Ichiro's bloop single to center drives in the winning run with two out as Jarrod Washburn allows five hits in seven innings

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If Tuesday indeed turns out to be Jarrod Washburn’s final start as a Mariner, he went out in style.

And as the Mariners ended a four-game losing streak at Safeco Field with a 4-3 victory over Toronto on Ichiro’s first career walkoff hit, there were also strong signals that Jeff Clement’s Mariner career was nearing an end.

Clement, a former first-round draft pick (No. 3 overall in 2005), was removed for a pinch-hitter in the third inning of Class AAA Tacoma’s game at Reno. He reportedly was not injured or ill, and all signs point to his removal as being the precursor to a trade.

Perhaps even a blockbuster. There have been recent rumors that Clement, whose career has stalled in the minors, and another No. 1 Mariners pick, pitcher Brandon Morrow, could be packaged in a major deal. Morrow is scheduled to start today for Tacoma.

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One prevalent rumor had Clement and Morrow going to Cleveland in a three-way deal that could bring Tampa Bay’s left-handed pitcher, Scott Kazmir, who has struggled this year but pitched seven strong innings against the Yankees on Tuesday. The Rays’ top shortstop prospect, Reid Brignac, could also go to the Mariners. Cleveland ace Cliff Lee and perhaps catcher Victor Martinez would go to the Rays in this scenario.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has been burning up the phone lines in recent days, so it’s possible another trade avenue has cropped up — particularly with numerous other contending teams hotly pursuing Lee as an alternative to the Blue Jays’ Roy Halladay. Halladay is scheduled to pitch today against Seattle at Safeco Field.

Sources indicated that Clement’s removal was indeed the precursor to a likely trade.

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said after the game he knew little.

“I just found out [Clement was pulled from the game],” Wakamatsu said. “I’m sitting here trying to get out of a four-game losing streak. If anything happens, I trust our organization in Jack Zduriencik’s hands.

“I don’t know any details beyond [that] he was pulled.”

Washburn added, “I heard it, but I don’t know what it means.”

Washburn, himself at the apex of rampant trade rumors, threw seven outstanding innings, but didn’t get a decision when reliever Mark Lowe couldn’t hold the 3-1 lead Washburn handed him. Toronto scored two in the eighth off Lowe to tie it.

But Ichiro bailed out the Mariners with the first game-ending hit of the 1,953 he’s had in the major leagues since arriving from Japan in 2001.

“I was betting on him,” said Wakamatsu.

The Mariners seemed on the verge of blowing a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the ninth. Pinch-hitter Jose Lopez grounded into a force at home and Ronny Cedeno struck out.

But Ichiro, after an awkward swing on a curve to fall behind 0-2, blooped a pitch at his shoe tops from Toronto reliever Scott Downs into center to bring home Rob Johnson with the winning run.

“I was standing next to Jason Vargas, and the second pitch made him look horrible,” winning pitcher David Aardsma said. “I said to Vargas, ‘He’s just setting him up.’ It was a patented ‘Ichiro drop the bat right at the ball’ swing.”

“He never ceases to amaze me,” Wakamatsu added. “That pitch was about an inch off the ground.”

In seven innings, Washburn limited the Jays to five hits and one run, lowering his earned-run average to 2.64 — just two-hundredths of a point higher than Halladay’s (2.62).

Washburn has now worked at least six innings in 12 consecutive starts.

The four-year, $37.5 million contract Washburn signed as a free agent on Dec. 19, 2005, expires after the season, fueling speculation he will be dealt now that the Mariners have slipped in the playoff race.

“There’s no question, it’s in my mind — all the stuff off the field, all the questions being asked,” Washburn said. “It’s there, but once I’m on the field, it doesn’t come between the lines. That’s the easy part.

“It’s not in my hands,” he added. “If they decide to trade me and think that makes the Mariners better for the future, that’s the direction I’ll go. If not, I’ve already said I’m willing to talk about staying here. We’ll see what happens in the next few days.”

That goes for Clement as well as Washburn.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

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