Richie Sexson and his large salary represented much of what has been wrong with the Seattle Mariners this season. Sticking with young talent such as Felix Hernandez may be their only way back to respectability.
A day after releasing Sexson, the Mariners will send Hernandez to the mound for the first time in more than two weeks when they open a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
With a $117 million payroll, Seattle (35-56) expected to compete for its first postseason spot since 2001. The Mariners, though, have the American League’s worst record, and on Thursday dumped one of their highest-paid players.
Sexson, with his $14 million salary, was released after a slump that lasted for most of two seasons. The 33-year-old veteran first baseman was batting .218 with 30 RBIs in 74 games in 2008.
“I think we gave Richie a lot of rope … and there just wasn’t enough improvement,” Mariners interim general manager Lee Pelekoudas said.
Seattle isn’t done making moves. The Mariners will have an opening on the roster with Hernandez (6-5, 2.83 ERA) scheduled to come off the disabled list and pitch Friday.
The 22-year-old right-hander will pitch for the first time since spraining his left ankle against the New York Mets on June 23.
Hernandez was 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA in his last five starts before the injury, and is 2-0 with a 2.11 ERA in three career starts against Kansas City (41-52). He rejoins a Mariners pitching staff that has helped keep the team in games over the past week. Seattle has lost four of five, but has posted a 2.68 ERA and a .199 opponent batting average during that stretch.
“We’ve been playing better baseball for the last month,” Mariners right fielder Willie Bloomquist said. “If our pitchers keep doing what they’ve been doing, we’re going to win more than we lose. If they do what they’ve been doing, I like our chances.”
Seattle, which lost 3-2 in 11 innings to Oakland on Thursday after entering the ninth with a 2-0 lead, has scored three runs or fewer in five of its last six contests.
Kansas City’s bats, meanwhile, are heating up. Since scoring four total runs during a three-game skid, the Royals have averaged 6.0 runs en route to splitting their last four games, including a 4-1 win over the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox on Thursday night.
Kansas City will now hand the ball to Luke Hochevar (5-7, 5.40 ERA). He has lost two straight starts while giving up 13 runs over 10 innings.
“I’ve had my share of rough games, but that’s part of the process,” Hochevar told the Royals’ official Web site. ” You’ve got to take your lumps, especially as a rookie.”
The 24-year-old right-hander gave up a season-high seven runs and nine hits in four innings as Kansas City lost 9-2 at Tampa Bay on Sunday. Hochevar has been solid at home this season, though, going 3-2 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts.
The Royals and Mariners split a two-game set at Seattle from April 14-15.
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