HOUSTON -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has been firm in his support of Abraham Almonte since the start of Spring Training, but the patience may be running out as Almonte was replaced again in center field by Michael Saunders for Saturday's game against the Astros.
Almonte is hitting .198 with a .248 on-base percentage and McClendon moved him to the No. 9 spot in the order Friday. But the 24-year-old went 0-for-3 with a walk and committed two errors, including a costly miss of a high fly in the third inning that led to an unearned run by Felix Hernandez in what turned out to be a 5-4 loss in 11 innings.
Thus Saunders was in the leadoff spot for a third straight game Saturday, even against left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel, and McClendon went with right-handed hitting Cole Gillespie in left and Stefen Romero in right as the switch-hitting Almonte sat out.
McClendon has given Almonte 26 games and 106 at-bats while continually saying he was willing to live with the growing pains because of his belief that the youngster has a high upside, but he acknowledged Saturday that patience has a limit.
"That's why he's sitting, because it's not working," McClendon said. "It's that simple. I don't try to sugarcoat anything. He's not playing because he's not producing. He's not playing up to his capabilities. I said earlier, 'there's one of two ways you can do it. You can play 'em or you can bench 'em.'"
Almonte hit .264 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 25 games last year as a September callup, but has struggled to duplicate that success while being thrust into a key leadoff role in 2014.
"Listen, it's not easy at this level for any young kid," McClendon said. "I've been there and I know it can get tough. Particularly when you're not producing the way you're capable of producing. I'm sure he's not feeling good about things right now."
Saunders had a leadoff bunt single in the sixth inning Friday to kick off a two-run inning as Seattle took a 4-3 lead, but McClendon said it's going to take more for the Mariners to get where he wants offensively.
"Bunting is nice, but I need guys driving in runs, hitting a three-run homer," McClendon said. "When you outscore the other team, you win. It's not bunts. That's all part of it, but I need runs."
Iwakuma activated; Luetge sent down
HOUSTON -- All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was activated Saturday off the 15-day disabled list by the Mariners, who optioned reliever Lucas Luetge back to Triple-A Tacoma to make room on the 25-man roster.
Iwakuma, who missed all of spring with a torn tendon in his middle right finger, will make his first start of the year in Saturday's 1:10 p.m. PT game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Luetge was in his second stint with the Mariners this season. The 27-year-old lefty pitched just once after rejoining the club on April 25, throwing 1 1/3 scoreless innings in a 6-5 win over the Rangers last Sunday.
In three appearances this season, he's allowed one hit and two runs in 2 1/3 innings.
The Mariners had an extra reliever, having added Luetge when Erasmo Ramirez was sent down to the Minors on April 24. With several off days to work around, the club went with four starters for a stretch, but now adds Iwakuma to the mix and will need an extra starter on Wednesday with a doubleheader scheduled at Oakland.
Seattle now has two remaining left-handers in the bullpen with Charlie Furbush and Joe Beimel.
Doubleheader pitching still undecided
HOUSTON -- When the Mariners conclude a nine-game road trip with a doubleheader Wednesday at Oakland, Felix Hernandez will pitch one of the two games. But manager Lloyd McClendon said he hasn't determined yet if his ace will pitch the first or second game and he's not committing yet to the other starter.
The club is expected to recall right-hander Erasmo Ramirez to start one of those games after sending him to the Minors the past two weeks while going with a four-man rotation, which was made possible by a number of off days on the schedule.
Hisashi Iwakuma was activated off the disabled list Saturday to rejoin the rotation, so the Mariners are back to five starters. But they'll need one more for Wednesday's doubleheader and Ramirez could be added without affecting the 25-man roster, since teams are allowed to add a 26th player for doubleheaders.
Ramirez allowed one run with five hits over 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision Friday night for Triple-A Tacoma against Las Vegas. The 23-year-old issued three walks with eight strikeouts while throwing 106 pitches.
"He pitched OK," said McClendon.
Hernandez lasted just five innings and 89 pitches -- his shortest start of the year -- in a 5-4 loss to the Astros on Friday as he was dealing with a flu bug that previously hit catcher Mike Zunino in New York.
Hernandez said he lost nine pounds in two days and didn't have his normal energy in Friday's game. McClendon said no other players have had issues with the illness yet.
"Let's hope this is the end of it," he said.
• Friday's game was just the second extra-inning contest between the Mariners and Astros and Seattle is now 0-2 in those games, losing in 11 innings on Friday and 3-2 in 12 innings in a 2002 contest in Houston.
• While the Mariners have worried about being too left-handed oriented in their lineup, the club has gone 7-3 in games started against southpaws heading into Saturday's game against lefty Dallas Keuchel, compared to a 5-12 record against right-handed starters.