseball and said the potential is just starting to be tapped.
"Kyle is an accomplished hitter. He knows what he's doing at the plate," McClendon said, "but I probably expect a little bit more than you guys. I think there's big room for improvement, and he's doing a nice job and he's swinging the bat, he's hitting some home runs, he's driving in some runs, but I've been around the game a long time and Kyle Seager is not a .260 hitter. There has to be some more progress and some more steps to take and that's my responsibility to get it out of him. But he's doing great. He's got to take that next step."
And that challenge is welcomed by the 26-year-old from North Carolina.
"Absolutely, that's something I really appreciate," said Seager. "I enjoy it. I enjoy the fact he's going to challenge you and it's not just a generic thing, it's been specific. We've had detailed conversations about being able to be consistent and use the whole field and to minimize your lulls and kind of ride the waves a little longer. That's what we've talked about. We've had quite a few meetings about it and everything and trying to be more of a total hitter. It's been good."
Saunders works out at Safeco, could return Friday
SEATTLE -- With Triple-A Tacoma off on Wednesday, Michael Saunders was at Safeco Field doing some pregame outfield work during batting practice prior to the Mariners' game with the Red Sox.
Saunders is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, which is an off-day, so he is a likely candidate to rejoin the club on Friday after hitting .450 (9-for-20) in five rehab starts with the Rainiers as he recovers from a sore right shoulder.
Manager Lloyd McClendon was non-committal on when Saunders, Justin Smoak (strained quad) and Corey Hart (strained hamstring) might rejoin the club, but he noted that El Paso -- where the Rainiers head for a four-game series starting Thursday -- is close to Houston, presuming Smoak and Hart are on that trip. The Mariners open a three-game road series Monday against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Both Smoak and Hart are now eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as they're deemed ready. Smoak has hit .222 (6-for-27) in seven rehab games, while Hart is batting .294 (5-for-17) in four games. Position players are eligible to spend up to 20 days in the Minors on a rehab stint.
"The biggest thing for me is to make sure they're healthy and 100 percent," McClendon said. "That in combination with getting some at-bats and getting sharp, we're just going to take full advantage of it. When we think they're healthy enough and ready to go here, then they'll come here."
• Seager ranks third in the Majors in RBIs in his home park with 36 in his first 37 games at Safeco this season, trailing only the 42 of the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton and 37 of the Rockies' Justin Morneau. Seager's current .633 slugging percentage at home would be the best in Safeco Field history if he maintains it for a full season. Ken Griffey Jr. holds the club record of .616 in 42 games in 1999, while Bret Boone put up a .580 mark in 80 games in 2001.