Felix activated for start vs. Blue Jays

LeBlanc moves to long relief as Seattle employs 5-man rotation

August 24th, 2019

SEATTLE -- With moving back into the rotation on Saturday, the Mariners are shifting veteran southpaw into a long relief role in the bullpen and will stick with a five-man rotation for now, manager Scott Servais said Friday.

Hernandez will be making his first start for the Mariners since May 11 at Boston when he takes on the Blue Jays in Saturday’s 6:10 p.m. PT game at T-Mobile Park. The 33-year-old right-hander has missed 3 1/2 months with shoulder issues, but has thrown four Minor League rehab outings in recent weeks. Hernandez was activated from the 60-day injured list on Saturday morning, and right-hander Zac Grotz was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma in a corresponding move.

“I’m really excited about seeing Felix again,” Servais said. “He’s done what we asked him to do and what he needed to do on the rehab stuff. We’ll see how it goes.”

Hernandez went three-plus innings in his last outing Monday for Triple-A Tacoma, allowing four hits and one run with five strikeouts and three walks on 69 pitches. With time running out on what likely will be his last season with Seattle, the 15-year veteran wants to finish the season with several starts for the Mariners.

“I am very realistic in my expectations,” Servais said. “I’m not expecting him to go seven shutout innings. But I do know one thing about Felix: When he takes the mound, he’s a super, super competitor. It’ll be a little different crowd than we normally get with all the Blue Jays fans here. Felix enjoys those venues, when it’s a little bit fired up in the stands. So I think we’ll get his best effort.”

The Mariners have gone with a four-man rotation since trading Mike Leake on July 31, but promoted rookie Justus Sheffield for his first Major League start on Friday and will keep him and Hernandez in the rotation going forward, along with Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi and Tommy Milone.

Milone will continue pitching behind an opener. But LeBlanc, who also had been used behind an opener for the last few months, will now work strictly as a multi-inning reliever. Servais noted that role could be needed as Hernandez builds up his endurance, with Reggie McClain and Erik Swanson also capable of pitching longer stints if needed.

Worth noting

• Reliever , who has been sidelined since early June with right forearm issues, underwent Tommy John surgery Aug. 15 in New York. He’ll rehab with the team the rest of the season and then shift to his offseason home in Las Vegas.

• Right fielder was being checked out by the Mariners' doctor on Friday after continuing to deal with a stiff lower back. Haniger played three rehab games while returning from a ruptured testicle, but now is slowed by the back issue.

“Fingers crossed, I hope it’s nothing serious,” Servais said. “He’s certainly had enough to deal with this year. But it certainly has slowed him down.”

• Center fielder , returning from a lacerated spleen, will have his rehab assignment transferred to Tacoma on Saturday after hitting .240 in seven games with Class A Advanced Modesto.

• Right-hander threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts Thursday in his first rehab outing for Tacoma as he returns from a right shoulder strain. He’ll pitch again Sunday for the Rainiers, then join Double-A Arkansas for a few outings before returning to the Mariners in September.

• Right-hander threw a strong bullpen session Friday, in his first time off a mound since being shut down last week in Detroit. He’ll throw another bullpen session Monday and likely is targeted for a September return, as well.

• After being skipped in the rotation his last turn, lefty Kikuchi will start Tuesday against the Yankees in what is expected to be a matchup against fellow Japanese standout Masahiro Tanaka.