Seattle Mariners

Mariners notebook: Jackson starts rehab assignment at Tacoma

Start the rehab clock on Seattle Mariners outfielder Austin Jackson, who began a minor-league rehab assignment Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma against Las Vegas (Mets) at Cheney Stadium.

Jackson suffered a sprained right ankle May 3 while running out a ground ball in third inning of a 7-6 loss at Houston. He tested his recovery from the ankle in recent days through an increasingly strenuous series of drills.

Rehab assignments can last up to 20 days for non-pitchers, but Jackson is expected to return within a week. He is eligible for activation as soon as Tuesday’s series opener at Baltimore.

“We’ll see,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “One thing I want is I want him swinging well when he comes back.”

Jackson, 28, was batting just .242 through 25 games at the time of his injury but had started 23 of 25 games in center field.

The Mariners face an interesting roster decision when they activate Jackson.

Do they send utilityman Brad Miller to the minors to hone his outfield skills or jettison a veteran such as Dustin Ackley, Willie Bloomquist, Justin Ruggiano or Rickie Weeks?

MORE IN THE TANK?

Right fielder Nelson Cruz is on pace, through Friday, to win the Triple Crown. Coming into Saturday, he led the American League with 15 home runs and a .358 average and was tied with Tumwater resident Stephen Vogt of the Oakland Athletics for the RBI lead with 30.

But the best, McClendon contends, is yet to come.

“Really, to be truthful,” McClendon said, “I don’t think he’s gotten hot to the point where it’s just ridiculous. He’s grinding at-bats out, and he’s getting his hits. He’s going the other way.

“If they make a mistake, he hits it out. I’ve seen him to the point where he gets hot, and he hits good pitches out of the ballpark. That hasn’t happened yet.”

Cruz initially offered a blank look when told his manager believes he can be even more productive. Then he brightened into a smile and said, “Sure. Yeah.”

SURGING ROTATION

Entering Saturday, the Mariners made it 10 consecutive games of having their starting pitcher allow three or fewer earned runs. J.A. Happ limited the Red Sox to one run in seven innings Friday night.

The rotation has a 2.27 ERA during that span with 16 earned runs in 631/3 innings. The recent surge lowered the unit’s season ERA to 3.97, which ranks sixth among the 15 American League clubs.

The Mariners’ rotation had a 3.48 ERA at the end of the 2014 season, which ranked third in the league behind Oakland and Tampa Bay.

PITCHING PLANS

The open date Monday isn’t likely to affect the Mariners’ rotation. The tentative plan is to roll the cycle through the upcoming road trip.

Barring a change, that means Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and J.A. Happ will face the Orioles on Tuesday through Thursday in Baltimore. The Orioles have yet to announce their rotation plans.

Felix Hernandez and James Paxton are slotted to start the first two games next weekend against the Blue Jays in Toronto before Walker returns for the May 24 series finale.

That lines up Elias, Happ and Hernandez to face the Rays from May 25-27 at Tampa Bay.

LOOKING BACK

It was 22 years ago Sunday — May 17, 1993 — that Spanaway’s Mike Blowers became the 13th player in history to hit grand slams in consecutive games when he connected against Craig Lefferts in a 16-9 victory at Texas.

A day earlier, Blowers hit a grand slam against Bobby Witt in a 7-0 victory at Oakland.

Blowers batted .420 with the bases loaded over the course of his 11-year career with seven homers and 92 RBIs in 81 at-bats.

Note: The Mariners have not hit a grand slam in their last 131 opportunities, dating to Sept. 28, 2013. It is the second longest drought in franchise history behind 133 opportunities spanning from 1979-81.

SHORT HOPS

James Paxton enters his start Sunday with a streak of 12 scoreless innings over his previous two outings. ... The Mariners recorded their third walk-off victory Friday when Nelson Cruz delivered a two-out RBI single that beat Boston 2-1. Seattle had only two walk-off victories in 2014. ... Cruz has two of those walk-off hits. He also had a single on April 19 that beat Texas. He has eight game-winning RBIs in his career. ... Robinson Cano’s first-inning double in Friday’s game was his 200th career hit against the Red Sox. That is his second-highest total against any opponent. He has 211 against Baltimore. ... Cruz’s 15 homers through the Mariners’ first 35 games matches a franchise record for that span. Ken Griffey Jr. also had 15 in the first 35 games in 1997.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Red Sox conclude their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Lefty James Paxton (1-2, 4.31 ERA) will pitch against Boston right-hander Steven Wright (1-0, 4.22).

The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710-AM and 97.3-FM.

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