SAN DIEGO -- While most American League managers have their pitchers take batting practice a few days before Interleague road games, Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon has nixed that exercise this year and limited his hurlers to bunting practice in the batting cages.
The Mariners are playing their second Interleague road series of the season with a two-game set at Petco Park, with Felix Hernandez on the hill Wednesday and Erasmo Ramirez on Thursday. Hernandez, Chris Young and veteran reliever Joe Beimel are the only current Mariners pitchers ever to record a Major League hit, as the combined group of Seattle throwers owns a .148 career batting average (43-for-290), a mark helped by Beimel's .222 (10-for-45).
McClendon, a longtime hitting coach for the Tigers, doesn't see the point of having pitchers taking hacks in batting practice and risking injuries in sessions that often turn into informal home run derbies as the participants attempt to see who can launch one over the fence.
"It's not going to help," McClendon said. "I've found, and it's amazing with pitchers, they do better when they don't think about hitting and they just go in there and hack. A lot of times they make it look easy. I try to pass it on to hitters sometimes. Stop thinking. Just see the ball and whack it. Go back to your Little League days when you didn't think about things. Most pitchers are successful when they do that."
But he has no desire for Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and others to go out and swing for the fences in extended BP sessions.
"To me, the risk is not worth the reward," he said. "They're going to hit maybe two or three times a year. It makes no sense."
Jones' havoc on basepaths delights Cano
SAN DIEGO -- Mariners rookie speedster James Jones has made an imprint on games in many different ways in his first two months in the Majors, heading into Wednesday's series opener at Petco Park with a team-leading 11 stolen bases, a .291 batting average and gap-to-gap defense in center field.
But one of the subtle bonuses the 25-year-old provides is his ability to put pressure on opposing pitchers, an attribute noted by teammate Robinson Cano after the Mariners' second baseman slugged a two-run homer in Tuesday's 6-1 win over the Padres at Safeco Field.
Jones singled leading off the fifth inning, stole second and then hustled into third on a wild pitch on a ball that barely got behind catcher Rene Rivera. With Padres pitcher Eric Stults worrying about Jones, Cano proceeded to get a pitch he could hit and drove it into the right-field seats.
Cano said Jones' looming presence on the basepaths definitely played a factor in that at-bat.
"Oh yeah," Cano said with a smile. "When you've got a guy at second base and you know he can fly around the bases, the last thing you want is him to get to third. You could see that ball just right behind the catcher and he went to third base. He changed the game a lot. Because now in that situation the pitcher is trying to be perfect and he left a pitch out over the plate. For me, that's what I want. I want him in scoring position because if you do anything, he's going to score."
And that is just what Jones loves to hear as the youngster from New York looks to find his niche in the Majors.
"It's definitely my goal out there for the other team to focus on me, and hopefully they don't execute their pitches to the batter that's hitting behind me," Jones said. "That's my goal and I want to keep doing that."
But Jones wasn't ready to take too much credit for his well-paid teammate's success.
"Cano is a great hitter," said the rookie. "He's going to look for a pitch he can drive. I'm just happy I got to third so it made it tougher for the pitcher to execute."
Smoak starts rehab assignment at Triple-A
SAN DIEGO -- Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak, on the 15-day disabled list since June 9 with a strained left quad, went 0-for-3 with a walk in his first Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday night as the Rainiers topped Colorado Springs, 4-2.
He is eligible to rejoin the Mariners next Wednesday, and manager Lloyd McClendon indicated Smoak likely would be ready by that time.
"The leg is feeling good," McClendon said. "He will DH the first day or two, then get out in the field. He just needs to build his at-bats back up and then we'll get him back up here. I don't foresee this being a 20-day thing with Justin Smoak, no."
Right fielder Michael Saunders (inflamed right shoulder) and designated hitter Corey Hart (strained left hamstring) will likely begin their own rehab stints Friday with Tacoma, McClendon said.
Saunders, who is eligible to return on June 26, had been limited to swinging in the cage until getting the green light to take batting practice on the field prior to Wednesday's game with Colorado Springs.
Hart is on a slower timetable as he's been out since May 19 and already had been operating on a short spring while coming off a full-season layoff last year following a pair of knee surgeries.
"Hart will DH mainly to start off, get him going again, get his legs under him, then eventually play some first base and outfield," McClendon said. "Obviously when he comes back here, I want him swinging the bat well. But he needs some at-bats. He's been out a significant amount of time. It's not that easy up here. He's got to get some at-bats and get himself going again. And once he's ready, we'll bring him back."
• Hisashi Iwakuma again just played flat-ground catch instead of throwing off the bullpen mound Wednesday for his between-game session due to a sore neck, but manager Lloyd McClendon said the right-hander remains on line to start Friday in Kansas City.
"He's progressing," McClendon said. "It's better every day. Not 100 percent, but he's better."
• Kyle Seager had eight RBIs in the final three games of the recent Safeco Field homestand. The Mariners are 19-6 in games when Seager has had an RBI this season.