ATLANTA -- The Mariners signed Willie Bloomquist to a two-year deal in free agency because of his versatility, and the veteran utility man found himself at first base Wednesday for the first time in four years to give sore-legged Justin Smoak a day off.
Bloomquist last played first base for the Royals in 2010 and hasn't started a game at that position since '04, when he did so 11 times for the Mariners in his first stint with the club.
After hitting .250 through April, Smoak has batted just .185 in the past month -- including 1-for-10 on the current trip -- as his average has dropped to .212.
"Just giving my first baseman an extra day off," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's got a tight quad and probably a little fatigued. Instead of one day, we'll give him two [with Thursday's off-day]."
McClendon said the quad has been bothering Smoak for "quite a while," as the big first baseman was the only Mariner to have played in each of the team's first 58 games.
"I think fatigue has something to do with that," McClendon said of Smoak's extended slump. "This will give him a chance to freshen up, and hopefully that will quicken his bat up a little."
With Smoak out and the Mariners facing left-hander Mike Minor, McClendon put rookie right fielder Stefen Romero at cleanup a day after he hit a three-run, pinch-hit homer. Kyle Seager dropped down to fifth to avoid three straight left-handers batting against a lefty starter.
"Somebody has to be there," McClendon said of his cleanup spot. "We have to fill the lineup out. There's no significance to it, trust me. Somebody has to hit four. I don't have Bonds, so it's going to be Romero."
Seattle trainer Griffin reaches 5,000-game milestone
ATLANTA -- For Mariners trainer Rick Griffin, the goal is always to keep players on the field for as many games as possible. And Griffin has done his job so well that he worked his own 5,000th game on Wednesday, a span covering 32 of the franchise's 38 seasons.
Griffin, 58, started with the Mariners on April 5, 1983, and he remains just the second head trainer in team history. His 5,000th game came Wednesday against the Braves at Turner Field. In that span, he's worked with exactly 700 different Mariners players.
"I've been blessed to be able to have this job," Griffin said, sitting in the Mariners' dugout. "I love what I do and I've been blessed to be able to stay in the same place and work with the same management group pretty much the whole time. It's something I'll look back on when I get older and realize how special it was."
When Griffin started, he was the Mariners' lone trainer for his first seven years. Now he works with three assistant trainers and says he's as busy as ever in the growing field of sports medicine.
"It's completely changed," Griffin said. "I look back now and wonder, 'How did I ever do that and how did the players put up with only one trainer?' Because now players get a lot of individual attention and quality treatment when they need it. The biggest change is the players understand their bodies now, they're educated and they understand nutrition and conditioning and weightlifting.
"When I started, people were afraid to go in the training room, and that's probably why you only needed one trainer. When they went in there, they thought management would find out and they'd get traded or released or sent to the Minor Leagues. Now players come into the training room because they understand that's part of keeping them on the field."
Griffin said the most important part of his job is earning players' trust so they communicate freely about injuries. He said he still gets calls from Ken Griffey Jr. and other former players asking advice on injuries and aches and pains.
And, yeah, one of his favorites remains Jay Buhner, who spent more time in the training room than anybody because of his hard-charging style of play.
"He should have had his locker in the training room, because he lived in there for 14 years," said Griffin. "But I admired and respected that, because he did whatever he needed to do to get out on the field. He'd show up at 1 in the afternoon for a 7 o'clock game and do six hours of therapy and treatment so he could play that night. He wasn't afraid to do that, and he did it for years and years."
And Buhner did it with Griffin's help, along with every other player to don a Mariners uniform in the past 32 years.
Walker's shaky rehab outing gives Mariners pause
ATLANTA -- With right-hander Erasmo Ramirez struggling through a three-inning start Tuesday after being recalled to replace Brandon Maurer, the Mariners continue searching for answers to their fifth spot in the rotation.
Taijuan Walker, Seattle's prize prospect, also struggled in a two-inning rehab start Tuesday for Triple-A Tacoma. The 21-year-old right-hander threw 56 pitches while walking four and hitting a batter.
Walker has yet to pitch in the Majors this season after dealing with a sore right shoulder for much of the spring. He's 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two rehab starts for Tacoma after giving up just one run and one hit Tuesday, but dealing with control issues in El Paso.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said he would have a discussion with general manager Jack Zduriencik later Wednesday about who will start Monday's final game of the upcoming series at Tampa Bay, which currently would line up as Ramirez's next start.
"Taijuan didn't throw very well," McClendon said. "I'll talk to Jack today and see what happens. We've got an off-day tomorrow and a chance to rest some guys, and then we'll see where we go from there."
Hisashi Iwakuma could throw Monday on normal rest thanks to the off-day, but that would only delay the need for another starter until Tuesday, when Seattle opens a three-game series with the Yankees at Safeco Field.
Walker clearly isn't the answer yet, as McClendon said he'd still need one or more rehab starts to get ready.
"My understanding is he's healthy, he just pitched [poorly]," McClendon said. "That's the way it goes."
The Mariners are also waiting on rookie southpaw James Paxton, who is in Seattle rehabbing a sore left shoulder after his own Tacoma rehab process was halted after his first start following a six-week absence due to a strained left lat muscle. Paxton hasn't started throwing again yet, however, and he's going to need to build strength back up as well once he's cleared.
"He's progressing well. No setbacks," McClendon said. "We'll see where he is when we get home."
• Designated hitter and first baseman Logan Morrison hit his second home run of his rehab assignment with Tacoma in the Rainiers' 13-4 win at El Paso on Tuesday as he returns from a strained right hamstring. Morrison is hitting .286 (12-for-42) in 11 games.
"He needs to play," McClendon said. "Get him in a groove and get him going. Ten at-bats is not going to do it. He's got to play. He's been out quite a while. And the fact is, he was hitting [.150] when he got hurt. Let him play and see what happens."
• Going into Wednesday's game, outfielder Michael Saunders had racked up 18 RBIs in 15 games since May 17, tied for the second most in the Majors in that span behind the 20 of Edwin Encarnacion. Ryan Howard and Nelson Cruz also had 18 RBIs in that stretch. Saunders has hit .340 with a .997 OPS in his last 15 games.
• Seattle's plus-28 run differential since the start of May is fourth in the Majors behind only Oakland (plus-59), Toronto (47) and San Francisco (36).
• Romero's pinch-hit homer on Tuesday was the first by a Mariners rookie since Jeff Clement on Sept. 26, 2007, and the 11th in franchise history. Other Seattle rookies with pinch-hit homers are Adam Jones (2007), Greg Dobbs ('04), Greg Pirkl ('94), Bill Haselman ('93), Griffey Jr. ('89), Bruce Fields ('88), Dave Hengel ('87), Reggie Walton ('80) and Joe Simpson ('79).