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Mariners enter offseason with fewer areas of need

McClendon, Zduriencik excited to build on 16-win turnaround from 2014

Mariners enter offseason with fewer areas of need

SEATTLE -- Lloyd McClendon would love to be heading to work at the ballpark on Wednesday instead of flying home to Indiana to begin his offseason, but the Mariners manager knows how far his club came this year and is already brainstorming ways to get better in 2015.

McClendon and general manager Jack Zduriencik met with the media Tuesday for a season wrapup. They expressed frustration over finishing one game shy of Seattle's first playoff berth since 2001, pride in the 16-win improvement that was made this year and a commitment to doing whatever is needed to take that next step.

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"The day the season ended, I was excited about Spring Training and the possibilities because we do have a lot of pieces in place and we have a lot of questions that were already answered," McClendon said. "There are a lot more things we can concentrate on as far as getting this club ready. I've said it time and time again this year, we're a little challenged offensively and Jack is committed to going out and acquiring the pieces we need, and we'll see how that fits in as the spring goes. But I'm really excited about next year."

Zduriencik said he had not had a sit-down meeting with CEO Howard Lincoln to discuss an exact 2015 payroll, but that Lincoln has already indicated the budget will increase. That's critical for a club with two high-ticket players already on board, with Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano each owed $24 million next year, and a number of players figuring to get increases in the arbitration process.

"We'd like to add some offense and a starting pitcher," Zduriencik said. "We'll explore every option."

McClendon acknowledged that designated hitter is an obvious place to upgrade after veterans Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales both struggled in that role. He said the biggest priority is finding a right-handed bat to plug in behind Cano in the cleanup spot.

Does he feel the lineup is one hitter away from turning the corner?

"I'll take three or four," McClendon said with a smile. "If you look at real good lineups, you're taking about three, four, five, six that are very legit, and we've got to get to that point. I'm looking for at least two bats."

The club is set at far more positions going into next season, with Cano at second, Kyle Seager at third, Mike Zunino behind the plate, Dustin Ackley in left and Austin Jackson in center. McClendon feels Jackson is a much better hitter than he showed in his two months in Seattle and needs to get stronger physically as well as work on some swing mechanics that got out of whack.

McClendon also said shortstop is wide open between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller, indicating that Miller could be an option as a super utility player after showing excellent natural instincts working in the outfield late in the season with outfield coach Andy Van Slyke.

Logan Morrison intrigues McClendon as well with his strong second half, though first base, the corner outfield spots and DH were mentioned as the most-logical target areas for an offensive upgrade. But again, those needs are far more refined now.

"Last spring we didn't know who our left fielder, center fielder, right fielder, first baseman or shortstop were going to be," McClendon said. "We have a lot of those answers now. I like where we are. I think we're going to be able to accomplish some more specific things in Spring Training."

Prospect D.J. Peterson, the club's 2012 first-round Draft pick, had a strong year in Class A and Double-A and will be given a chance to compete at first base in the spring. And the addition of Cano and dramatic improvement of the club's win-loss record could change veteran free agents' perceptions of Seattle this winter.

Convincing pitchers to come to Seattle has never been a problem with the advantages of Safeco Field, and the Mariners will pursue at least one veteran starter to slide into a rotation that returns Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker, with Chris Young hitting free agency following his outstanding comeback season.

Zduriencik said he'd wait and see on Young's situation, as well as all the free agents. Reliever Joe Beimel has indicated a strong desire to return, and that interest is mutual as the Mariners' bullpen led the Majors in ERA and has nearly all parts returning.

Both Zduriencik and McClendon indicated Tom Wilhelmsen most likely will remain in the bullpen, though that will be discussed over the offseason. Danny Hultzen threw well in Arizona on Tuesday and is expected to be ready by next spring, though he can't be counted on as a legitimate rotation candidate after missing all of 2014 with shoulder surgeries.

For the most part, it appears a far different offseason from last year, when Zduriencik was hiring a new manager and staff and looking to fill numerous roster holes. The puzzle now is mostly filled in, with just a few specific pieces to target.

"That's what we've been building for, trying to get to a place where your core group is in place and now you're picking and choosing as opposed to trying to put together a whole ballclub or whole bullpen or whole staff," Zduriencik said. "We're in a better position now than we've ever been."

"We improved 16 games in the win column," said McClendon. "Not many teams do that. From that standpoint, it was quite remarkable. But you look and analyze and realize you could have been better in some areas. You have to try to clean it up, because one game hurts. One game here or there and we could be playing tonight. It's bittersweet.

"We're not satisfied with the year we had. We're pleased with the improvements we made. But in the end, we want to win a World Series. And I think everyone would agree this organization is headed in the right direction."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Hultzen throws well in instructional league finale

Lefty misses 2014 to shoulder surgery; shut down until Spring Training

Hultzen throws well in instructional league finale

SEATTLE -- Left-hander Danny Hultzen, who missed the season following rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder, threw well in his third instructional league outing of the past few weeks on Tuesday and will be shut down until next spring, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.

Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft, had major shoulder surgery exactly one year ago on Oct. 1 and spent all this season building his arm back up and rehabbing at the Mariners facility in Peoria, Ariz. He capped off that effort with a 25-pitch outing in a game against young prospects in front of many of the Mariners' top baseball people, and reports were positive.

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"They said it was really impressive," Zduriencik said. "He feels really good and is now shut down. He's finished for the fall. He showed an average fastball, really good curve and changeup. He was confident and his delivery is sound. So he'll go home and come back in January and be ready for Spring Training."

Will the 24-year-old be full go at that point?

"He should be," Zduriencik said. "We were real cautious. There was some talk of putting him in the Fall League, but we're going to back off a little. This kid has been through a lot this year. The fact he's been on the mound in instructional league is enough. There'll be a challenge for him next year regardless of how he reports physically, where is he going to be innings-wise after missing a whole year like this."

Manager Lloyd McClendon is maintaining a conservative approach, knowing the youngster threw just 35 2/3 innings in 2013 and then missed all of this season. But he's encouraged by the news as well.

"I'm excited about him," McClendon said. "And we'll see going into spring. Listen, is he going to make this club next year? Probably not. But is he on his way back? Yeah. And that's exciting because this young man is as good as any of them when he's healthy. We just have to get him back to that point where he can go out and compete every five days.

"We're not counting on him, no. But having said that, it's going to be pretty exciting to see him out there on that mound, no question."

In other Mariners postseason news:

• None of the club's Major League players are expected to need any surgeries heading into the offseason, though outfielder Dustin Ackley will be seeing a specialist to determine what might be done to help his troublesome left ankle. McClendon said outfield coach Andy Van Slyke will be having surgery to repair a knee issue that forced him to the bench in the final months as Chris Woodward took over as first-base coach.

• Left-hander Roenis Elias is doing fine after being shut down late in the season with some elbow soreness. He'll spend the offseason at his home in Texas and do the normal throwing program before reporting to camp next spring.

Taijuan Walker will pitch a few games in the Arizona Fall League, but James Paxton won't throw competitively this offseason after returning for the season's final two months, Zduriencik said.

• McClendon said his entire coaching staff will be returning next year. John Stearns, who stepped down as third-base coach just prior to Spring Training after having hiatal hernia surgery, will remain in the organization in a scouting role, according to Zduriencik.

• Butch Baccala, the national cross-checker involved in the Jesus Montero incident in September, has been dismissed by the club. Devitt Moore, who was working as an area scout for the Mariners this season, will be promoted to take Baccala's position.

• Montero returned to the 40-man roster Monday as he was taken off the suspended list. Zduriencik said Montero will spend the offseason in Arizona with his wife and child.

"He's there now going through a program that should help him in many areas, on the field and off," Zduriencik said. "He'll be at the complex every day. He's working out twice a day right now and will be under our supervision most of the winter. Hopefully the negative here turns out to be a positive."

Zduriencik said about 10 young Mariners will likely play winter ball in Venezuela. He doesn't expect Montero to be one of those, "but let's wait and see. There's other issues we need to deal with there first."

• Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who spent the past year on the club's restricted list, has expressed some interest in returning.

"He's in Florida, working out. He has some interest in coming back next year. We're going to talk to him and we'll see what happens," Zduriencik said. "He left in a good frame of mind. We'll have to see where it's at, but he's spoken to our guys more than once about his desire in coming back next year. It would be as a non-roster player."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners set sights on postseason run in 2015

Returning core gives Seattle reason to hope for October baseball next season

Mariners set sights on postseason run in 2015

SEATTLE -- After achieving just their third winning season in the past 11 years, the Mariners have raised the stakes for 2015. And that's exactly what manager Lloyd McClendon hoped to accomplish when he took over as Seattle's skipper last winter and set about changing the franchise's direction.

Adding Robinson Cano to a young nucleus last year did wonders for a club that chased its first postseason berth since 2001 all the way to the final day of the season. There are now far more pieces in place going forward and a firmer idea of what it'll take to make the postseason a reality.

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The Mariners sent a message this past year by bringing in Cano and should have an easier sales pitch now as they pursue the type of talent that can make that final difference as free agents know the club will be competitive in the tough American League West.

"I think it gave us that instant respectability and it certainly opened up the doors, particularly with the success we've had this year, where other guys will be interested in coming to this organization," McClendon said of Cano's impact. "And a lot of that should be credited to him."

The Mariners appear in very good shape heading into 2015, with almost all of this year's club returning and a budget that should have some flexibility even with the huge contracts of Cano and Felix Hernandez, who will both make $24 million next year.

General manager Jack Zduriencik added not only Cano this past year, but an All-Star closer in Fernando Rodney, a quality center fielder in Austin Jackson and a promising young first baseman in Logan Morrison. Coupled with the continued maturation of third baseman Kyle Seager, catcher Mike Zunino and left fielder Dustin Ackley, the Mariners have far fewer question marks this offseason.

And a club that fielded one of the best pitching staffs in baseball -- both with its rotation and bullpen -- appears to have a wealth of options and potential trade chips, as well as the ability to attract veteran hurlers who have seen pitchers like Chris Young and Joe Beimel resurrect their careers in Seattle.

Cano, who played on seven playoff teams with the Yankees, feels the Mariners are on the verge of turning that corner after improving by 16 wins to 87-75 and will benefit greatly from going through this year's stretch run.

"Guys have never been in this situation, guys have never won here," he said. "Guys are going to get better and better. For next year now they know at the beginning that we can fight. You look around at some lineups like the Angels, you've got all those guys who can hit homers, a lot of RBIs. You look at our lineup, we got young guys that want to be in the big leagues. Sometimes you say you're never going to have a chance. Well, you realize at the end of the season that you have a chance. I know they're going to go home and prepare themselves to get better and just fight from the beginning."

All said, it should be a very interesting offseason for Zduriencik and a Mariners organization that has spent the last few years laying the foundation and can now target a few more critical pieces to fit in with that group, with the obvious need being to improve the offense enough to take full advantage of one of the best group of arms in baseball.

Here's how the Mariners look heading into the offseason:

Arbitration-eligible: OF Dustin Ackley, LHP Charlie Furbush, OF Austin Jackson, 1B Logan Morrison, OF Michael Saunders, 3B Kyle Seager, 1B Justin Smoak (has team option already), RHP Tom Wilhelmsen.

Free agents: LHP Joe Beimel, OF Endy Chavez, OF Chris Denorfia, OF Franklin Gutierrez (restricted list), OF/DH Corey Hart, 1B/DH Kendrys Morales, C Humberto Quintero, RHP Chris Young.

Rotation: The Mariners pitching appears very solid going forward, with Hernandez under contract through 2019, Hisashi Iwakuma under a club option for $7 million next year and youngsters James Paxton, Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker all under club control for another five seasons. Chris Young pitched well on a one-year deal and likely created some opportunities for himself on the free agent market with his best season since 2007.

Bullpen: Much like the rotation, the relief crew should return largely intact as closer Fernando Rodney has one more year on a deal that pays him $7 million a season and the rest of the crew is primarily young players under team control. Veteran left-hander Joe Beimel is the only reliever who'll be a free agent and he says he'd love to return. There's been some thought to giving Tom Wilhelmsen a shot at a starting role, but that's mostly a testament to the depth of arms and his versatility. Hard-throwing right-handers Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Dominic Leone, Brandon Maurer and Carson Smith are all pre-arbitration eligible, while Wilhelmsen and lefty Charlie Furbush will again get raises in arbitration, but are also under team control.

Catcher: The Mariners appear set behind the plate for the foreseeable future with Zunino, the third overall pick in the 2012 Draft, who advanced quickly up the ladder and took over full-time starting duties this year. Zunino didn't hit for much of an average, but he supplied significant power while breaking the club record for most home runs by a catcher and, far more importantly, was outstanding defensively and working with a pitching staff that put up some of the best numbers in the league. Jesus Sucre earned a midseason callup to replace veteran John Buck and was strong defensively as well, while the club has another promising young backstop coming up in John Hicks, who finished the year with Triple-A Tacoma.

First base: Logan Morrison took over first-base duties in midseason from Justin Smoak and supplied some pop and clutch hitting in the final two months and looks like he'll figure in next year's plans either at first base or DH. Morrison still has three years of arbitration eligibility, but Smoak may have run out of chances and is a candidate to be non-tendered as he's under a club option for his final year of arbitration. D.J. Peterson, the club's 2013 first-round Draft pick, played mostly third base this season while having a big year at Class A and Double-A, but could be given a shot to compete at first base next spring. The free-agent market appears thin, though Adam LaRoche of the Nationals could be available unless both sides agree on a $15 million mutual option for 2015.

Second base: With Cano under contract another nine years, second base won't be much of a question in Seattle as long as the six-time All-Star remains healthy. Cano was everything the Mariners expected in his first season, both at the plate and with the glove. Veteran utility infielder Willie Bloomquist is under contract another year, though he's coming back now from microfracture knee surgery that will sideline him until next spring.

Shortstop: Brad Miller and Chris Taylor split time this season and both are young and under team control for another four or five years. It's not out of the question that Seattle would pursue a veteran shortstop if the right opportunity arose, but both players have good upside and gained valuable experience in 2014. McClendon said ideally he'd like to come out of Spring Training with one everyday starter at the position, so that figures to be an interesting battle unless one is used as a trade chip over the offseason. J.J.Hardy and Stephen Drew are among the potential shortstops available on the free-agent market.

Third base: Seager not only took the next step and became an All-Star for the first time while leading the club in RBIs and home runs, but he also developed into a Gold Glove-caliber defender who now seems entrenched as the team's third baseman for years to come. The only offseason question here is whether the two sides pursue a long-term contract to cover Seager's three upcoming arbitration years as well as possibly a year or two beyond that to ensure his future in Seattle.

Outfield: Zduriencik acquired a quality center fielder in Jackson at the Trade Deadline and he's under team control for another year in his last season of arbitration. Ackley made good progress in left field as he successfully transitioned from second base, though the Mariners would like to see him get off to a better start after early struggles again this season. Michael Saunders has two more seasons of arbitration and can play any of the outfield spots, while veteran Endy Chavez becomes a free agent after once again filling a nice role after signing a Minor League deal. Rookie James Jones added a big speed element and could force his way into the picture at one of the corner spots if he takes another step next year, while veteran Chris Denorfia is a free agent after being acquired in midseason from the Padres.

Designated hitter: The Mariners again figure to be looking for help at this spot after finishing last in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage among all DHs. Corey Hart signed a one-year deal last winter, but wasn't healthy enough to provide the hoped-for boost after missing all of 2013 following two knee surgeries. Kendrys Morales was re-acquired by trade in July, but he'll also be a free agent again and didn't produce nearly the same numbers in his shortened season after turning down some pretty significant contract offers from Seattle last offseason. Victor Martinez of the Tigers will be the premier free-agent hitter on the market and has considerable history with McClendon, so that one bears watching, though the 35-year-old will be a popular target in many cities after batting .335 with 32 homers and 103 RBIs, and Detroit won't let him go easily.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cano, Felix lead impressive Mariners turnaround

Standout year from second baseman brought Seattle to brink of postseason

Cano, Felix lead impressive Mariners turnaround

SEATTLE -- After the Mariners signed Robinson Cano in December, the questions began ringing out. Why would Cano go to Seattle? What difference will one star make for a franchise that hadn't been to the postseason since 2001?

But the first season for Cano in the Pacific Northwest proved to be a resounding success as the game's premier second baseman helped lead a Mariners revival that took a team nobody expected much from in the spring to the brink of a Wild Card berth with an 87-75 record.

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This was a Mariners club that turned a lot of things upside down, proving capable of winning in the toughest of circumstances. Seattle posted its second-best road record in franchise history at 46-35 and finished 45-32 against teams with winning records at the time they played as opposed to 42-43 against sub-.500 clubs.

They pushed for a postseason berth all the way to the final day of the season, a huge step forward for a club that went 71-91 the year before and hadn't won more than 75 games since 2009.

Felix Hernandez had another big season, perhaps his best yet in an outstanding 10-year career, and the Mariners pitching staff posted the best ERA in the American League at 3.17. Without question, those arms carried the club as a strong rotation was bolstered further by a bullpen that went from 29th in ERA among MLB's 30 teams in 2013 to first in 2014 while closer Fernando Rodney set a new club record with an AL-leading 48 saves.

New manager Lloyd McClendon did a superb job handling his pitching staff, pushing all the right buttons with his bullpen and squeezing the most out of a rotation that was without standout right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma for the first month, rising rookie sensation James Paxton for nearly four months and never got the hoped-for contribution from top prospect Taijuan Walker until the final two weeks of the season.

Setting the tone for the turnaround from top to bottom was Cano, who brought his easy confidence into the clubhouse and on the field and became a natural leader for a young group hungry to share his success.

"Great players have the ability to make other players better," McClendon said. "Robbie does that. On and off the field he's been a joy to be associated with. He's been a class act and there's no doubt that he's helped the organization immensely."

McClendon feels Cano had a big impact on young third baseman Kyle Seager, who stepped up with his first All-Star season and led the club in home runs and RBIs, while Cano led the team in batting average and on-base percentage while anchoring the lineup from the No. 3 spot.

There were some spectacular moments in 2014 -- including Austin Jackson's go-ahead hit highlighting a five-run rally with two outs in the bottom of the ninth for a huge win at Fenway Park in late August, Logan Morrison's game-winning home runs in two games during Seattle's final road trip and a walk-off win in the 11th inning against the Angels in Game 161 -- that kept the club in playoff contention to the final day.

There were big contributions from some unexpected rookies, with southpaw Roenis Elias winning 10 games, James Jones leading the club in stolen bases, Paxton providing a huge late boost with his return and relievers Dominic Leone, Brandon Maurer and Carson Smith adding quality depth to the bullpen.

And there were senior moments as well from key veterans like outfielder Endy Chavez, reliever Joe Beimel and right-hander Chris Young, who signed just before the start of the regular season after being released by the Nationals and turned into one of the best comeback stories in baseball by going 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA.

But the biggest surprise, of course, was that this Mariners club put everything together so quickly in McClendon and Cano's first year, raising the bar immediately on both the level of play in 2014 and what the future holds as well.

"We're pretty close," said Cano. "Like I said when I first signed here, there's such great young talent, guys that are going to be superstars. The bullpen did a great job, the starting rotation, I mean sometimes it doesn't end the way you want, but we fought all the way to the end."

Record: 87-75, third in American League West

Defining moment: Seager's three-run walk-off home run on April 23 against the Astros snapped an early eight-game losing streak that had Seattle on the verge of a 7-14 start to the season. McClendon points to surviving that skid while still believing in themselves as the turning point in a season that saw the Mariners go 78-62 the rest of the way. And Seager, who was hitting .156 with no home runs and two RBIs in the first 20 games, wound up batting .281 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs over the rest of the season.

What went right: The huge offseason signing of Cano paid instant dividends as he provided a strong presence in the lineup, in the field and in the clubhouse. … Hernandez had the best season of his outstanding career, leading a pitching staff that put up the best ERA in the American League. … Iwakuma overcame a finger injury that cost him the first month and again was one of the top right-handers in the league. … Young signed a one-year deal just days before the start of the season and put together an excellent campaign and the rookie Paxton came on late after recovering from a shoulder injury to provide a huge boost to the rotation, along with Elias after being promoted from Double-A. … Solidified by the signing of veteran closer Rodney, the bullpen went from 29th in the league in ERA in 2013 to first in 2014. … Seager took another step forward and became an All-Star third baseman. … The offseason acquisition of Morrison paid off as the first baseman put together a strong second half and proved to be one of the team's top clutch hitters. … Catcher Mike Zunino developed into a defensive stalwart in his first full season and led all AL catchers with 22 home runs. … McClendon provided a strong presence and calming influence on a club that took a huge step forward in his first season.

What went wrong: Several youngsters expected to make strong contributions never got going and wound up losing their jobs fairly early in the year. Center fielder Abraham Almonte was sent down to Tacoma and eventually traded away after a tough first month, first baseman Justin Smoak lost his job to Morrison and Nick Franklin was traded after losing out on the shortstop battle to Brad Miller and then not hitting when he was called up briefly on two different occasions. … DH Corey Hart was signed as a free agent to provide a right-handed threat to a lefty-leaning lineup, but he never really got on track or fully healthy after missing all of 2013 with knee problems. … Despite the addition of Cano, the offense didn't make as big a step forward as hoped and still needs to be more productive -- particularly at Safeco Field -- to support the outstanding pitching.

Biggest surprise: Given he hadn't pitched a full season since 2007 and hadn't been in the Major Leagues in more than a year, it was hard to know what to expect when the Mariners signed Young to a one-year deal after he was released by the Nationals at the end of Spring Training. Seattle really was looking mostly for early help while Iwakuma and Walker were sidelined by spring injuries, but the big right-hander stepped into Seattle's rotation and was outstanding for most of the season and figures to earn strong consideration for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Hitter of the Year: Cano. While a very strong case could be made for Seager, given he led the team in home runs and RBIs, Cano had a huge impact on the lineup -- and opposing pitchers -- as he was plugged into the No. 3 spot in the order and gave the Mariners instant impact and credibility. Cano ranked sixth in the AL in batting average (.314) and on-base percentage (.382). And while his power numbers were down from his typical Yankees production, he led Seattle in doubles as well as OPS and was the Mariners' first .300 hitter since Ichiro Suzuki in 2010.

Pitcher of the Year: Hernandez. The 28-year-old is regarded as a strong favorite to win his second AL Cy Young Award after putting up his best season yet at 15-6 with an AL-leading 2.14 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Hernandez was the AL starter in the All-Star Game for the first time and ripped off a Major League record string of 16 straight starts of seven or more innings while allowing two or less runs. He set a career high with 249 strikeouts and led a pitching staff that kept Seattle in the playoff chase all year.

Rookie of the Year: Paxton. While fellow lefty starter Elias pitched the full season and racked up more innings and wins and played a part in Seattle's success, Paxton proved a huge factor once he returned from a shoulder injury that cost him four months. The 25-year-old posted the fourth-lowest ERA ever for a Major League pitcher in his first 15 starts, dating back to last September, and appears poised to be a major contributor to the club's future.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Fans can vote for Aaron Award nominee Cano

Fans can vote for Aaron Award nominee Cano

SEATTLE -- Six-time All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano has been selected as the Mariners nominee for the 2014 Hank Aaron Award and fans are able to vote through Sunday on MLB.com for the 16th annual honor.

In his first season with the Mariners after signing a 10-year, $240 million free agent contract, Cano finished sixth in the American League in hits (187), batting average (.314) and on-base percentage (.382). The 31-year-old Dominican native also led the Mariners with an .836 OPS and tied Kyle Seager for the team's best slugging percentage at .454 while hitting 14 home runs, collecting 82 RBIs and recording a career-best 10 stolen bases.

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"Robinson had a tremendous year for us," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. "He was in the middle of our lineup every day and helped make the players around him better."

Cano's 37 doubles ranked seventh in the AL. He's had 10 straight seasons with 30 or more doubles and is the only player in MLB with 35 or more doubles each of the past nine years. That's the third-longest streak in Major League history behind 10 seasons each for Bobby Abreu (1999-2008) and Todd Helton (1998-2007) and tied with Tris Speaker (1919-27).

The award is designated for the best overall offensive performer in each league, with Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and Paul Goldschmidt of the D-backs winning last year's awards.

Other AL nominees include Nelson Cruz of Baltimore, David Ortiz of Boston, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, Michael Brantley of Cleveland, Victor Martinez of Detroit, Jose Altuve of Houston, Alex Gordon of Kansas City, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, Trevor Plouffe of Minnesota, Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees, Josh Donaldson of Oakland, Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay, Adrian Beltre of Texas and Jose Bautista of Toronto.

The NL candidates are Goldschmidt, Justin Upton of Atlanta, Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, Devin Mesoraco of Cincinnati, Justin Morneau of Colorado, Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Giancarlo Stanton of Miami, Jonathan Lucroy of Milwaukee, Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets, Marlon Byrd of Philadelphia, Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh, Matt Carpenter of St. Louis, Seth Smith of San Diego, Hunter Pence of San Francisco and Anthony Rendon of Washington.

For the fifth consecutive year, a panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron will join fans in voting for the award, which is officially sanctioned by MLB and has recognized the top offensive threat in each league since it was established in 1999.

The panel includes some of the greatest offensive players of all-time -- Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount.

Fans also have a vote and can cast their ballots on MLB.com through Oct. 5.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Felix bolsters Cy credentials with ERA crown

Felix bolsters Cy credentials with ERA crown

SEATTLE -- There was no way Mariners fans were going to hold back when ace right-hander Felix Hernandez exited for a final time this season.

As Hernandez, 28, walked off the Safeco Field mound on Sunday, all those who gathered to see if he could help Seattle force a postseason play-in game stood and frantically waved their yellow rally towels while chants of "FE-LIX! FE-LIX! FE-LIX!" rocked the stadium.

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They kept it going until Hernandez emerged from the dugout for a curtain call.

"That was awesome. That was really good," Hernandez said. "I just got a chance to thank the fans for all their support all year. I love being here. I love the fans."

Hernandez did more than his part on Sunday to extend Seattle's season, holding the visiting Angels to one hit and striking out seven over 5 1/3 shutout innings en route to a 4-1 win.

But manager Lloyd McClendon opted to lift him shortly after the Athletics beat the Rangers, eliminating the Mariners' chance to force a Game 163 tie-breaker.

In what was arguably the most important start of Hernandez' career, he retired 16 of 17 hitters before exiting after just 68 pitches.

"Felix is a heck of a competitor, and you know, truthfully, he wasn't at full strength today. There was no talking him out of starting this game," McClendon said. "He really didn't want to come out in the sixth. I just said, 'To heck with it, I'm going to get him.'

"I was surprised he gave me a hug. I thought he'd probably hit me."

Despite the outcome of the season, Hernandez has reason to celebrate. He entered Sunday with a 2.18 ERA, one-hundredth of a point higher than White Sox left-hander Chris Sale. He ended it at 2.14 to take the AL ERA title and set a club record.

It's the lowest ERA of his career.

He finished 2014 with a 15-6 record and a career-high 248 strikeouts. During an incredible stretch through the summer, he set a Major League record by pitching at least seven innings and allowing two runs or fewer in 16 consecutive starts.

After struggling the past three Septembers, he went 2-1 with 1.66 ERA in six starts over this season's final month, as the Mariners pushed but ultimately fell short of making the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

"We're all disappointed, but you know what? We just have to learn for next year, how close we got," Hernandez said. "We just have to work harder for next year, and we're going to be there."

Perhaps most important, Hernandez rebounded after allowing eight runs (four earned) in a blowout loss to the Blue Jays in his penultimate start of the 2014 season.

So is "The King" deserving of his second AL Cy Young?

"You think I'm crazy?" McClendon said after being posed the question. "Yeah, he should win the Cy Young."

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners activate Montero off suspended list

Hart designated for assignment to make room for Montero

Mariners activate Montero off suspended list

SEATTLE -- Veteran designated hitter Corey Hart was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Monday in a move necessitated by the activation of first baseman Jesus Montero off the suspended list.

Montero had to be returned to the 40-man roster the day after the end of the regular season following his suspension by the club on Sept. 1. That put the Mariners at 41 players on their Major League roster, so Hart was designated for assignment.

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Hart would have become a free agent after the end of the World Series, along with Seattle's other pending free agents, so the move just speeds up his process of being able to negotiate with teams.

Seattle's other free agents will be pitchers Joe Beimel and Chris Young, outfielders Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia, catcher Humberto Quintero and designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez also becomes a free agent after spending the year on Seattle's restricted list following his decision to not report to camp last February.

Hart, 32, hit .203 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 68 games after signing a one-year deal. The two-time National League All-Star spent a good part of the season on the disabled list with a hamstring strain and then knee issues after missing all of 2013 with the Brewers following microfracture surgeries on both knees.

Montero, 24, was on an injury rehab assignment with Class A Everett for a strained oblique muscle when he got into a verbal altercation with Mariners scout Butch Baccala at a Northwest League game. The Mariners then placed him on the suspended list for the remainder of the season.

Baccala was pulled off his scouting duties at that time by general manager Jack Zduriencik and has since been dismissed by the organization.

Montero spent most of the season with Triple-A Tacoma where he batted .286 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs in 364 at-bats in 97 games. He played six games for the Mariners and had one home run and two RBIs with a .235 average in 17 at-bats.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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McClendon: 'Our future is very bright'

McClendon: 'Our future is very bright'

SEATTLE -- In the big picture, the Mariners surprised a whole lot of folks by taking their push for an American League Wild Card berth to the final day of their first season under new manager Lloyd McClendon.

Admittedly, that big picture might take a little time to come into focus, given the immediate disappointment of a frustrating stretch run that saw the Mariners lose 12 of their last 21 games to let their first playoff shot in 13 years just slip from their grasp. Despite finishing on a four-game winning streak, the Mariners' hopes officially ended on Sunday, when the A's clinched the final berth with a 4-0 victory in Texas, making moot Seattle's 4-0 win over the Angels an hour later.

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But McClendon and his players know that a foundation was laid this season, and there were plenty of smiles and hugs and handshakes as the Mariners gathered for one last time following Sunday's game.

"You can always say 'coulda, woulda, shoulda,'" McClendon said. "It just was not in the cards for us. I think this was a tremendous learning experience for this club. They took a tremendous step forward, and we'll be better. We've got a lot of work to do, and we're going to start rolling up our sleeves and getting it done."

Though the Mariners hung in the race until the last day, mathematics eliminated any miracle. The A's and Royals grabbed the two AL Wild Card berths and will play on Tuesday in Kansas City while the Mariners pack their bags and await next spring's return to Peoria, Ariz.

"It's kind of a tough pill to swallow, coming one game short," said All-Star third baseman Kyle Seager. "It's a long season, for 162 games, and we played meaningful games the whole time, which is a big improvement. But it kind of sends you into the offseason really wanting to work hard and get ready for next season."

Despite the pain of losing some critical games in September, going 87-75 overall was a large leap for a club that went 71-91 in 2013 and hadn't enjoyed a winning season since 2009.

"I think that's a tremendous step forward," McClendon said. "Particularly for where we've come from when I took this job. Are we there yet? Are we where we want to be as far as being that quality championship club year in and year out? No. There's a lot of work that still has to be done. But it sure is a step in the right direction."

Most promising is the fact that the Mariners should bring back almost the entire core group next season. Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez are early into long-term deals, Hisashi Iwakuma and Fernando Rodney have another year on their contracts, and the rest of this season's group consists largely of young players still under team control.

The only free agents are veteran pitchers Chris Young and Joe Beimel, designated hitters Kendrys Morales and Corey Hart, outfielders Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia, and third-string catcher Humberto Quintero.

With Hernandez and Iwakuma joined by promising rookies Roenis Elias, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, the rotation should be strong and deep again. And that doesn't even take into account 2012 first-round Draft pick Danny Hultzen, who is throwing well in Arizona as he recovers from shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of 2014, or the possibility of converting Tom Wilhelmsen to a starting role or adding further through free agency.

The AL's best bullpen also figures to be well stocked, with only Beimel no longer under contract from a group that added several hard-throwing rookies in midseason in Brandon Maurer and Carson Smith. And Beimel said on Sunday that he's already told general manager Jack Zduriencik he'd love to return, and Young also indicated that he'd like to rejoin the rotation if things work out.

Clearly, the offseason focus will again be on adding offense, but McClendon said that playing tough games in a playoff chase this season should help everyone be better going forward.

"No question," he said. "And not just the younger players. All of us should be better. Your past should prepare you for your future, and I believe this will prepare us for our future. And our future is very bright."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners victorious but fall shy of Wild Card berth

Mariners victorious but fall shy of Wild Card berth

SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez did his part on Sunday, but the Mariners didn't get any final-day favors from their Texas friends, and Seattle fell one game short of forcing a tiebreaker for the second American League Wild Card berth.

The Mariners topped the Angels, 4-1, with Hernandez winning both the game and the AL ERA title by throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings. But the A's, despite losing 16 of their final 25 games, hung on to the final playoff spot by beating the Rangers, 4-0, in Arlington to finish 88-74.

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Seattle wrapped up manager Lloyd McClendon's first season with an 87-75 record, a 16-win improvement over 2013. It's the franchise's first winning mark since 2009, just the third winning season in the past 11 years and the best record since an 88-win effort in 2007.

The finish was bittersweet for the Mariners, who were cheered from start to finish by a crowd of 40,823 even after the A's finished off their game with Seattle still in the fifth.

"Obviously, this was a very emotional day for a lot of reasons," McClendon said. "But when I took the job, I said I thought this was a golden era for the Seattle Mariners, and they haven't let me down. And I think it's only going to get better. I'm excited. My unit out there is excited. They're a little disappointed right now, but they had a heck of a year."

The Safeco crowd groaned in unison when the A's final score was posted, then gave a standing ovation in appreciation for the team's efforts in taking the drama all the way to the final day.

"That was one of my proudest moments," McClendon said. "I thought it said a lot about our fans."

Hernandez, 28, who gave up eight runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings in his previous start in Toronto, bounced back with a dominant outing against the Angels, allowing just one hit with no walks and seven strikeouts. He made his case for a second AL Cy Young Award, finishing 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA and a career-high 248 strikeouts in 236 innings.

Chris Sale of the White Sox held the ERA lead, at 2.17, before Hernandez's final outing gave him his second AL ERA title and the lowest ERA of his career.

Michael Saunders laced two run-scoring doubles and catcher Mike Zunino delivered a two-run single to give Hernandez a four-run lead before he was replaced by Brandon Maurer one out into the sixth, after the A's had clinched the berth. McClendon exchanged a big hug with Hernandez, who then tipped his cap to the roaring crowd during a slow exit from the field.

"That was awesome," Hernandez said. "That was really good. I just got a chance to thank the fans for all their support all year. I love being here. I love the fans. That was really great."

Hernandez said that pitching with a potential playoff berth on the line for the first time in his 10-year career took him to a new level.

"All my starts, I'm trying to give 100 percent," he said. "But today was more fun. We're trying for a spot in the playoffs, and I was just trying to go out and do my thing. It was good."

McClendon sent Brad Miller as a defensive replacement for Robinson Cano midway through the sixth inning, allowing the fans to toast their new first-year star as well. Cano called his first season in Seattle "a great experience" despite ending a game shy of the playoffs.

"It was great to see our fans -- not only myself, but with the way they [sent] Felix out of the game -- they really appreciate what we've done and they know we fight, we battle, we want to give that to the city," Cano said. "Things didn't end the way we want. Sometimes, things happen. So maybe next year we'll be a better team and end up in first place. You never know."

The Mariners put some heat on the A's by winning their final four games, but in the end, a tough stretch in mid-September in which they went 4-11 -- a span that ended with a five-game losing streak -- proved too much to overcome.

First baseman Logan Morrison finished his strong September with a 2-for-4 day and two runs scored. Morrison hit .342 with 15 runs, five home runs and 11 RBIs in 24 games in the final month to lift his final average to .262.

Cano went 1-for-3 to finish his first season in Seattle with a .314 average, the first .300 hitter for the Mariners since Ichiro Suzuki in 2010. Kyle Seager went 0-for-4 in the finale but finished with team leads in both home runs (25) and RBIs (96).

The Angels finished with the best record in the AL, but skipper Mike Scioscia gave a tip of the cap to the Mariners even as his team heads to the playoffs.

"They had a great season," said Scioscia. "Once they got their rotation back, with [Hisashi] Iwakuma and [James] Paxton, their bullpen became shut-down. They're going to be tough. It shows how tough our division is, for as well as Seattle played to not get in the playoffs, and they're going to be tough again next year. We have our work cut out for us."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners' second walk-off of '14 came at perfect time

Mariners' second walk-off of '14 came at perfect time

SEATTLE -- The Mariners had to dig deep for Saturday's stay-alive 4-3 victory over the Angels, recording just their second walk-off win of the season when Austin Jackson drove in Brad Miller from third base on a fielder's-choice grounder.

No other Major League team has had so few walk-off victories this season, with the Royals, Braves and Astros tied for second to last, with four apiece as of Sunday afternoon.

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Seattle has won only five games in franchise history with a walk-off fielder's choice, the last time being on July 8, 1989, when Dave Valle grounded into a 4-6 forceout and Henry Cotto scored from third in the 11th in a 4-3 win over the Indians.

The Mariners previous walk-off win this season was huge as well, coming on April 23, when Kyle Seager ended Seattle's eight-game losing streak with a three-run bomb in the ninth for a 5-3 win over Houston. The Mariners were 7-13 at that point and seemingly going nowhere, but since Seager won that game, Seattle has gone 79-62 to put itself in playoff contention right down to the last day of the season.

Despite all those wins, the Mariners waited until Game 161 to walk off with another victory.

"I know we had the home run Seager hit earlier," said Miller on Saturday. "But yeah, with all the close games we've been in, it's kind of crazy. But I think at home here we've had a lot of games where [closer Fernando] Rodney has come in and shut the door. It is crazy that this is just our second, but it was a good time for it."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Safeco a-buzz in final days of regular season

Safeco a-buzz in final days of regular season

SEATTLE -- On Saturday night, Safeco Field attendance passed the 2 million mark for the season for the first time since 2010 as fans continued getting behind the club's first winning season since 2009.

The crowds were alive and well during the team's push for the postseason, with 32,716 fans waving towels and getting loud throughout Saturday's 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Angels.

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"That was absolutely electric," said Brad Miller, who scored the game's winning run. "This is so much fun being out there."

Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen said that several members of the bullpen picked up towels and were waving them along with the throng.

"That was awesome," Wilhelmsen said. "Awesome. We get to see the whole park going. We had to be part of it."

With another 40,823 going through the turnstiles on Sunday, when the Mariners were eliminated from contention following the A's win despite their own 4-1 victory, the Mariners finished with 2,063,622 fans for the season, with an average attendance of 25,477, a 17 percent increase from last season, the largest gain of any team in the Majors.

Seattle led Major League Baseball in attendance for several years in the early 2000s and drew more than 3 million from 2000 through 2003, including a franchise-record 3,540,482 in 2002, an average of 43,710 per game.

The numbers dwindled the past decade as the team struggled, but after hitting a low of 1,723,301 (average 21,275) in 2012, the numbers climbed a little bit last season (average 21,749) and took a bigger jump in 2014 as the team got in contention.

"It's been great," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "It's nice to see."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners keep dream alive with walk-off win

Mariners keep dream alive with walk-off win

SEATTLE -- If Saturday was any indication, Safeco Field might just explode on Sunday as the Mariners find themselves with one last chance at landing their first playoff berth in 13 years.

Gunning for their first postseason bid since 2001, the Mariners kept hope alive with a 2-1 victory over the Angels, as Austin Jackson drove in Brad Miller from third with a fielder's-choice grounder in the bottom of the 11th inning.

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And now Seattle goes into Sunday's regular-season finale with Felix Hernandez on the mound and an opportunity, if the A's lose their finale to the Rangers, to tie the A's for the American League's second Wild Card berth.

"I expect Felix to be Felix and do the best he can for as long as he can," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We'll see what happens. All I know is we're still in the ring, still throwing punches."

The Mariners missed a couple of haymakers on Saturday before finally landing the jab that knocked down an Angels team that has already clinched the best record in the AL.

After missing a golden opportunity to win the game with no outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and again with two on and one out in the 10th, the Mariners finally pulled off just their second walk-off win of the season.

Miller and Chris Taylor, who both struck out with the bases full in the ninth, came through, with a one-out double by Miller and a single by Taylor to put runners at the corners. Jackson then grounded to second, but he beat the double-play relay throw by a fraction of a second for the game-winning RBI.

"Any time you have an opportunity to win the ballgame and you don't, you're itching for another chance," said Jackson, who had flied out for the final out of the ninth. "We had a few opportunities there, and luckily, I was able to make contact and run as hard as I could. I kind of wanted to dive at the bag and grab it. Whatever it takes to get a win."

"It felt like that play took about an hour and a half," said McClendon. "I think my heart stopped maybe two or three times."

But the Mariners still have a pulse, and the scenario is simple. If Seattle beats Los Angeles on Sunday for a third straight time and Oakland loses again in Texas, the Mariners and A's will finish tied, at 87-75, and would play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday at Safeco Field to determine the AL's final entrant into the postseason party.

The winner of that game would then play at either Detroit or Kansas City -- whichever winds up second in the AL Central -- in the one-game Wild Card Game on Tuesday to determine who advances to the best-of-five AL Division Series starting on Thursday.

"It's crazy," said Miller, who started the game on the bench but wound up scoring the winning run in the biggest victory in the club's recent history. "We have to go out and play with the same energy we did today. We've got the best guy in the league on the mound tomorrow, so we've got to take care of our business. But this is right where you want to be, playing Game 162 and you're still in it."

The Mariners teetered on the brink of elimination for much of the night and struggled to get anything going for the first six innings against Angels southpaw C.J. Wilson. But in the seventh, moments after the Rangers finished off a 5-4 victory over the A's in Arlington, Logan Morrison drove an RBI double into the gap in right-center to tie things up at 1 and send the Safeco Field crowd into a towel-waving frenzy.

The Mariners didn't score again until the 11th, however, despite pulling out all the stops with their chances in the ninth and 10th.

"We were going for it at every opportunity," said McClendon. "And we had opportunities, that's for sure. We just couldn't cash in until A.J. came through."

Rookie southpaw James Paxton, 25, kept things close in the early going, giving up just one run in 5 2/3 innings as he bounced back from the first rough outing of his career in strong fashion. He allowed just four hits, with three walks and four strikeouts, finishing the season at 6-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 starts.

Paxton gave up a run in the second and it could have been worse, but Jackson ran down a bases-loaded drive in the left-center gap by Kole Calhoun for the third out.

"That was big," said Paxton. "I love having him out there. He's got wheels, and he showed them that last play, too."

Danny Farquhar replaced Paxton with runners on first and third and two out in the sixth and struck out C.J. Cron to keep the score at 1-0; Farquhar was the first of seven relievers to keep the Angels off the board the rest of the way.

And in the end, that effort was rewarded by a groundout against an Angels infield playing with an extra man after bringing in the outfield, with second baseman Grant Green hesitating just long enough while thinking of throwing home before flipping to second for the attempted double play.

With that, Miller, Jackson and Taylor -- the trio that didn't deliver in the ninth -- came through with the run.

"Obviously, there was a little redemption there for all of us," Miller said. "We all wanted to do it. But baseball is like that. If you don't do it, there's still a game to play. I knew I was coming up again, and I wanted to do something, get something going, whatever I could do. That was a great way to end it."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Iwakuma OK after discomfort causes early exit

Iwakuma OK after discomfort causes early exit

SEATTLE -- Hisashi Iwakuma won't have another start this season unless the Mariners sneak into the playoffs, but manager Lloyd McClendon said that the veteran right-hander was feeling fine on Saturday after being removed from Friday's 4-3 victory over the Angels in the seventh inning after feeling some discomfort in his right lat muscle.

McClendon and trainer Rob Nodine hurried to the mound after seeing Iwakuma reach for his side after throwing his 80th pitch and immediately took him out of the game with a two-run lead. The Mariners hung on to give Iwakuma his career-best 15th win of the season, and he reported feeling OK on Saturday.

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"He just said he felt a little stretch, but he was fine," McClendon said prior to Saturday's game with the Angels. "The doctors checked him out, and there's no issues at all. I talked to him today. I don't know if he understood what I said, but he was smiling, so I'm pretty sure everything is OK."

Will Iwakuma be ready to pitch again in five days?

"I hope so," McClendon said with a smile, knowing that such a scenario would require the Mariners to be playing in the American League Division Series.

Iwakuma finished the regular season 15-9 with a 3.52 ERA in 179 innings over 28 starts after missing Spring Training and the first month of the season with a strained finger tendon.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Morrison may be solidifying his future with Seattle

Morrison may be solidifying his future with Seattle

SEATTLE -- It took first baseman Logan Morrison more than half the season to warm up, but he has hit his stride -- and a couple of huge game-winning home runs -- down the stretch and could be solidifying his place in the team's future plans in the process.

Acquired from the Marlins for reliever Carter Capps in December, Morrison was batting just .201 on July 27 after struggling early with a hamstring injury. But as the calendar turned to August, he started heating up, and once he replaced Justin Smoak as the everyday first baseman, his production improved dramatically.

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Morrison has hit .328 with 12 runs, seven doubles, five home runs, 10 RBIs and a 1.058 OPS in 21 September games. He smacked the game-winning three-run homer with two out in the ninth against the Angels in a big 3-1 win early in the just-concluded road trip and then lifted the club to a 7-5 victory in Thursday's finale in Toronto with two home runs and four RBIs.

"Very, very satisfying," Morrison said of the late-season run that has lifted his season totals to .256 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs in 324 at-bats. "It's been a really tough road for me -- injuries, having to fight to play every day, finally getting that chance to play every day and showing what I can do ... It's a good feeling for sure."

Morrison has surprised manager Lloyd McClendon with his outfield play when used in both left and right field on occasion, but McClendon said Morrison's future figures to be at first base.

But Morrison is focused only on the final three games of the regular season, looking to put a final stamp on his strong finish.

"I didn't feel right when I came back from the All-Star break," Morrison said. "But from the very end of July, I started to feel a little better. When we were in Cleveland, I started to feel a little better there and kept building and building, and now we're here.

"You take it one step at a time, one day at a time, one pitch at a time. Always learning, always trying to improve and just trying to get the barrel to the ball. If I do that, good thing are going to happen."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners 11-inning win kept them alive for final day

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Mariners 11-inning win kept them alive for final day

With the Mariners' elimination number down to one, any combination of an Athletics victory or a Mariners loss would end Seattle's postseason hopes. But after the Athletics lost 5-4 to the Rangers earlier in the evening, the M's still had a chance. They would just need to beat the Angels.

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Cano, Hernandez, Young honored

Cano, Hernandez, Young honored

SEATTLE -- With the regular season winding to a close, a few Mariners were honored in a ceremony staged by the Baseball Writers' Association of America minutes before Friday night's series opener against the Angels.

There were no surprises.

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Second baseman Robinson Cano was named the Player of the Year, American League Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez earned Pitcher of the Year honors and veteran right-hander Chris Young was given the Unsung Hero Award.

The Mariners began Friday two games behind the Athletics in the race for the second American League Wild Card spot.

They likely wouldn't be in position to make the playoffs at all if it weren't for the contributions of all three players.

The Mariners made arguably the game's biggest free-agent acquisition last offseason, when they signed Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract. He's responded with a productive first year in the Emerald City that included his fifth consecutive All-Star appearance.

Cano entered Friday with a .318/.384/.460 slash line, 14 home runs, 82 RBIs and a career-high 10 stolen bases in 154 games. After finishing 71-91 and struggling to score in 2013, the Mariners needed a true middle-of-the-order presence, and Cano has filled that role admirably as the No. 3 hitter while mentoring some of the younger hitters.

Meanwhile, Hernandez has been the ace of a rotation that began Friday with a 3.54 ERA, third in the AL. Even after allowing eight runs over 4 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays in his most recent start, "The King" is among the favorites to win the AL Cy Young Award.

In 33 starts this season, Hernandez is 14-6 with a 2.34 ERA over 230 2/3 innings, and he set a Major League record by pitching at least seven innings and allowing two runs or fewer in 16 consecutive starts (May 18 to Aug. 11).

He is scheduled to start against the Angels on Sunday on the final day of the regular season.

"Felix is fine. He's a champion. He's very disappointed in his outing," manager Lloyd McClendon said after Hernandez's last outing. "He'll be ready Sunday."

Then there is Young.

Signed late in Spring Training after being released by the Nationals, the six-foot-10 right-hander proved perfect for a Seattle club needing a pitcher to fill the back end of its rotation.

Young is 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 29 starts (30 appearances) after battling assorted shoulder injuries for the past five seasons. He did, however, wear down toward the end of the season, and when he gave up seven runs in three innings last week against the Astros, McClendon chose to take him out of the rotation.

"Chris has done a tremendous job for us this year," McClendon said. "To think he's won as many games as he's won and gone out there as many times as he's gone out there, coming off the type of surgery that he had, I think it's just tremendous. I'm not sure we'd be in the position we're in now if not for him."

Worth noting: Third baseman Kyle Seager on Friday was given the Mariners' Heart and Hustle Award, presented by the Major League Baseball Players' Alumni Association.

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners announce Minor League Awards

Mariners announce Minor League Awards

SEATTLE -- Double-A Jackson third baseman D.J. Peterson and first baseman/outfielder Jordy Lara are the 2014 Mariners' Minor League Co-Players of the Year, the club announced on Friday.

Peterson, a first-round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, batted .297 with 31 home runs and 111 RBIs in 123 games split between Jackson and Class A High Desert. He was one of five players in the Minors to hit at least 30 home runs and drive in 100 or more runs.

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Lara was no slouch, either, batting .337 with 26 home runs and 104 RBIs in 135 games between High Desert and Jackson.

The Minor League Unsung Hero Award went to outfielder/first baseman Patrick Kivlehan. Like Lara and Peterson, Kivlehan split the year between High Desert and Jackson. He hit .295 with 20 home runs, 103 RBIs and 84 runs in 138 games.

Shortstop Ketel Marte received the Heart and Soul Award after hitting .304 in 128 games between Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma, while the Rainiers' Jordan Pries (10-8, 3.86 ERA) and Class A Clinton's Edwin Diaz (6-8, 3.33 ERA) were named Minor League Co-Starting Pitchers of the Year. Right-hander Matt Brazis (4-1, 2.36 ERA), who pitched for High Desert and Jackson, took home the Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year Award.

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mixed results in challenges in Mariners-Angels

Mixed results in challenges in Mariners-Angels

SEATTLE -- An out call on Austin Jackson's steal attempt was overturned via instant replay in the first inning of Friday's series opener between the Mariners and Angels, a 4-3 Seattle victory.

With one out and Robinson Cano batting, Jackson broke for second and appeared to beat the throw from catcher Chris Iannetta, but umpire Adrian Johnson called him out.

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Manager Lloyd McClendon quickly exited the dugout to challenge, and after a brief review, Jackson was ruled safe and awarded his 20th stolen base of the season.

Jackson found himself in the middle of another replay in the bottom of sixth inning. With two outs and a runner on second, he hit a pop fly down the right-field line that drifted toward the stands.

As right fielder Kole Calhoun drifted over, a fan reached over the railing and made an impressive catch, prompting Angels manager Mike Scioscia to challenge the ruling that there had been no fan interference.

After a review, the call stood, and the ball was ruled foul.

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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LoMo's two blasts keep Mariners' playoff hopes alive

Seattle pulls within two games of Oakland for second AL Wild Card spot

LoMo's two blasts keep Mariners' playoff hopes alive

TORONTO -- There hasn't been a lot to celebrate for the Mariners in the past week, but they flew home Thursday night with some long-lost smiles on their faces -- and slim playoff hopes still afloat -- following a 7-5 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Logan Morrison helped Seattle snap a five-game losing skid and end a rugged road trip on a positive note as he smacked two home runs to continue his strong stretch run for a club still clinging to an outside shot at its first postseason berth since 2001.

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"We're still in the ring, still fighting," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "It's a good feeling. A lot of teams wish they were in our position. As dire as it may look, there are a lot of teams that wish they were in the Seattle Mariners' shoes right now. We're still in it and we're going to play hard and see what happens."

The Mariners finished 4-7 on their cross-country trek as Morrison's four-RBI day helped them improve to 84-75, two games back of the A's (86-73) for the second American League Wild Card spot with three games remaining at home against the Angels.

Any combination of two Seattle losses or two A's victories would eliminate the Mariners.

Thus if the Mariners sweep they Angels, they'd need the A's to finish 1-2 to force a one-game playoff at Safeco Field on Monday or 0-3 to get a Wild Card berth outright. The Mariners can also force a one-game playoff if they take two of three from the Angels and the A's lose their final three games. That's a long-shot scenario for a Mariners club that has won only six of its last 18 games and was outscored 69-44 on the just-completed road trip, but any chance is better than no chance at this point.

"Obviously, that's not how we wanted to play baseball this last stretch," said catcher Mike Zunino, who chipped in with a home run of his own Thursday. "But with a win, we know we still have hope and we can only take care of what we can take care of now. It'll be a tough series against the Angels, but I think we're ready for it and looking forward to playing them."

The Mariners salvaged the finale of the four-game series with Toronto as their bats came alive after a 1-0 loss on Wednesday. Both of Morrison's blasts gave Seattle a lead -- the second one for good -- and Zunino added a solo shot to keep hope alive.

"It's very nice to turn that page and get things moving in the right direction hopefully for these last three," said Tom Wilhelmsen, who opened the game for the Mariners with his second spot start of the season.

Despite the late-season stumble, Seattle finished the year with a 46-35 road record, the second-most road wins for a season in franchise history.

Kyle Seager had a pair of run-scoring singles to raise his team-leading RBI total to 96. Seager's first base hit ended Seattle's 18-inning scoreless streak in the fourth and Morrison followed moments later with a three-run shot to center on the first pitch he saw from Blue Jays reliever Todd Redmond.

It was Morrison's second three-run blast on the road trip, having ended a scoreless duel in Anaheim with a ninth-inning homer in a 3-1 win seven days earlier. After Toronto tied the game back up at 4, Morrison came through again with a solo shot leading off the sixth.

"He came up real big for us today when we needed it the most," said McClendon.

"It's a good feeling to know your team is looking at you when you've got guys like Robinson Cano and Kendrys Morales and they're looking at you to get the job done," said Morrison. "That's what you want. You want to be that guy. So now get those guys going and then it'll be everybody."

Five of Morrison's 11 home runs have come in September, when he's hit .328 (21-for-64) with seven doubles and 10 RBIs to raise his season average to .256 with 37 RBIs overall.

Zunino, 23, extended his club record for home runs by a catcher to 22 by smoking a 3-0 pitch over the left-field wall in the sixth.

Both teams went with bullpen days as 15 pitchers saw action. Wilhelmsen lasted just 1 1/3 innings while giving up a pair of runs on two hits and two walks as McClendon looked to keep him available for the Angels series as well.

"You're still managing with a hand on today and a hand on tomorrow, depending on what happens," said McClendon. "I need him ready to go the next three days and I didn't want to extend anybody too much."

Wilhelmsen was kicking himself over his early exit, but said the final outcome soothed that situation.

"I felt wonderful. I was really excited," he said. "Then I just started getting ahead of myself. I was more concerned about trying to go as deep as I could as opposed to what's really going on right now. And that ended up biting me in the butt. Walking [two] people in four outs is just unacceptable, no matter if you're the starter or just a fill-in guy. I felt really good and it was mighty frustrating. But that all faded away as soon as we got the lead."

Yoervis Medina, the fifth of nine Mariners pitchers on the day, was credited with the win.

Fernando Rodney, making just his second appearance in the last 12 days, gave up a leadoff homer in the ninth to Kevin Pillar before finishing off his AL-leading 47th save, extending his club record.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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McClendon wants to see rookie duo pitch in offseason

Walker, Paxton could make starts in Arizona Fall League or Venezuelan Winter League

McClendon wants to see rookie duo pitch in offseason

TORONTO -- Rookie starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are finishing their seasons strong for Seattle, but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon would like the two youngsters to continue getting more work with some offseason starts either in the Arizona Fall League or the Venezuelan Winter League after missing considerable time this year with shoulder issues.

Walker threw eight innings of one-run ball in his final start Wednesday in a 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays. McClendon likes what he's seen from the 22-year-old in his final two starts of the year.

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"Going into the Houston start, I was really anxious to see him out there because I really wanted to see what he had," McClendon said. "I left that start with a very good feeling, and when we got here, I was anxious to see this start. I'm excited about him moving forward and obviously he's taken a big step. There's a lot of work to be done, and I'm sure he'll continue to get better."

Walker finished the year with a 2-3 record and a 2.61 ERA in eight games, including five starts. His eight innings against the Blue Jays was a career best, as he'd never gone beyond six in his previous seven big league starts.

"That was a good start to end the regular season on," Walker said. "I felt good the last two starts and I was in a pretty good groove. It's something to build on for next year."

Wednesday's game finished in one hour and 59 minutes, the quickest American League game since the Rays beat the Royals in one hour and 53 minutes on Aug. 9, 2011. Mark Buehrle pitched efficiently while allowing Seattle just three hits, and Walker tossed a four-hitter pitching at an equally quick pace.

"It was a big game and Buehrle was pitching a great game, too," said Walker. "So I had to go out there and pretty much keep up with him and put up zeros. It definitely was a confidence builder, going eight innings, the longest of my career. Everything felt good."

McClendon said that quick approach was a positive sign as well.

"His pace was real good in Houston, too," McClendon said. "He just got the ball and got right back on the mound. Not a lot of thinking, just competing, and that's good."

Paxton has gone 6-4 with a 3.03 ERA in 12 starts after missing nearly four months. He'll make his final regular-season start Saturday against the Angels at Safeco Field.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tough road trip has taken its toll on Mariners

Tough road trip has taken its toll on Mariners

TORONTO -- For most of the season, the Mariners were the best road team in the American League, a fact that gave hope as they set off on an 11-game cross-country trek to close out their away schedule while pushing for a postseason berth.

But things didn't go as well on the final journey, a tough trip with no off-days to help ease the challenge of playing in three different time zones in two different countries and traveling coast-to-coast from Anaheim to Houston to Toronto -- and now back to Seattle on Friday to wrap things up with a final three games against the Angels.

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The Mariners have gone 3-7 on the trip going into Thursday's finale in Toronto, dropping their season road mark to 45-35, which ranked behind the Angels (46-32), Orioles (45-32) and Royals (44-33). Seattle has been outscored, 64-37, in the first 10 games of the journey and clearly has been running low on fumes, particularly with its pitching.

Manager Lloyd McClendon has refused all season to point to Seattle's tough travel as any excuse. The Mariners consistently fly more than 50,000 miles a year, twice as much as some of the Midwest teams and far more than East Coast clubs as well that have numerous division rivals within close proximity.

But McClendon acknowledged Thursday that the last journey has taken its toll, in large part because of a 7 p.m. PT start in the final game of a four-game series in Anaheim that required the club to fly overnight to Houston, where the time change resulted in a two-hour loss smack in the middle of things. The Mariners also have a late-afternoon start in Thursday's finale in Toronto instead of the usual 1 p.m. local getaway time that allows clubs to get to their next destination at a reasonable hour.

"This road trip has been tough," McClendon said. "It's not so much about the mileage, it's just the hours we got in on getaway days took its toll on us. Getting into Houston at 6 in the morning really threw guys off and then coming all the way across the country to here. And now we don't get home tonight until after a five-hour trip.

"Why this game today isn't at 1 o'clock is beyond me. But it is what it is and we'll make the best of it. We have all year. And our guys have been great. They haven't complained at all. They've been super."

Reality has hit home, however, and McClendon said he was playing Robinson Cano at designated hitter on Thursday to give his weary second baseman a little relief.

"You see him in the dugout between innings last night?" McClendon asked. "He's got that roller trying to roll his legs out. It's been a brutal road trip for us in a lot of different ways. He's almost on empty, so we're getting him off his feet a little to see if we can rejuvenate him."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners give Seager Heart and Hustle Award

Mariners give Seager Heart and Hustle Award

TORONTO -- Third baseman Kyle Seager will be presented with this year's Mariners Heart and Hustle Award on Friday as part of the pregame ceremonies prior to the opener of a three-game series against the Angels at Safeco Field.

The award will be presented by Mariners hitting coach Howard Johnson, a 14-year Major League veteran and member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

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Seager led the Mariners with 25 home runs and 94 RBIs entering Thursday's game and earned his first American League All-Star berth this year. The 26-year-old has developed into an integral part of Seattle's young team since being drafted in the third round in 2009 out of North Carolina.

The Alumni Association selects winners from each of MLB's 30 teams, choosing players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game.

Fans, all alumni and active players will vote to select the final winner from the 30 team winners. Previous overall winners are David Eckstein (2005), Craig Biggio (2006, 2007), Grady Sizemore (2008), Albert Pujols (2009), Roy Halladay (2010), Torii Hunter (2011), Mike Trout (2012) and Dustin Pedroia (2013).

The final winner will be announced Nov. 18 at the 15th annual Legends for Youth Dinner in New York City.

The Seattle Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will also present its annual awards before Friday's game to the Mariners Player of the Year, Hitter of the Year and Unsung Hero.

The Mariners are closing out their regular season with three games at Safeco this weekend against the Angels. Friday is Fan Appreciation Night and Sunday will be Kids Appreciation Day, with prizes being awarded between each half-inning by random drawings.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Walker's excellent effort not enough to halt skid

Rookie turns in career-high eight innings; Wild Card hopes dwindling

Walker's excellent effort not enough to halt skid

TORONTO -- Taijuan Walker halted Seattle's run of poor pitching on Wednesday, but not even the rookie's gem could put a stop to the Mariners' untimely five-game slide, as they lost a 1-0 decision that reduces their playoff chances to the miracle-needed stage.

Walker threw eight innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays, but the one run was another devastating blow for a struggling Seattle club that now has lost 12 of its last 17 games.

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Toronto broke the scoreless tie when Ryan Goins lofted a two-out single that fell between center fielder Austin Jackson and second baseman Robinson Cano as former Mariner Munenori Kawasaki raced around to score from first with the ball taking a high bounce off the Rogers Centre artificial turf.

With the A's losing to the Angels and the Royals falling to the Indians, Seattle remains three games back of Oakland and Kansas City for the American League's two Wild Card berths with four games remaining.

Thus, the Mariners remain mathematically alive, though the math grows more difficult by the day. At 83-75, Seattle can still get to 87 wins by sweeping its final four games. The A's and Royals are at 86 wins and thus can eliminate the Mariners with any combination of two wins of their own or losses by Seattle.

But in the quiet of the Mariners clubhouse, manager Lloyd McClendon found a positive to grasp in Walker's outstanding performance.

"In all of this, that's one thing I certainly don't want to get lost," McClendon said. "That young man threw a tremendous ballgame, really stepped up and did everything we asked him to do. He was outstanding.

"I think his last two outings have really given us a glimpse of the future. We have a lot to be proud of and this young man is going to be part of that future. We have a lot to be excited about. Was this important? Yeah. I think it was. I think he's turned a corner and is starting to move in the right direction."

The 22-year-old Walker did his part to stop the bleeding for a club whose starters had posted a 9.15 ERA in the first nine games of this 11-game road trek. Seattle had been outscored 42-10 in its previous four losses.

But after losing on a bloop single, Walker wasn't able to relish his breakthrough game.

"It was a huge game and we needed the win," he said, "so it's kinda tough right now."

Seattle's late skid is largely the result of an outstanding pitching staff that appears to be running out of gas, but Walker steadied the ship, at least for a night, as he made the longest start of his young career. Only Goins' jam shot to center marred Walker's night after issuing his lone walk, a four-pitch freebie to Kawasaki that followed McClendon's challenge on a play at first on a diving tag by Kendrys Morales to keep Dalton Pompey off base.

"I was excited, probably a little amped up, maybe a little too much," Walker said after the Mariners won the replay challenge. "So the four-pitch walk to a guy I have to go right after, that doesn't help. I had to lock back in and try to get out of it. You have to try to not let them score, but a jam-shot blooper, not much you can do about that."

Jackson was stationed deeper than normal in center field on the play as the Mariners shifted back to prevent any balls going over their outfielder's heads with the potential go-ahead run on first.

"It just fell right between all of us, really," Jackson said. "It was a tough play for everybody. Playing no doubles right there, we're trying to keep that runner on first from scoring. He hit a ball in the perfect spot."

Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle came into the game looking to get six innings to reach 200 for a 14th consecutive season, but the veteran did far more than that as he held Seattle to three hits in eight-plus frames as the Mariners endured their club-record 19th shutout of the year.

Corey Hart doubled down the right-field line leading off the third but wound up stranded at third. No other Mariner advanced past first against Buehrle, and their last chance died in the ninth when reliever Aaron Sanchez picked off pinch-runner James Jones at first base following a leadoff single by Chris Taylor.

"He was as good as you're ever going to see him," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after Buehrle improved to 13-10 with a 3.39 ERA. "He was strong the whole night, his ball was really ducking and darting in there. He works quick, that game flew by and their guy was just as good."

Indeed, Walker was equally outstanding in his fifth start of the season for Seattle, breezing through with just four singles and a walk. The youngster had six strikeouts and finished his rookie season at 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight games.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Pressures of playoff push a first for youngsters

Cano, Jackson, Rodney bring World Series experience to Mariners clubhouse

Pressures of playoff push a first for youngsters

TORONTO -- The heat of a playoff race can be intense, as the Mariners are learning this year while pushing for their first postseason appearance since 2001. The young group has struggled down the stretch, going 5-11 since Sept. 7 and 3-6 on its final road trip heading into Wednesday as their chances have diminished.

Not all of the Mariners are new to this sort of situation, as Robinson Cano has played in seven postseasons and outfielder Austin Jackson competed in the past three playoffs. Both those players have performed in the World Series, as has closer Fernando Rodney.

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Outfielders Endy Chavez and Corey Hart, designated hitter Kendrys Morales and pitchers Chris Young and Joe Beimel also have playoff experience, but the core of Seattle's team has yet to play in the postseason.

Jackson, acquired from the Tigers midseason, said the challenge is slowing things down in big-game situations and keeping everything normal.

"You just have to go through it," said Jackson. "You have to do your best to try to slow it down, but it's tough. We know the opportunity that we have, and it's tough to try to relax when you want to get it done."

The Mariners were outscored 42-14 in their past four games and were somewhat shell-shocked when ace Felix Hernandez gave up seven runs in the fifth inning of Tuesday's 10-2 loss. Hernandez has never pitched in the postseason in his 10-year career, but Jackson said even playoff-tested players feel the same pressures.

"It's still hard," Jackson said. "It's always going to be hard. Trying to get into the playoffs and get that spot is tough. I don't think it really matters how many years you have, it's one of those things where you go out and leave it all on the field. You've got to dig deep sometimes, and we just weren't able to get anything really going [Tuesday night] after that one inning."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners on top in two of three reviewed plays

Hart's third-inning 2B confirmed; Seattle wins challenge in eighth, loses one in ninth

Mariners on top in two of three reviewed plays

TORONTO -- Three replay reviews yielded mixed results for the Blue Jays and Mariners on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

A review in the third inning confirmed that Corey Hart's shot down the right-field line was indeed a fair ball; Dalton Pompey was ruled out in the eighth after a replay overturned a safe call on Kendrys Morales' tag on a bunt; and an out call on a pickoff of James Jones in the ninth was confirmed. The Blue Jays won, 1-0.

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With no outs, Mariners designated hitter Hart sent an offering from Mark Buehrle high into right field that bounced just fair and into the stands for a ground-rule double, prompting Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to issue a manager's challenge.

After a review of one minute, 25 seconds, the call on the field was confirmed, and Hart stayed at second base. He was stranded though, as Buehrle went on to retire Mike Zunino, Chris Taylor and Austin Jackson in order to escape the threat.

Then in the bottom of the eighth of a scoreless game, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon successfully challenged a call that had originally awarded Pompey a bunt single to lead off the inning.

Pompey squared around and laid a bunt down the first-base line, but he pushed the ball to Morales, who was charging in from first base. Morales fielded it and dove toward Pompey as he raced down the line and swerved to avoid the tag before diving headfirst into first base. First-base umpire Doug Eddings called Pompey safe, prompting McClendon to challenge the call.

In the top of the ninth, with the potential tying run on first, Blue Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez made a slick pickoff move to get pinch-runner Jones at first, who replaced Taylor with no outs.

Jones narrowly got back to the bag a few moments earlier on a pickoff attempt but wasn't so lucky the second time around and was called out by Eddings. McClendon came out to challenge, but it was clear from the review that Jones was indeed out.

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Career year proof of Seager's rapid evolution

Career year proof of Seager's rapid evolution

TORONTO -- Manager Lloyd McClendon challenged Kyle Seager to become a more complete hitter early in the season, and the young third baseman has done all of that and more, setting career highs with 25 home runs and 94 RBIs with six games still remaining.

Seager went into Tuesday's game leading the Mariners in homers, RBIs and slugging percentage (.467) while ranking second to Robinson Cano in OPS at .806. His line of .273/.340/.467 is a nice step up from last year's .260/.338/.426 when he hit 22 home runs with 69 RBIs.

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"I think he has taken the next step," McClendon said Tuesday. "I think he's one of the top third basemen in the league. And rightfully so. He's played extremely well on both sides of the ball. And I think he's only going to get better."

The 26-year-old hit his 25th home run in Monday's 14-4 loss to the Blue Jays, becoming the 15th Mariner to amass 25 doubles, 25 home runs and 90 RBIs in a season, and the first since Jose Lopez in 2009.

Seager already has the third-most RBIs for a Seattle third baseman in a season behind Jim Presley (109 in 1986) and Adrian Beltre (98 in 2007) and was tied for the fourth-most homers behind Presley (28 in 1985 and 27 in '86) and Beltre (26 in '07) entering Tuesday.

McClendon is equally pleased with Seager's glove work at the hot corner, where he's spent a lot of time this season with infield coach Chris Woodward.

"He's worked extremely hard," McClendon said. "Woody has done a great job with him as far as his preparation. His awareness of guys in the league and what they're capable of doing, his positioning is a lot better. And I think his feet are a lot better than they were in the past."

As for the bat? McClendon has said in the past that Seager has benefited from playing with Cano, but he was careful to note that it's the youngster himself that has done the work.

"Quite frankly, Seager was on the verge of becoming a very good player," he said. "I just think it's a natural progression for him from an offensive standpoint. He's gotten better. We've pushed and prodded him, and he's gotten better. But I think the credit goes to Seager because of the time and work he's put in."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Battle-tested Cano stressing focus for Mariners

Battle-tested Cano stressing focus for Mariners

TORONTO -- Robinson Cano knows the Mariners have missed opportunities to make a significant mark in the American League Wild Card race over the last week, but he said prior to Tuesday's game with the Blue Jays that there's still plenty of fight left in his club.

"We have six games and we have to get after every single game if we want to get there," Cano said. "A lot of things can happen, so we just have to keep fighting and grinding."

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While many of his young teammates are in their first playoff push, Cano played 51 postseason games over his nine seasons with the Yankees. He knows the intensity is ratcheted up at this time of year, and the Mariners have to respond.

"The key is you have to focus more than just regular games," he said. "The playoffs is what we're doing now. You can't leave men on base, you can't miss opportunities, you have to do the little things because these games -- we're like 2-3 games behind, and we're in a situation now where we have to win every game."

A lot of people wondered why Cano left the Yankees for a team that hadn't been in the postseason since 2001, but Seattle has been a contender to the end and still has a shot. His former club is two games back of Seattle and in even more dire straits.

Cano is pleased with the big picture and the progress the Mariners have made, but isn't ready to concede anything yet.

"We have to be satisfied with this year, but we're not out of the race until we're eliminated," he said. "We can win the next five or six games and anything can happen. We just have to stay focused."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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