Mariners officials downplayed a USA Today story on Tuesday that suggested Ken Griffey Jr. could join the team shortly. Mariners president Chuck Armstrong...

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Mariners officials downplayed a USA Today story on Tuesday that suggested Ken Griffey Jr. could join the team shortly.

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong was quoted in the story saying: “I think everybody in Seattle would like to see him retire in a Mariners uniform. He was born a Mariner and I’d like to see him finish up as a Mariner.”

The story goes on to say that Griffey could be traded by the Cincinnati Reds, rapidly falling out of the playoff hunt in the National League Central, after he hits three more home runs to reach 600 for his career. It speculated that Seattle would be a logical destination, given its hitting woes and previous relationship with Griffey.

Armstrong was attending an owners meeting and could not be reached. But Armstrong did relay information through the team’s media-relations director, Tim Hevly, stating categorically that he was not referring in the interview to any pending acquisition of the onetime Mariners superstar from the Cincinnati Reds.

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Instead, his words were meant to be taken in a broad context, Hevly said, suggesting he could envision Griffey joining the team at some point as a free agent, even if only for a day so he could retire in a Seattle uniform.

Implying anything else could be construed as tampering by a sport that has levied heavy fines in the past to teams that speak openly about acquiring players still with another club.

Hevly said Armstrong was talking to the newspaper about Buzzie Bavasi, the longtime Dodgers executive and father of Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi, who died last week at age 93. It was only later on, he said, that Armstrong was asked questions about Griffey and was quick to say he couldn’t comment other than generally.

A quote in the story, attributed to Armstrong, has him saying: “I can’t say much because he is property of the Cincinnati Reds, but he will always have a special place in my heart and everyone here in Seattle.”

Hevly said he did not know whether major-league baseball officials had contacted the team Tuesday about the story or tampering rules.

Mariners manager John McLaren was asked about Griffey before Tuesday night’s game against Texas.

“Kenny’s always been one of my favorites of the 1990s,” he said. “I can’t comment on it because he’s somebody else’s property.”

McLaren went on to say: “I’m very anxious for when he gets his 600th home run. That’s an accomplishment.”

Washburn’s calf OK

Jarrod Washburn was still sore on Tuesday but said his calf muscle felt as good as he’d hoped and that he’d make his next start. Washburn felt the muscle “pop” late in his win Monday night. It was the same calf he’d torn to end his 2006 season two weeks early.

But there’s apparently a big difference between the two injuries.

“The last time I did it, there was a big hole in there,” he said, adding that he could stick his finger through the hole in the muscle by pressing on it.

The hole is smaller this time and Washburn said a team doctor who examined him before Tuesday’s game told him scar tissue had torn away from the spot of his previous injury.

There was also a ligament in the calf muscle area that might have torn and caused the popping sensation.

“It’s one of those ligaments you really don’t need, so it shouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “I’m going to pitch.”

Mariners manager John McLaren said after the game that he’d spoken to Washburn about his situation and is fairly confident the lefty will take the mound again on Saturday.

Balentien’s popularity

Mariners right fielder Wladimir Balentien says he’s been getting lots of airtime on radio and television, not to mention newspaper write-ups, in his native Curacao since being called up by the team last week. His family back home on the Caribbean island has given him regular updates.

“They tell me a lot of people have been talking about it down there,” said Balentien, who hit his second three-run homer in less than a week on Monday night.

Balentien’s family is planning a visit, but not until June or July.

“They need to get their vacation time first,” said Balentien, whose mother works at a postal substation.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or

For the record

14-20 .412

Streak: L1

Home: 8-8

Road: 6-12

vs. AL West: 9-7

vs. L.A.: 3-3

vs. Oakland: 3-2

vs. Texas: 3-2

vs. AL East: 3-10

vs. AL Central: 2-3

vs. NL: 0-0

vs. LHP: 2-6

vs. RHP: 12-14

Day: 3-7

Night: 11-13

One-run: 1-8

Extra innings: 0-1

Home attendance

Tuesday’s crowd: 15,818

Season total: 416,122

Biggest crowd: 46,334 (March 31)

Smallest crowd: 15,818 (Tuesday)

Average (16 dates): 26,008

2007 average (16 dates): 28,281

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