Seattle Mariners

Mariners’ Romero draws first career start in center field

Stefen Romero hadn’t started in 10 days when he glanced at the Seattle Mariners’ posted lineup card Sunday as he entered the clubhouse.

“I was like, ‘Center field …,’”he said. “ ‘OK, first time. Let’s go.’ 

Romero, 26, had never played center field in a five-year professional career spent bouncing around to nearly every other position. That didn’t matter to Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, who explained:

“The ball goes up, catch it. Throw it back in. It’s that easy. We make too much out of it. If you can catch it in right field, you can certainly catch it in center. If you can catch it in center, you can certainly catch it in left.”

Call it the McClendon Doctrine.

McClendon explained he wanted Romero’s right-handed bat in the lineup against Texas lefty Derek Holland. And that much, at least, paid off handsomely.

Romero started a six-run fifth inning with a double to left.

As for playing center field … let’s call it a push.

Romero made an ill-conceived dive on a Rougned Odor liner in the fourth inning — he didn’t come close to making a catch, and the ball went for a triple. But there’s no guarantee Romero would have cut the ball off anyway.

“It was slicing a little bit,” Romero said, “but at first, I thought I had a good jump. I took that direct angle, and it was either do-or-die for me at that point. It would have been hard to stop and redirect.”

Odor later scored, which tied the game at 2. After the Mariners took an 8-2 lead by scoring six runs in the fifth, James Jones replaced Romero in center for the remainder of the game.

“All in all, it was short-lived,” Romero said. “There’s a lot of ground to cover. It’s a little different, angle-wise, looking straight at the hitter. You’ve got to shift your way around the pitcher so you can see the hitter.

“But I’m ready to do it again.”

CRUZ UPDATE

Nelson Cruz served as the designated hitter for the 10th consecutive game, and there is growing concern that he might not be able to play the outfield again this season.

Cruz, 35, admitted he “can still feel” the pinch of a strained right quadriceps muscle that surfaced Sept. 2 while he ran the bases in Houston. McClendon added that Cruz “still isn’t running.”

The Mariners have 12 games remaining before the season ends Oct. 4.

Cruz was 1 for 2 with three walks in Sunday’s 9-2 victory over the Rangers. He is 11 for 36 (.306) with three homers and six RBIs since returning from the injury.

PITCHING PLANS

If Seattle right-hander Taijuan Walker is to start again this season, it will likely be Saturday against the Angels in Anaheim, California. That decision will likely hinge on how the Mariners perform this week in Kansas City.

If the Mariners (73-77) get to next weekend with .500 still within realistic reach, Walker is likely to get the start. If not, the Mariners are expected to call on lefty swingman Vidal Nuno for another spot start.

The issue with Walker is his workload; he has already pitched a career-high 169  2/3 innings.

The rotation, otherwise, is loosely in place for the rest of the season:

▪ Tuesday-to-Thursday at Kansas City: Hisashi Iwakuma, Roenis Elias and James Paxton.

▪ Friday-to-Sunday at Anaheim: Felix Hernandez, Walker or Nuno, and Iwakuma.

▪ Sept. 28-30 vs. Houston: Elias, Paxton and Hernandez.

▪ Oct. 2-4 vs. Oakland: Iwakuma, Elias and Paxton.

73 AND COUNTING

Franklin Gutierrez’s homer, which capped the sixth-run fifth inning Sunday, was the 73rd of the season by a Mariners outfielder.

That total leads all American League outfields and ranks second in the majors to Washington’s 76.

But it’s far from the franchise record.

The Mariners got 119 homers from their outfielders in 1997, including 54 from Ken Griffey Jr. and 40 from Jay Buhner. (Griffey also hit two homers that year as a designated hitter.)

INTERPERSONAL COMPETITION

The fifth inning produced the latest chapter in the friendly tug of war between Felix Hernandez and former teammate Adrian Beltre.

When Hernandez snagged Beltre’s liner for the final out in the fifth inning, he flipped the ball to Beltre — an act that drew some scorn from the crowd of 33,307 at Globe Life Park.

“I’m just trying to hand it to him so he can give it to the fans,” Hernandez deadpanned. “The crowd got a little upset, but it was just something between me and him.”

Beltre’s response, Hernandez said, was unprintable.

“It’s always fun to face him,” Hernandez said. “He’s a great hitter. I think the last time I struck him out was three years ago. He’s tough.”

Beltre was hitless in three at-bats Sunday against Hernandez, which means he is 11 for 46 (.239) in their head-to-head battles. One thing to watch next year when it resumes:

“If I strike him out,” Hernandez said, “I’m going to do something. And if he hits a homer, he told me what he’s going to do — he’s going to dance like Michael Jackson.”

LOOKING BACK

It was 19 years ago — Sept. 21, 1996 — that the Mariners set a franchise record with their 10th straight victory when they beat Oakland, 9-2, at the Kingdome.

The Mariners hit five homers in the game, including back-to-back-to-back blasts by Alex Rodriguez, Griffey and Edgar Martinez with one out in the third inning against Dave Telgheder.

The 10-game run remained a franchise best until the Mariners won 15 in a row in 2001.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners finished with a 12-7 edge over the Rangers in the season series. It was the first time they won the series since 2009. … Robinson Cano went 2 for 4 and needs three more hits in the Mariners’ final 12 games to reach 2,000 for his career and become the 14th player in history to reach that milestone by the end of his 11th season. … Hernandez was 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA in five starts against the Rangers after going 0-5 with a 5.18 ERA over the two previous years. … Ketel Marte has hits in nine consecutive games and is batting .371 (13 for 35) in that span.

ON TAP

The Mariners have an open date Monday before resuming their final road trip of the season with the first of three games against the Royals at 5:10 p.m. (PDT) Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (8-4, 3.90) will face Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (8-7, 5.55). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.

After three games in Kansas City, the Mariners conclude their trip next weekend with three games against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim.

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