He was a career .287 hitter with a .353 on-base percentage entering this season but is hitting .245 with a .323 on-base percentage with the Mariners.
The Mariners made several roster moves Friday before their game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals at Safeco Field designed to bolster their beleaguered pitching staff, the most surprising being the demotion of outfielder Norichika Aoki to Class AAA Tacoma.
The other moves:
- Left-handed pitcher Wade LeBlanc was selected from Tacoma.
- Right-handed pitcher Donn Roach was selected from Tacoma.
- Left-handed pitcher David Rollins was recalled from Tacoma.
- Right-handed pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen was optioned to Tacoma.
- Right-handed pitcher Adrian Sampson was placed on 15-day disabled list (right flexor bundle strain).
- Right-handed pitcher Tony Zych was transferred to the 60-day disabled list (rotator-cuff tendinitis in his right shoulder).
LeBlanc, 31, acquired earlier this week in a trade with Toronto for a player to be named later, started Friday night’s game.
Aoki, 34, was signed to a one-year, $5.5 million contract in the offseason and has been the Mariners’ everyday left fielder. He was a career .287 hitter with a .353 on-base percentage entering this season but is hitting .245 with a .323 on-base percentage with the Mariners.
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Manager Scott Servais said that while performance was one reason Aoki was sent down, another was that he had options remaining while most of the rest of the position player did not and the team had to make moves to aid the pitching staff.
“We didn’t have a lot of ways to go about this and fortunately he did have options left,” Servais said.
Aoki has also been specifically struggling to hit left-handed pitching, hitting .177 in 79 at-bats. Aoki will have to spend at least 10 days at Tacoma and the team hopes he can use that time to improve on his hitting against lefties.
“He hasn’t done what he normally does, particularly against left-handed pitching,’’ Servais said. “I think that’s one area that needs to get better. Nori considers himself an everyday player and to be an everyday player you have to be able to hold your own against the lefties as well as the righties.
“His numbers against right-handers are very similar to what he has done his whole career. Just haven’t quite seen it from the lefties yet so it’s an opportunity he will take it in the right way, an opportunity to work on some things and be in a position that when our pitching straightens out up here we can bring him back.’
Aoki said he understood the decision and said he “wasn’t really surprised. I haven’t been able to produce like I always do, up to my standards.”
Aoki added that he would “like to emphasize hitting lefties” in Tacoma and said he understands that will be vital for him to return to Seattle soon.
Aoki recently hit a ball off his foot and has been seen limping. But he said that has not bee a factor in his play and said “I feel great.”
Servais said Nelson Cruz will play more in the outfield while Aoki is in Tacoma, which will also get both Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee into the lineup together more often, with one playing first and the other being the designated hitter — the two have been largely platooning this season. All three were in the lineup Friday with Cruz in right field, Lee at first base and Lind the designated hitter, with Seth Smith — who has started 25 games in right field this year — in left, where had started 15.
The team had LeBlanc start Friday night against St. Louis in what was his first Major League appearance since facing the Mariners as a member of the Angels on Sept. 28, 2014.
Roach and Rollins will add to a bullpen that was stressed greatly on Thursday in Detroit when Sampson felt pain in his elbow and could not make the start. Roach will work in a long-relief role specifically, Servais said.
Sampson is being placed on the DL though the nature of his injury remains unclear. Sampson said prior to the game he would likely soon get an MRI on the elbow but that he did not yet know the nature of his injury. Sampson, a Skyline High grad, had Tommy John surgery in high school but said again he does not think this is the same injury.
Servais also said that Taijaun Walker will throw a bullpen session this weekend and that he is “pretty confident based on talking to him” that Walker will be able to make a start next week.
Servais also said Wade Miley was scheduled to throw 55-60 pitches at Everett Friday night which could put him in line to return to the rotation next week (Miley ended up facing 12 batters in four innings, striking out seven).
And he said Felix Hernandez was set to throw from 120 feet on Friday as he continues his recovery from a strained right calf.
“He is progressing very nicely,” Servais said of Hernandez. “Can’t happen soon enough.”
Wilhelmsen pitched an inning against Detroit on Thursday. But Servais said the plan when the team brought him back this week after his release by the Rangers was for him to go to Tacoma.
“He did a nice job for us, came in and threw strikes,” Servais said. “But he hadn’t really been on a mound in about eight or nine days and that was part of the deal when we did sign him (to go to Tacoma).”