BRENT STECKER

Mariners’ Scott Servais: Norichika Aoki has work to do to be an ‘everyday player’ again

Jun 24, 2016, 5:58 PM
Norichika Aoki's hitting numbers overall and especially vs. lefties are at career-low levels. (AP)...
Norichika Aoki's hitting numbers overall and especially vs. lefties are at career-low levels. (AP)
(AP)

Sending Norichika Aoki to Triple-A is by no means an ideal situation for either Aoki or the Mariners, but his absence will give some much needed relief to the Mariners’ pitching staff, and manager Scott Servais hopes the 34-year-old outfielder will make the most of his trip to the minors.

“We didn’t have a lot of ways to go about this, and unfortunately he did have options left,” Servais said of the Mariners optioning Aoki on Friday to add an extra arm to the bullpen. “I think where he’s at performance-wise, you know he’s struggled a little bit against left-handed pitching so he’ll go down there. He took the news about as good as he could, and he’ll go down there and work and get his game back to where it’s normally at.”

While Aoki has not played well, hitting a career-low .245 with just one home run, 11 RBIs and a rough 4-for-11 result on stolen bases, he certainly wouldn’t be making his first-career non-rehab-assignment trip to the minors if it weren’t for Seattle’s extraordinary pitching issues.

The Mariners currently have three starters on the DL (Felix Hernandez, Wade Miley and Adrian Sampson) and another dealing with a nagging foot injury (Taijuan Walker), and the rotation’s struggles to get deep into games has taxed the bullpen for weeks. As a result, the M’s promoted a pair of fresh relievers in David Rollins and Donn Roach, traded a player to be named to Toronto for Friday’s starter Wade LeBlanc, and Aoki was the odd man out.

“We just discussed to (Aoki) the situation, where we were at, based on where our roster is at and the veteran players that we do have (that can’t be optioned to the minors),” Servais said. “Where we’re at pitching-wise right now, we needed the extra arms. … What has taken place with the lack of starting pitching depth, (not) getting deep in games, we needed pitching. Tough decisions but unfortunately that’s kinda where we’re at.”

That doesn’t mean Aoki can just expect to be called up when the Mariners feel better about their pitching, though. Servais had some telling words regarding that, pointing at his .177/.244/.190 slash line against left-handers this season – far off from his .304/.360/.375 career numbers vs. southpaws.

“Nori considers himself an everyday player, and to be an everyday player you’ve got to hold your own against the lefties as well as the righties,” Servais said. “His numbers against the right-handers are very similar to what he’s done his whole career, just haven’t quite seen it from the lefties yet. So it’s an opportunity that I think he’ll take it in the right way, an opportunity to work on some things and hopefully be in a position that when our pitching does get straightened up here that we can bring him back.”

Rotation could he healthy soon

On the positive side for Seattle, Servais had promising news about several of its injured starting pitchers on Friday.

• Miley is starting for Single-A Everett in a rehab assignment on Friday, which Servais said was Miley’s choice over a simulated game. Miley is slated to throw 55-60 pitches.

• Hernandez is “feeling good” and “progressing nicely,” according to Servais, and is getting stretched out in his throwing routine. “Can’t happen soon enough, looking forward to getting him back,” Servais said.

• Walker is on track to start a game next week after a bullpen this weekend. “Pretty confident based on talking to him and our training staff (Walker will pitch next week),” Servais said.

• Left-handed reliever Charlie Furbush, who played catch at Safeco on Friday and has been throwing bullpen sessions, is getting closer to heading to the minors to pitch against real competition for the first time since last season.

Notes

• Though LeBlanc hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014, Servais doesn’t have any special limitations on Friday’s starter. “He’ll have plenty of leash,” Servais said through a laugh. “If he’s throwing good, we’ll let him go.” Servais and LeBlanc are familiar with each other from their time together in the Angels organization.

• Roach, who has been starting in Tacoma but performed well out of the bullpen in spring training, will serve in a long-relief role for Seattle.

No starting pitcher.

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