Seattle Mariners

Hernandez expects to make his next start on schedule

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez comes out of the game after experiencing elbow stiffness in the sixth inning Sunday against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Hernandez said Tuesday that he expects so make his next regularly scheduled start.
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez comes out of the game after experiencing elbow stiffness in the sixth inning Sunday against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Hernandez said Tuesday that he expects so make his next regularly scheduled start. Associated Press

The final word on whether Mariners ace Felix Hernandez will make his next start on schedule will hinge on how his elbow feels after playing catch Tuesday and Wednesday.

But Hernandez still harbors no doubt that he’ll stay on schedule.

Asked whether he could foresee anything preventing him from starting Friday against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, he responded by shaking his head and saying: “It ain’t happening.”

Hernandez exited Sunday’s 9-2 Seattle victory at Texas as a precaution in the sixth inning because of stiffness in his elbow. The right-hander said afterward that it’s “not a big deal,” and that he would “be throwing my next start.”

Still, this is King Felix, so manager Lloyd McClendon remains cautious.

“As we speak, yes, he is (scheduled to pitch Friday),” McClendon said. “He’ll do his normal routine. He will throw. If he’s ready to go, he’ll go. If he’s not, then he won’t go.”

If healthy, Hernandez projects to get two more starts as he pursues several personal milestones: Friday at Anaheim and Sept. 30 vs. Houston at Safeco Field.

At 18-7, Hernandez needs one victory to match his previous career high, set in 2009, and two to become the Mariners’ first 20-game winner since Jamie Moyer won 21 in 2003.

Hernandez also needs 4  1/3 more innings for his seventh consecutive 200-inning season and 15 strikeouts to reach 200 for for a sixth consecutive season.

MORRISON: A NEW POP

First baseman Logan Morrison returned to Seattle in time to be present when his wife, Christie, delivered the couple’s first child.

“He made it,” McClendon said. “He was holding the baby in his arms.”

McClendon reported that Ily Sophia Morrison arrived at 5:44 a.m. Tuesday and that “everyone was doing great.” Morrison relayed the official stats: 8 pounds and 19  1/2 inches.

Morrison is expected to miss a few days on paternity leave.

MUSCLING UP

Franklin Gutierrez, prior to Tuesday, had 15 homers in 146 at-bats, which puts him on pace to join a pretty select group. (Granted, it’s a tough pace to maintain.)

Gutierrez is hitting a homer once every 9.73 at-bats. Only seven other players in American League history, who hit at least 15 homers, produced at a higher efficiency.

OK … we’re playing with numbers here. Only one player on the list had fewer than 317 at-bats. That was Glenallen Hill, who had 16 homers in 132 at-bats (8.25 at-bats per homer) in 2000 for the New York Yankees.

Mark McGwire heads the list with two years at 8.13 while playing for Oakland: 39 homers in 317 at-bats in 1995; and 52 homers in 423 at-bats in 1996.

Babe Ruth is on the list three times, while four other players make it once: Jim Thome, Mickey Mantle, Hank Greenberg and Roger Maris.

PENDING CELEBRATION

The challenge this week for the Mariners is to keep champagne on ice in the Kansas City clubhouse. The Royals entered the series with a magic number of three for clinching the American League Central crown.

Any combination of three Kansas City victories and Minnesota losses will result in the Royals’ first division title since 1985. (A year ago, they reached the World Series as a wild-card qualifier.)

SECOND WIND

Coincidence or not, Kyle Seager is on a tear since getting a one-day break from starting duty on Aug. 27 in Chicago.

Seager entered Tuesday with a .402 batting average in 22 games since that respite, with eight doubles, six homers and 20 RBIs. He also has 10 walks in compiling a .465 on-base percentage and is slugging at a .701 clip.

His overall slash numbers were up to .276/.334/.462. He has already matched a career high with 35 doubles (also in 2012) and needs one more homer to match his career-high of 25 set last season.

MINOR DETAILS

Here’s some hope on the horizon. Two Mariners pitchers selected in the June draft were cited by Baseball America in its list of the 20 top prospects in the Arizona Rookie League.

Right-hander Nick Neidert, a second-round pick, ranked as the No. 6 prospect, and right-hander Dylan Thompson, a fourth-round pick, ranked No. 20. Both were selected after their senior year in high school.

“Neidert is an ultra-competitive strike-thrower,” according to Baseball America, “with excellent command of three pitches and impressive mound presence.

“His 90-92 mph fastball could be a plus pitch in time, and his changeup and curveball should be average offerings.”

Baseball America reported that Thompson “has a better chance to stay in the rotation than other high school pitchers debuting in the (Arizona Rookie League) this year.

“Thompson throws his fastball at 91-92 mph, and his high-70s slider, which has some bite and sweepy shape, projects as an average offering. He also throws a changeup in the low 80s.”

LOOKING BACK

It was 18 years ago — Sept. 23, 1997 — that the Mariners clinched their second American League West crown in three years with a 4-3 victory over the Angels at the Kingdome.

The Mariners got a three-run homer from Jay Buhner in a three-run first inning and held on for a one-run victory behind Randy Johnson, who improved to 19-4.

SHORT HOPS

Manager Lloyd McClendon still isn’t ready to identify a starter for Saturday’s game against the Angels in Anaheim. The likely choices are Taijuan Walker or Vidal Nuno. McClendon said he might announce a choice on Wednesday. … Robinson Cano entered Tuesday needing three hits in the Mariners’ final 12 games to reach 2,000 for his career and become the 14th player in history to achieve that milestone by the end of his 11th season. … The Mariners, prior to Tuesday, led the American League with 217 extra-base hits since the All-Star Game.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Royals continue their three-game series at 5:10 p.m. (PDT) Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Seattle lefty Roenis Elias (5-8, 4.07) returns to the rotation after skipping a cycle and will face Kansas City right-hander Yordano Ventura (12-8, 4.40).

The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.

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