Aardsma getting closer to closing again

If the Mariners have a save situation in tonight’s series opener against the Rangers, look for Brandon League to get the call.

But the main man, David Aardsma, is getting closer to to resuming his closer role.

Interim manager Daren Brown said Aardsma, sidelined with discomfort in his left oblique, was feeling better today than he had in the previous five days and is supposed to play catch prior to tomorrow night’s game against the Rangers.

If all goes well, he might be able to return to duty.

Switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak returned to his old stomping grounds.

Acquired in the trade that sent Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to the Rangers, Smoak could be in line to receive at least a partial share of the postseason shares the Rangers will get.

Back in Seattle, designated hitter Russell Branyan was seeing a spine specialist and Mike Carp was having his right arch checked out. Brown said a medical update could be available later tonight. Both are expected to miss the entire Rangers series.

Rookie Matt Mangini is getting his second consecutive start at third base in tonight’s game. He cleanly handled all four grounders hit at him in Sunday’s game against the Rays. Brown said Mangini has the kind of work ethic that will make him a superb defender. Mangini committed 24 errors during the season at Triple-A Tacoma.

So far so good for right-handed reliever Dan Cortes. He is the first Mariners reliever to start his career with consecutive perfect innings since Kevin King in 1993. Here’s predicting that Cortes will have a better career than King. Mike Schooler made three consecutive appearances in 1988 without allowing a baserunner.

Ichiro Suzuki’s right ribs were a tad sore today after being plunked by a pickoff throw at first base yesterday. There is not a lot of beef in the area that hit him.

Without further adieu, here is tonight’s Mariners lineup:

1. Ichiro, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Jose Lopez, DH
4. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
5. Justin Smoak, 1B
6. Adam Moore, C
7. Matt Mangini, 3B
8. Greg Halman, LF
9. Josh Wilson, SS
RHP David Pauley

– Jim Street

Passing time at The Trop

Some random thoughts on a Sunday morning in St. Pete:

* Franklin Gutierrez (60), Jose Lopez (56) and Casey Kotchman (51) are the only Mariners with more RBIs this season than Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has this month (40). Russell Branyan (57) doesn’t count because he hasn’t spent the entire season with the Mariners.

Tulowitzki, by the way, was projected by many experts (including MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo) to be the Mariners’ first-round Draft choice in 2005, when they had the fifth overall pick. They chose catcher Jeff Clement and Tulowitzki was selected by the Rockies two picks later. Ouch.

* Interesting comments in the St. Pete Times today from the Rays clubhouse talking about how the first two batters in Saturday night’s game — catcher John Jaso and second baseman Ben Zobrist — challenged Ichiro’s arm, and won, stretching singles into doubles.

“Most players are not going to challenge Ichiro in that situation,” manager Joe Maddon said, “and (Jaso) did, and he’s safe. Everybody in the dugout was like, ‘No! No! No!’. And then they’re like ‘Yeah! Yeah!, Yeah!’. It worked out great.”

*Tropicana Field has become the “noisiest” facility in the Major Leagues. Not because fans fill the place every night (or day), but the sound system is soooooooooo loud it’s almost like being in an NBA arena. The Devil Rays swimming in a pool out there in center field must be scared out of their wits.

* St. Pete Times baseball writer Marc Topkin had an intersting stat in his Cy Young Award handicap chart, pointing out that Felix Hernandez has pitched against teams with records of .500 or better 63.6 percent of the time this season while CC Sabathia is at 51.5 percent. Rays lefty David Price has had it even tougher than Felix, facing winning teams 73.3 percent of the time.

Furthermore, Price has received an average of 6.04 runs per start, compared to 6.12 for Sabathia. Felix? Try 3.09.

*The Mariners need to win one more game on this road trip to avoid becoming the second team in franchise history to notch only 23 wins on the road during a non-strike season.

And finally, the Mariners’ lineup for the series finale against the Rays has been posted:

1. Ichiro, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Jose Lopez, DH
4. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
5. Justin Smoak, 1B
6. Matt Mangini, 3B
7. Josh Bard, C
8. Greg Halman, LF
9. Josh Wilson, SS
LHP Luke French

– Jim Street

Rays boost Felix’s Cy Young Award hopes

Felix Hernandez lost his 12th game of the season yesteray afternoon in Toronto, but several hours later he might have picked up a few Cy Young Award votes.

A few eyebrows had to be raised in New York when Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, regarded as Hernandez’s primary competitor in the Cy Young Award race, was shelled during a seven-run, sixth-inning uprising by the Rays.

Earlier in the day, King Felix pitched a complete-game two-hitter against the Blue Jays. But the first hit he surrendered was a home run in the first inning and that was the only run off the Mariners’ ace in a 1-0 loss at Rogers Centre.

According to several reports on which way the voters are leaning, wins are definitely important, especially for pitchers on teams competing for playoff spots, but it appears that overall numbers could be the determining factor.

And that would be a good thing for Felix.

According to figures compiled by STATS, Inc., which tracks just about everything that can be tracked, of the 10 big-league pitchers who have tossed the most low-run innings this season, Hernandez (92.7) and 20-game winner Sabathia (91) are the only American League pitchers that have allowed one or fewer runs in at least 90 percent of the innings they’ve pitched.

With at least one start remaining, Hernandez, a 12-game winner, has pitched in a MLB-leading 202 scoreless innings, 14 more than the Phillies’ 20-game winner Roy Halladay. Felix also has tossed 26, one-run innings among the 246 total innings pitched in. Sabathia has logged 233 innings overall, including 177 shutout frames and 34 one-run innings.

Halladay leads all Major League pitchers at 94.7 percent –188 scoreless innings and 42 one-run innings in 243 total innings. Braves right-hander Tim Hudson, a 16-game winner, is next at 93.5.

– Jim Street

Moyers continue pitch for charity

There are few charitable organizations in the country that mean more to a certain area than what the Moyer Foundation means to the Northwest in particular, and also nationally.

Jamie Moyer, the former Mariners pitcher who ranks second in franchise history in wins and currently plays for the Phillies, continues to raise money and awareness through he and his wife Karen’s foundation.

An annual event that pumps funds into research, Karen Moyer will host a 12-hour marathon on Thursday (7 a.m.-7 p.m. PT) on WARM-FM (106.9) to raise money for “The Gregory Fund,” dedicated to early cancer detection research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

It is part of the Moyer Foudation’s 7th annual Catch a Cure for Cancer national campaign.

This year’s campaign has special meaning to Karen as her father, Digger Phelps, was diagnosed and underwent successful treatment for prostate cancer.  Phelps is a college basketball analyst with ESPN.

– Jim Street

Lots of rain, but no more Sweet Lou

As you can tell from the photo below, it is raining like the dickens here in the Big Apple.

It took awhile, but the umpiring crew finally decided at 2:38 p.m. ET to cover the field and send the players inside their respective clubhouses.

Rookie left-hander Luke French was on the short end of a 5-0 score and it wasn’t all his fault. Sure, he surrendered a grand slam to Robinson Cano in the fifth inning, but a misplay by Ichiro in right field did not help.

It has been  brought to my attention that Franklin Gutierrez should have been called “safe” in the top of the fifth inning. Turns out TV replays showed that Yankees catcher Jorge Posada had the ball in his bare hand and not his glove when he tagged “out” Guti, who was trying to score from second on a hit to right by Adam Moore.

Gee, a mistake by an umpire. What a surprise.

Meanwhile, it is a sad day around the big leagues — Lou Piniella will retire effective today.

His mom, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing at her Tampa home about 15 years ago, is in poor health. She is a pistol and after talking to her for more than an hour, I realized where Sweet Lou got his spunk.

He will be missed.

This just in — they are removing the tarp!! Almost time to Play Ball again!!

– Jim Street
rainy day in ny.jpg

A double-steal (finally) for Ichiro, Figgins

The series opener against the Yankees was not even an out old when we witnessed a first this season.

Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins, who entered the game tied for sixth in the AL with 30 stolen bases, pulled out a double-steal. Yep, none of their previous thefts came on the same pitch.

Russell Branyan, the team leader in home runs, hit his 17th of the season immediately after the double-steal.

In his seven starts since the All-Star Game, right-hander Felix Hernandez was supported by five runs — total.

Branyan’s three-run home run must have knocked Felix’s socks off.

– Jim Street

Let the managerial rumor mill begin

You can count on one thing between now and the moment general manager Jack Zduriencik introduces his next manager — every big-league manager wannabe will have his named mentioned somewhere.

Not surprisingly, it already has started.

Five days into his new job, interim manager Daren Brown has company among those who would like to manage the Mariners going forward.

Surprise, surprise, Bobby Valentine’s has emerged front and center, becoming one of the first to have himself associated with his so-called “dream” job. If memory serves, Valentine has been a candidate for every managerial job opening in the past several years, even when he was in Japan.

Friends of friends of friends of friends of his — some of them in the media no doubt — have made it be known that the Mariners job is one of “great interest” to him.

And, if the Reds are unable to re-sign Dusty Baker to a new contract and Baker leaves — possibly to Seattle, which he always has considered one of his favorite cities, Bobby V. probably would become a candidate there as well.

But getting back to the Mariners, there is little Joey Cora, who was runnerup to Don Wakamatsu almost two years ago. He has no previous managerial experience, but Joey has been Ozzie Guillen’s right hand man for several years now with the White Sox and maybe some of Ozzie has rubbed off on Cora.

You can count on the rumor mill churning out names like Tony LaRussa, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, Alan Trammell, and perhaps even Joe Torre if he decides to leave the Dodgers and, you might recall this guy — Lou Piniella, who has announced that this will be his final year as the Cubs skipper.

No, no, no and no. It will not be Lou.

My guess is that Jack Z will accept every call from a “prospective” candidate, put him on his list of “potential” candidates, allow Brown the opportunity to manage the team the remainder of the season and get down to business finding a “permanent” manager in October, announcing that lucky guy in early November.

But, if you have name in mind as two whom the next Mariners manager should be, send me a note. I’m sure Jack Z doesn’t mind having a looooooog list of candidates..

– Jim Street

Smoak sent to Tacoma, Bradley to DL

The Mariners made some roster moves today, but it had nothing to do with the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

While several other Major League organizations were busy making trades, the Mariners sent rookie first baseman Justin Smoak to Triple-A Tacoma, placed outfielder Milton Bradley on the 15-day disabled list and recalled versatile Matt Tuiasosopo and relief pitcher Sean White from Tacoma.

Smoak’s demotion was the big news of the day.

The 23-year-old switch-hitter was the Mariners’ centerpiece in the six-player trade on July 9 that sent left-handed starter Cliff Lee to the Rangers.

Smoak batted .159 (10-for-63) with two home runs and five RBIs in 16 games with the Mariners. He is batting .198 (59-for-63) with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs overall during his rookie season.

He started the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City where he batted .300 with two home runs in 15 games.

Bradley, suffering from patellar tendonitis in his right knee, has not played since July 26. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Aug. 11.

In 72 games with the Mariners this season, Bradley is batting .205 with nine doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 29 RBI.

With Tui back and in the lineup at third base tonight, I am wondering if Jose Lopez’s days with the team are numbered. He has been a shadow of his former self on offense and it might be wise for the Mariners to trade him — anywhere.

With the Trade Deadline behind us (at least it will be 37 minutes from now) Lopez would have to clear waivers to be traded. I don’t see that being a problem.

– Jim Street

Remembering the Sweet Lou years

The news out of Chicago today that Sweet Lou Piniella would be retiring as the Cubs manager at the end of the season caused a lot of flashbacks at Safeco Field.

Of all the managers I have covered — 20 at last  count — in the past 40 years, Dick Williams (Athletics, 1971-73) and Lou (1993-98) rank at the top as 1 and 1A.

They got the most out of their players and accountability ranked first with both skippers. Play the game the right way or it was the highway, no questions asked.

I had a brief chat with Jay Buhner, who was in clubhouse manager Ted Walsh’s office on Tuesday afternoon during pre-game batting practice. Buhner talked about his 10 years with Lou.

“He was the greatest manager I ever played for, hands down. There was accountability and that’s the one thing I loved about him. He immediately, from the first day he stepped in here, completely turned the atmosphere, approach and mentality around. He changed it and it was well-needed.”

A no-nonsense kind of guy (just ask Rob Dibble), Piniella expected his players to loathe losing as much as he did. He had a good time winning.

“He made it a fun place to come every day,” Buhner said. “Anytime you are coming to a place day in and day out, even though it is a job, and you have fun you don’t think a bout the grind. He made it fun. He had a unique way, even when he was ticked off and was snapping, he had a way of loosening the team up. That was the beauty. He was good at judging character and knew which guys needed a kick in the butt and he wasn’t afraid to do that. He knew the guys that needed a pat on the butt and he wasn’t afraid to do that either. He turned the clubhouse over to a collective group of veterans to police it and he just worried about putting up the lineup and managing the game and he did a pretty damn good job doing it.”

Some of the most enjoyable road trips were those that stopped in New York. Lou was loved by Yankee fans and the love was reciprocated. The only thing better than playing the Yankees was beating them. Oh, he loved to do that.

The Mariners and Yankees had some great series in New York and Seattle during the 1990s — especially after the unforgetable 1995 AL Division Series.

From a reporter’s standpoint, Lou was a gem to cover. He had a plethora of stories about his playing days with the Yankees, many of them about the late George Steinbrenner. I could spend hours at a time listening to those stories and even though he told them numerous times to numerous people, the stories were always the same. Fun and funny is one way to describe him.

And his on the field antics were priceless, as you well know.

“The great thing about Lou was he didn’t hold a grudge,” Buhner said. “I mean, you could go toe-to-toe with him and the next day he would come in and give you a hug. That was legit. Now, he was a little tougher on pitchers and catchers. I don’t know if it holds true with the, but in my experiences with him, it was nothing but a pretty awesome experience.”

I had one of those experiences with him, and he was not exactly “Sweet Lou”.

The Mariners were struggling in 1998 and there were grumblings around town that he could be dismissed as the skipper. So I called team president Chuck Armstrong and he gave me a profound “no way” Lou would be canned. I wrote about it and the next day Lou came up to me and in an expletive-filled blast suggested that if I wanted to write about his job I should talk to him.”

A few hours later, after that night’s game in San Francisco, we had a brief meeting, hashed things out and both a friendship and working relationship picked up where it had been beforehand.

The man most responsible for bringing Lou to Seattle, then-GM Woody Woodward, was at Safeco and recalled the beginning.

“I brought him here because I knew he was a winner,” Woody said. ” And you know what? I think he proved me right. Hes always been a winner. As a player, a hitting instructor, a manager, its always been part of his nature to want to win. He came out here and made believers I think out of the northwest.”

“Lou and I had been good friends for years with the Yankees, and after being out here a while I told him, I said, ‘Lou, all we have to do is put a winner together. We have a good ownership group, and the northwest is going to respond. His comeback at that time was, ‘Are you sure? All the experts back east kept telling him baseball will never make it in the northwest.’ And how wrong were they, and are they? This place, you put a winner on the field, they’ll come out bigtime and they proved it. Thank goodness, that was maybe the one time Lou listened to me. He bought into it, and he was such a big part of taking a very good group of players and producing a winning team out here, no doubt about it.”

– Jim Street

Ichiro, Lee are All-Stars, but King Felix isn’t

A perfect “10″.

That’s one way to describe right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who was selected to the American League All-Star team for the 10th consecutive season. He joins Ken Griffey Jr. as the only players in franchise history to be named to 10 Midsummer Classics.

After leading his outfield colleagues throughout the fan-balloting process through this past Monday, Ichiro ended up finishing second to the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, who had an all-World June, batting .454.

The Mariners also will be represented at the All-Star Game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on July 13 by left-hander Cliff Lee — unless he gets traded before then.

Lee missed the first month of the season, but has been the best pitcher in the AL since his return. His five walks all season are beyond comprehension.

But not selected was right-hander Felix Hernandez, who is definitely deserving, but his 6-5 record obviously worked against him — but not as much as the lousy run support he has received.

Felix told me a couple of days ago that he was hopeful of making the team, but realized that his record was a strike against him.

Meanwhile, this is Lee’s second selection. He represented the Indians in 2008, his Cy Young Award season.

“I’m very proud of both Cliff and Ichiro,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I think they are both deserving and will do a tremendous job representing the Mariners and the American League.

“Both guys work very hard, every day, on preparing to be successful. It is great to see that recognized from the fans and their peers.

“At the same time, I’m disappointed for Felix. I think he’s pitched great, and if we’d given him a little better run support it might have been a different story. I know there are lots of deserving players, but I had hoped he would make it with Cliff and Ichi.”

– Jim Street

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