7/5/2014 7:46 P.M. ET
Jones providing much-needed speed atop lineup
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Since Ichiro Suzuki's departure in 2012, the Mariners haven't had a consistent basestealing or speed threat at the top of their lineup.
Outfielder Michael Saunders led the club that year with 21 stolen bases, and Saunders topped the team with 13 last year in a season when the Mariners set a franchise-record low with just 49 for the entire 162-game campaign.
But rookie center fielder James Jones has provided an influx of speed since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma, and it seems to have helped ignite a Mariners team that is 33-24 since his arrival on May 6.
During that span, Jones is second in the American League with 17 stolen bases (in 18 attempts), fifth in the league with four triples and 10th in runs scored with 34. The 25-year-old has hit .279 (60-for-215) while batting mostly first or second in the lineup this year.
After stealing two bases in their 3-2 win over the White Sox on Saturday, the Mariners have 47 stolen bases in their first 87 games, just four shy of last year's 162-game total. They're still only 10th in the American League in that category, but that's a jump from 14th last year when they finished only ahead of the Tigers.
Manager Lloyd McClendon feels Jones will be an even bigger threat on the bases once he gets to know opposing pitchers. For now, the coaching staff gives the youngster a lot of help on when best to go or not when he's on first, though Jones also has stolen third several times on his own.
"If he's doing a high leg kick, I try to go," Jones said. "If it looks like he's not paying attention and is just trying to get strikes, I'll try to get to third so it makes it hard for him to execute his offspeed. It depends on the situation. I feel like if it makes the hitter get better pitches, I'm going to take that risk. If we're up one run and a hit is going to score me regardless, I'll play it safe."
McClendon not worried about A's trade
CHICAGO -- While the A's made a big move to improve a team already leading the American League West on Friday night with the acquisition of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said his club needs to continue on its own path in what quickly has turned into one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
"Obviously those are two fine young pitchers and they did a nice job of pulling that one off," McClendon said prior to Saturday's 3-2 win over the White Sox. "They're a good team. Their record indicates that and they've gotten better. I don't think that really changes anything as far as we're concerned. We just have to continue going about our business and doing what we do."
The Mariners have been one of baseball's biggest surprises with their 48-39 start, and they were 5 1/2 games back of the A's in third place in the AL West before Oakland's game Saturday. The Angels (49-36) and Mariners currently are in position as the two Wild Card teams with nearly half a season to go.
"We're playing good baseball and we've got a chance to do something, and we'll see how it works out," McClendon said.
With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline looming, there will be plenty of speculation and some actual deals that take place in the coming weeks. The Mariners certainly would be interested in acquiring a right-handed bat to help their lineup, with White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo one possibility being mentioned already in the rumor mill.
McClendon said he and general manager Jack Zduriencik are always discussing possibilities, but he knows it's not an easy process.
"Jack and I talk every day about ways to improve our club," McClendon said. "But you have to understand, it takes two to tango. It has to make sense. This organization has a bright future. We have a tremendous Minor League organization with a lot of good prospects. And I don't think Jack or upper management is ready to sell the farm, so to speak, for rental players. And I don't blame them. I wouldn't do that either.
"It has to be the type of trades that make sense for this organization and continue to move us in the right direction. Do we have challenges? Yeah. Are we trying to fix them? Yeah. But we'll just see."
McClendon said the number of teams still feeling they're in contention makes for a tight trade market.
"The problem we have now is the second Wild Card," he said. "There are so many teams still involved and nobody is willing to make those trades. So it makes it very difficult because teams consider themselves still in it, and probably rightfully so. We have to be very intelligent about what we do and how we go about our business."
Mariners awaiting All-Star announcements
CHICAGO -- Both the American and National League All-Star teams will be announced Sunday on an hour-long show on ESPN starting at 4 p.m. PT, and the Mariners figure to have between two and four players selected.
Robinson Cano has been the leading vote-getter among fan balloting at second base and appears to be a shoo-in to land his fifth straight starting spot and sixth overall selection, while Felix Hernandez is on track to be selected for his fifth All-Star Game as he's put together the best first half of his outstanding career.
Closer Fernando Rodney also figures to have a good chance to land his second All-Star berth, while third baseman Kyle Seager is more of a long shot for his first All-Star bid despite putting up some of the best numbers in the league at his position.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon understands how difficult the decisions are for the reserve spots on the team, with 15 clubs needing to be represented by at least one player on the 34-man squad. Red Sox manager John Farrell has that chore this year after taking his team to the 2013 World Series, but McClendon was part of the process last year when Tigers manager Jim Leyland did the duties.
"When we went through that process last year, we were in Toronto in his room 'til probably 2:30 at night trying to figure out that roster," recalled McClendon, who was the Tigers' hitting coach. "It's not an easy process and I don't think people really appreciate what that manager goes through in trying to pick that team. He doesn't take it lightly."
Which is why McClendon is realistic about his young third baseman's chances.
"Seager is well-deserving," McClendon said. "Is there a chance he'll be left off? Of course there is. That's just the way it is. There are a lot of good players that get left off that roster and it's not a slight to them. It's just a tough process."
The skipper did sound as if he'd be surprised if Rodney and his 25 first-half saves weren't rewarded.
"It'd be pretty tough to leave him off," McClendon said, "but you never know."
• Utility man Willie Bloomquist made his third start of the season in left field on Saturday as McClendon looked to get another right-handed bat in the lineup against White Sox lefty Jose Quintana. With Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie no longer on the squad, the Mariners have only four left-handed hitters, plus right-handed DH Corey Hart, who can play the outfield along with Bloomquist.
• McClendon said rookie left-hander James Paxton was feeling fine Saturday after throwing a 52-pitch bullpen session on Friday.
"He threw the ball extremely well. It was very good news yesterday," McClendon said. "He continues to progress and hopefully he'll be back soon."
• Gillespie was claimed off waivers on Saturday by the Blue Jays after being designated for assignment by the Mariners on Friday. The 30-year-old hit .254 in 34 games for Seattle before being released when Corey Hart was activated off the 15-day disabled list.