PEORIA, Ariz. – The Tacoma Rainiers have a manager. On Wednesday afternoon, Mariners minor league director of operations Chris Gwynn announced that Roy Howell has been chosen to manage the organization’s Class AAA team this season.
Howell replaces Rich Donnelly, who was originally hired to manage the Rainiers. Donnelly was promoted to the major-league staff to coach third base after John Stearns, who managed the Rainiers for most of last season, decided to step down because of health reasons related to surgery for a hiatal hernia. Stearns was a replacement in Tacoma for Daren Brown, who was promoted to the major-league staff last April to serve as third-base coach when Jeff Datz was diagnosed with cancer.
This will be the first time since 2007 that someone other than Brown has started the Pacific Coast League season as the Rainiers’ manager. He’s now serving as the minor league baserunning and bunting coordinator.
“Roy is a very accomplished baseball guy, both as a player and as a coach,” Gwynn said in a news release.
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Howell was originally slated to be the hitting coach at Class AA Jackson this season. No decision has been made for Howell’s replacement in Jackson.
The past two seasons Howell had been hitting coach in hitter-friendly High Desert. The Mavericks hit .289 as a team last season and scored 827 runs. In 2012, the Mavericks set franchise-highs in nearly every offensive category, including average, hits, RBI and runs scored.
Howell started his coaching career with the Padres organization in 2000, spending six seasons in the minor-league system as a coach. His only managerial experience consists of four years with the San Luis Rattlers in the California Collegiate League from 2007-10 and the 2011 season as the manager for the Road Warriors travel team in the independent Atlantic League.
Howell played in parts of 11 big-league seasons as an infielder, including stints with the Texas Rangers (1974-77), Milwaukee Brewers (1977-80) and the Toronto Blue Jays (1981-84).
Hart kept out of the lineup
The Mariners’ lineup for Wednesday night’s Cactus League game was very similar to what their opening day lineup could be on March 31 in Anaheim with Mike Zunino catching, Justin Smoak at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Brad Miller at shortstop, Kyle Seager at third base, Dustin Ackley in left field, Abraham Almonte in center field and Michael Saunders in right field.
There was a notable exception, however. Corey Hart was out of the lineup for the fourth straight day. Hart has been bothered by a sore right forearm and a stiff lower back the past few days. Manager Lloyd McClendon decided to give him another day off.
“I didn’t want to risk it,” McClendon said. “We talked about it earlier in the spring, we have got to be careful with his progress and that’s why I want to take it slow. He’s been off for over a year. These things are to be expected.”
McClendon said the Tigers had a similar plan for designated hitter Victor Martinez last spring as he came back from knee surgery.
“I know what he’s going through and I know the frustrations he’s going through,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to guide him through it and make it as smooth of transition as I possibly can leading into the season.”
Hart said he feels much better and is ready to get back to playing on a normal basis. After missing all of last season, Hart is still trying to find his feel at the plate. In seven games, he’s hitting .111 (2 for 18) with a double and an RBI.
“I’m sure he’s probably pissed at me for slowing him down,” McClendon said. “He wants it to be there and it will be there. But it’s going to take a little time. You can’t force the process.”
• After failing to execute early in the game, the Mariners did so late on Wednesday for an 8-7 win over the Cubs. Ty Kelly’s winning single to left field capped a wild final two innings of baseball. Down 7-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners got an RBI single from James Jones and a two-run single from John Buck to tie the score. In the 10th, Almonte led off with a single and then advanced to third on a hit and run with Willie Bloomquist.
The Mariners improved to 12-4-1 in Cactus League play.
• Charlie Furbush was scheduled to pitch Wednesday. He hadn’t pitched in a game since March 3. He’d been bothered by some biceps tenderness, but was quick to point out that that is typical during the spring.
“I’m good to go,” he said.
• The team’s pitching probables have changed. Erasmo Ramirez was originally supposed to start Thursday against the Diamondbacks in Peoria. Blake Beavan will make that start instead. Ramirez will piggy back off F
elix Hernandez’s start on Friday in Scottsdale against the Rockies.
• The Mariners television commercials debuted on Wednesday. They feature Hernandez in an assortment of king costumes, Hisashi Iwakuma break dancing and Kyle Seager as an old-school player and person and Robinson Cano in slow motion. The players watched the commercials together before the game.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish