ST. PETERSBURG -- Lloyd McClendon didn't specifically confirm that Erasmo Ramirez would start again in Monday's series finale with the Rays, but the Mariners manager said Friday that his club would keep its pitchers in rotation and not move anyone up after Thursday's off-day.
The Mariners could have bumped Hisashi Iwakuma up to Monday and kept him on regular four-day's rest, but McClendon said he'll instead give Iwakuma the extra day of rest and pitch him Tuesday against the Yankees, in what figures to be a much-hyped match against Japanese rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka.
The other Mariners starters will remain in their rotation slots going forward into the upcoming homestand, which means Chris Young and Roenis Elias will face the Yankees on Wednesday and Thursday, with Felix Hernandez getting Friday's start against the Rangers.
McClendon was a little evasive on the specifics of Ramirez starting as scheduled on Monday, however, saying only that "we will stay in rotation." Ramirez lasted just three innings in Atlanta on Tuesday after being called up to take Brandon Maurer's spot, and Ramirez is 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA in seven starts on the season.
There isn't an obvious replacement for Ramirez, however. Taijuan Walker will make his third rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma on Monday and could still need at least one more outing after that, having thrown just two innings and 56 pitches in his last opportunity.
James Paxton has been cleared to start playing catch again on Monday, but remains at least several weeks away in a best-case scenario, after his rehab program was halted by a sore shoulder following one start in Tacoma.
One possible solution would be promoting veteran Matt Palmer from Tacoma, as he's been pitching fairly well after a late start to the season due to injuries. Palmer, 35, last appeared in the Majors for the Padres when he pitched three games in relief in 2012. He was 13-5 with a 4.22 ERA in 57 outings -- including 17 starts -- for the Angels from 2009-11 and also started three games for the Giants in '08.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound righty has spent most of his career in the Minors (65-69, 4.05 ERA in 296 games over 13 seasons). Palmer was 6-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 25 games last year for the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque club and is 1-2 with a 2.14 ERA in five starts for Tacoma this season after signing a Minor League contract last winter.
Despite allowing just two hits and one run, Palmer was pulled after three innings and 48 pitches in his last start for Tacoma on Thursday in what could have been a prelude to getting him ready to come back on just three-day's rest on Monday, if needed. That would allow Seattle's other starters to stay in rotation, as McClendon indicated, though Palmer would need to be added to the 40-man roster.
Or the Mariners could stick with Ramirez, who is with the team in St. Petersburg and is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three career outings against the Rays.
Saunders exits early, day to day with shoulder issue
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners right fielder Michael Saunders was taken out of Friday's 4-0 loss to the Rays in the fifth inning after injuring his right shoulder in an earlier at-bat, but said he doesn't believe the situation is too serious.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said Saunders felt an "impingement" in the shoulder while swinging in the third inning and hopes he'll be okay in a day or two.
Saunders went 0-for-2 in his first two at-bats, including a bases-loaded strikeout in the third against Erik Bedard, then was replaced by Dustin Ackley when Seattle took the field in the top of the fifth.
"I felt my shoulder, I don't even know how to really explain it, but I felt it on a swing and it was uncomfortable," said Saunders. "I came in here [to the training room] and did some stuff. We don't expect it to be anything serious; I'm pretty confident in that and we'll reevaluate tomorrow."
The 27-year-old has been one of the Mariners' hottest hitters in their recent surge, batting .356 (21-for-59) with three home runs, 18 RBIs and 11 runs scored over his past 17 games.
Saunders is hitting .280 on the season with four home runs and 25 RBIs.
Left fielder Cole Gillespie moved to right field after Saunders' departure, with Ackley taking over in left.
• With a stretch of 36 games in 37 days and some difficult travel, McClendon continued trying to do what he could Friday to keep his players fresh. Veteran backup catcher John Buck got the start in place of Mike Zunino for the second straight game.
"Zunino is fine. He'll catch probably all three day games [in the next three days]," McClendon said.
• First baseman Justin Smoak was also back in the lineup Friday after being replaced Wednesday by Willie Bloomquist.
"[Smoak has] had two days to rest up and get off that leg," McClendon said. "Hopefully he'll get back on the right path and start swinging the bat the way he's capable of swinging."
• The Mariners will hold a brief pregame ceremony prior to Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. PT game to honor Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as he makes his final Safeco Field appearance in the three-game series from Tuesday to Thursday.
• Going into Friday's series opener, the Mariners were 12-5 over their last 17 road games since April 29, tied for the best mark in the Majors in that span. In those games, the Mariners averaged 5.3 runs per game while the pitching staff posted a 2.91 ERA.