The Mariners made multiple roster moves before Saturday's game with the White Sox. Infielder Dae-Ho Lee and pitchers Dan Altavilla and Pat Venditte were recalled from the minor leagues, while Nori Aoki and Mike Freeman were optioned to Class AAA Tacoma and Tom Wilhelmsen was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
CHICAGO — Dae-Ho Lee walked into the visitor’s clubhouse of U.S. Cellular Field with his interpreter D.J. Park trundling behind him in tow.
He immediately stopped and stood in the middle of the front of the clubhouse, facing all the lockers where several players were sitting, raised his hand and waved, while yelling, “Hi guys” Hi Guys! I’m here! I’m here!”
It’s not your typical entrance after being recalled from the minor leagues. But then again, Lee is anything but typical.
Lee’s return to the Mariners was one of a series of roster moves announced before Saturday’s game against the White Sox. The official moves:
- Dan Altavilla, right-handed, selected from Class AA Jackson
- Dae-Ho Lee, infielder, recalled from Class AAA Tacoma
- Pat Venditte, switch pitcher, recalled from Class AAA Tacoma
- Tom Wilhelmsen, right-handed, placed on 15-day DL (retro to 8/26) with low back spasms
- Norichika Aoki, outfielder, optioned to AAA Tacoma (post-game 8/26)
- Mike Freeman, infielder, optioned to AAA Tacoma (post-game 8/26)
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With Kyle Seager’s bruised foot feeling well enough for him to return to the starting lineup for Saturday night as planned, Freeman was sent back to Tacoma, which was expected. He was with the team only as an emergency infielder with Seager unable to play the past few games.
The decision to option Aoki wasn’t quite as expected.
It might seem somewhat surprising at first glance, considering how well he had been hitting since his previous demotion to Tacoma. After being recalled on July 20, Aoki was hitting .316 (31-for-98) with a .362 on-base percentage, nine doubles, a triple, five RBI and 11 runs scored. But much of that recent success had come against right-handed pitching. Seattle had limited his appearances against left-handed pitchers. Over the next 10 days, Seattle will face at least six left-handed starting pitchers. Aoki’s playing time would have been non-existent.
“It was the toughest conversation,” manager Scott Servais said. “Nori has done an outstanding job since he’s been back here. He’s been a catalyst at the top of the lineup and the offensive production has been really, really good. Just looking where we were at and what was coming down the pike, the next seven, eight to 10 games and the number of left-handers we were going to face, he was going to be limited in the number of starts he was going to get. And we needed pitching. It’s where we are at.”
The Mariners brought in a pair of relievers to take Aoki and Freeman’s place on the roster. Right-hander Dan Altavilla from Class AA Jackson and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte from Tacoma will join the bullpen
Altavilla is a bit of a surprise since he’s wasn’t on the 40-man roster and making the jump from the Class AA to the big leagues. But the Mariners had an open spot after Wade LeBlanc was designated for assignment. Like Edwin Diaz, Altavilla was converted from a starter to a reliever this season. But Servais wouldn’t compare the two.
“I don’t want to put that on anybody,” Servais said. “We certainly didn’t expect for Edwin Diaz to do what he’s done. It’s not fair to anybody to throw those comparisons out. Let’s just let Dan be who Dan is.”
And who is Altavilla as a pitcher?
“It’s fastball, slider, two-pitch guy,” Servais said. “I saw him throw a couple of innings in spring training. It’s a good fastball – four-seam, riding-type of fastball. It will be 93 to 97 mph and the slider has been better some days than others, similar to what he heard about Diaz with that pitch.”
In 43 appearances, Altavilla is 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA and 16 saves. In 56 2/3 innings pitched, he’s struck out 65 batters and walked 22. He found out on Friday afternoon that he was being called up.
“I was at a loss for words,” he said. “What a great feeling.”
Venditte made headlines last season as the first ambidextrous switch-pitcher to appear in the big leagues. Seattle acquired him in a trade from the Blue Jays in August. The plan is to use Venditte in situations where he will face mostly left-handed hitters. He’s made five appearances with the Rainiers, pitching 8 1/3 innings, allowing one run on seven hits with seven strikeouts.
“He gives us a lot of options,” Servais said. “He can face the tough lefties early in the game with what he has and we can flip him around and throw right-handed if we need to. Left-handed isn’t as much velocity. He throws more breaking balls. But he does it with guile and know-how and competitiveness. The reason we acquired him is to help out and come in and get out lefties in the fifth, sixth, seventh inning.”
Lee was able to join the team and negate the 10-day minimum on a minor league demotion because Wilhelmsen was placed on the 15-day disabled list with back spasms. He’s been bothered by back issues the past few days, forcing him to be shutdown for three games. Wilhelmsen pitched a 1-2-3 inning on Friday after the days off, but the back was an issue again on Saturday.
“He felt better and pitched that first game and then it locked up the next day,” Servais said. “It’s something he’s dealt with in the past and was able to work through it, but we really don’t have time with where our bullpen is right now to give him five or six days. I know he’s not crazy about it and understandably so. But we do have to have healthy guys who can pitch.
Lee was placed into the lineup immediately at first base with Chicago pitching lefty Jose Quintana. He’ll see plenty of playing time with the stretch of left-handed starting pitching coming up. Lee has been hitting well since being sent down to Tacoma last week. In six games, Lee is hitting .500 (12-for-24) with three doubles, two homers and six RBI.
“I think the biggest thing with Dae-Ho was to get his confidence back,” Servais said. “He wasn’t swinging the bat well and going down (to Tacoma) allowed him to take a deep breath, regroup. He’s proven he can hit in this league and it’s just a matter of getting the confidence back. He’ll be in there tonight and we’ll see if he can help us.”