SEATTLE -- As the Mariners fight to stay in contention for an American League playoff berth, their pitching plans remain in flux. And that took a new turn when scheduled starter Mike Leake was scratched from his Tuesday night start against the Astros and replaced by reliever Nick Vincent.Leake has
SEATTLE -- As the Mariners fight to stay in contention for an American League playoff berth, their pitching plans remain in flux. And that took a new turn when scheduled starter Mike Leake was scratched from his Tuesday night start against the Astros and replaced by reliever Nick Vincent.
Leake has been one of Seattle's most consistent starters all year at 8-7 with a 3.90 ERA. Vincent will be making the first start of his seven-year Major League career.
Veteran left-hander Ross Detwiler was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday in Triple-A Tacoma and added to the Mariners' roster to provide a long reliever. He opened the year pitching in the independent leagues and was 2-5 with a 5.15 ERA in 14 games (11 starts) for Tacoma.
Reliever Chasen Bradford was optioned to Tacoma to open a spot on the Major League roster and Tacoma infielder Zach Vincej was designated for assignment to open a 40-man roster spot for Detwiler, who has pitched nine seasons in the Majors with a 23-41 record and 4.36 ERA in 189 games, including 83 starts.
The Mariners were already running short-handed in their rotation, with James Paxton on the 10-day disabled list and not expected back until next week after getting hit in the left forearm by a line drive in his last outing on Aug. 14 in Oakland.
Paxton played long toss and threw some flat-ground pitches to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. prior to Tuesday's game with the Astros, but there's no firm idea yet when the big lefty can rejoin the rotation.
Marco Gonzales, who had his outing delayed three days to give him some recovery time after a trio of rough outings, will start the final game of the Astros series on Wednesday. But manager Scott Servais said the rotation beyond that isn't set yet once the club begins a nine-game road trip to Arizona, San Diego and Oakland starting Friday.
The Mariners have also been going with a seven-man bullpen instead of eight since Robinson Cano's return and one of those seven -- Roenis Elias -- threw 84 pitches in a spot start on Sunday.
Detwiler figures to fill a long-relief role until Elias is ready. If the club stays in order, Wade LeBlanc, Erasmo Ramirez and Gonzales would face the D-backs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday after a Thursday travel day.
But it remains to be seen where Paxton and now Leake might fit back in. The club is also off next Monday before starting a two-game series in San Diego, so that gives the opportunity to juggle the order if needed.
"With the off-days coming up, we have a lot of things going on with our pitching here obviously," Servais said. "We'll get it lined up. Nothing is definite right now. We'll just have to see where Pax is at and with the off-days, what guys we want to get extra days and who we want to keep on normal turn. Nothing is set yet."
Servais said Paxton could advance to a light outing off the bullpen mound on Thursday before the team boards its flight to Phoenix. The 29-year-old is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday, though that seems unlikely.
"We're just slowly ramping it up and seeing how it responds," Paxton said.
Cruz sidelined by back spasms
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz dealt with some back spasms after Monday's 7-4 win over the Astros, so Servais gave him Tuesday off and put Cano in the DH spot. Cano has now played four games at second base, two at first base and one at DH since rejoining the team.
"Nelly wasn't feeling great at all, so we're giving him a day off to let that calm down," Servais said. "He wants to be in there every day. But one of the things with Cano coming back into the mix, it does afford us a chance to give guys a day when they need it."
Nicasio weighing options
Reliever Juan Nicasio, who has been dealing with bone chips and inflammation in his right knee much of the season, faces a decision over whether to have surgery to repair the issue now or wait until after the season.
Nicasio has been on the DL since Aug. 3 and received a second opinion on Monday, but he still hasn't determined whether to try to keep pitching or get the knee cleaned up to give him more recovery time before next season.
"I really am very hopeful he can come back and join our bullpen again," Servais said. "Obviously he's been out a little while and it would take him some time to get his arm strength back. But a bullpen guy, what he does for an inning could be very helpful in September. With the extra guys around in September, you don't have to ride the same guys like you do during the rest of the regular season. I'm talking to him to see if he's up for that."
Iwakuma throws live BP to Ichiro
Veteran right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw 25 pitches in the bullpen and then 20 pitches in a live batting-practice session to Ichiro Suzuki as he continues holding out hope of returning at some point this season.
That hope appears a long shot, given the dwindling time frame, but Iwakuma -- who is working with Seattle on a Minor League contract -- said he's finally making progress after a year which has often felt like "two steps forward and five back."
"I'm still looking forward to coming back as soon as I can, so I'm not thinking about the future now," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I'm trying to see how fast I can recover and come back soon."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.