Is this the end for veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist?
The Seattle Mariners designated Bloomquist, a South Kitsap High School graduate, for assignment Thursday morning to clear roster space for shortstop Chris Taylor, who returns to the big leagues after a month-long remedial tour with Triple-A Tacoma.
“We just thought Taylor was at a point now where he was playing consistent baseball down there at Triple-A,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.
“I think to a man we all thought he was a better option from a standpoint of fielding and throwing and, at this juncture hopefully, hitting. He has the ability to play a lot of positions.”
Bloomquist, 37, hinted at the move on Twitter prior to the official announcement: “Just want to thank all of you Mariner fans for a lifetime of memories in a mariner uniform.
“Can’t thank you enough for 71/2 memorable yrs!”
Taylor is returning as a utilityman, though he started at shortstop Thursday. McClendon said Brad Miller will remain the club’s primary shortstop. Either way, it leaves little room for Bloomquist, a 14-year veteran batting just .159 in 35 games.
Club officials also believe Bloomquist’s defensive skills have deteriorated. He hasn’t played shortstop since struggling to throw out Jose Altuve on two routine plays on June 12 in Houston.
“It was a very difficult decision to release Bloomquist,” McClendon said. “He’s done so much for this organization and is great in the clubhouse. His work ethic was second to none.
“It’s always tough when you let the good guys go.”
Bloomquist is still guaranteed the balance of his $3 million contract from the Mariners unless he is claimed on waivers. If claimed, his new club will pay the balance.
If Bloomquist clears waivers and signs elsewhere, the Mariners’ portion will be reduced by a pro-rated portion of the major-league minimum salary. He said he hopes to continue his career elsewhere.
Bloomquist was the Mariners’ third-round pick in 1999 and reached the majors in 2002. He left Seattle as a free agent after the 2008 season, signing with Kansas City.
After also logging time in Cincinnati and Arizona, Bloomquist returned to the Mariners on Dec. 13, 2013, signing a two-year deal for $5.8 million. He has a .269/.316/.342 slash (average/on base percentage/slugging) in 1,055 career games.
Taylor spent most of May with the Mariners but was optioned back to Tacoma after batting .159 in 20 games with a .221 on-base percentage and a .206 slugging percentage.
“It was good to go down there and take some pressure off,” Taylor said, “and just go out an play. I was able to stop pressing and just worry about going out there and having some fun again.”
It took Taylor a while to recapture his form following his demotion, but he batted .326 over his last 12 games with a .426 on-base percentage and a .435 slugging percentage.
Taylor batted .287 last season in 47 big-league games and entered spring training matched against Miller in competition to be the club’s starting shortstop.
That competition ended when Taylor suffered a broken right wrist when hit by a pitch in a March 13 game against Milwaukee. He opened the season on the disabled list and did return to action until April 11 at Tacoma.
Rehabbing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma moved a step closer to returning to the rotation by experiencing no problems Thursday in his between-starts bullpen workout.
McClendon said he was fine afterward.
Iwakuma raised concerns when he left Tuesday’s rehab start at Tacoma because of a finger blister, but he experienced no issues with the strained back muscle that forced him to the disabled list in late April.
Barring a setback, Iwakuma appears increasingly likely to rejoin the rotation for Sunday’s series finale against the Athletics. It will require a corresponding space-clearing move to activate him from the disabled list.
The Mariners confirmed the signing of veteran catcher Erik Kratz to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Tacoma.
Kratz, 35, is a six-year veteran who became a free agent when he declined a June 28 outright assignment by Boston to Triple-A Pawtucket after clearing waivers.
He has a .217 average in 180 career games as a backup with four organizations.
Kratz opened the season as the backup in Kansas City but suffered a foot injury that forced him to the disabled list in early May.
He was designated for assignment after returning from a rehab assignment and claimed on waivers by the Red Sox, who then sent him through waivers in hopes of assigning him to the minors.
Because of the various roster moves, Kratz has not played in a game since June 9, when he ended his rehab assignment at Triple-A Omaha.
The Mariners, as expected, reached an agreement with Dominican shortstop Carlos Vargas shortly after Thursday’s start to the international signing period.
Vargas, 16, received a $1.7 million bonus, according to MLB.com, which suggests he is likely to be the Mariners’ only major international signing because their bonus pool is $2,150,300.
Penalties apply for clubs that exceed their pool.
Vargas is the No. 19-rated international player by Baseball America. Many scouts expect him to shift positions, perhaps to third base or the outfield, as his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame fills out.
The Mariners also signed catcher Daniel Santos, another 16-year-old Dominican, for $110,000, according to Baseball America.
The Mariners reinstated outfielder Julio Morban from the restricted list and transferred him to Double-A Jackson from Tacoma.
Morban, 23, was placed on the restricted list May 4 to enable him to deal with a personal family matter in the Dominican Republic. He was batting .175 through 12 games at the time for the Mariners.
▪ The Mariners also shifted Brant Brown, their roving minor-league outfield coordinator, to serve as Jackson’s hitting coach.
The position became available when former hitting Roy Howell replaced Jim Horner as the Generals’ manager. Horner recently resigned to become an assistant coach at Washington State.
TWO PITCHERS RELEASED
Two veteran pitchers were released at their request, the Mariners confirmed, earlier this week from their minor-league contracts: right-hander Justin Germano and left-hander Rafael Perez.
Both pitchers had opt-out clauses in their contracts.
Germano, 32, was 7-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 18 games at Tacoma, including 11 starts. His last appearance was a complete-game shutout on June 28 in a 2-0 victory over El Paso (Padres).
It appears Germano is headed to Korea to play for the KT Wiz in Suwon.
Perez, 33, was on loan to Quintana Roo in the Triple-A Mexican League, where he was 5-5 with a 1.99 ERA in 13 starts.
It was 33 years ago Friday — July 3, 1982 — that right-hander Jim Beattie was named the American League pitcher of the month for June after going 5-0 with a 1.77 ERA in six starts.
He was the first Mariners pitcher to win the award. Mariners pitchers have won it 16 times since Beattie’s award, including four times by Felix Hernandez.
Beattie spent nine years in the big leagues, including seven from 1980-86 with the Mariners. He later served as the club’s farm director from 1990-95.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery finished second to Houston shortstop Carlos Correa as the American League Rookie of the Month for June. ... With Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco coming up one out short of a no-hitter Wednesday at Tampa Bay, Felix Hernandez remains the last American League pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Hernandez pitched a perfect game on Aug. 15, 2012 in a 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay at Safeco Field. There have been 10 no-hitters in the National League since Hernandez’s gem.
The Mariners and Athletics continue their four-game series at 6:10 p.m. Friday at the O.co Coliseum. Left-hander J.A. Happ (3-5, 3.89) will oppose Oakland right-hander Jesse Chavez (4-7, 3.02).