ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Don Zimmer’s death on Wednesday, at age 83, hit home a little more Thursday for manager Lloyd McClendon during the Mariners’ open date.
“It was funny,” McClendon said. “I got up , and I was getting ready to go to the track. I realized that Zim was not picking me up.
“Zim and I have been going to the track here for the last eight or nine years. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss him telling me that he’s out of bullets (money).”
McClendon played under Zimmer on the Chicago Cubs in 1989-90.
“Zim was an institution,” McClendon said. “Somebody said he was an advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, and that’s true, but he was a mentor to a lot of us. He was certainly a mentor to me.”
The Rays are planning to honor Zimmer prior to Saturday’s game with a 15-minute tribute that will delay the first pitch to 1:25 p.m. Pacific time. The listed start is 1:10 p.m.
Zimmer spent 65 years in pro baseball after signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 as an amateur free agent. He reached the majors in 1954 and played 12 years for five different teams.
After several years as a minor-league coach and manager, Zimmer was hired in 1972 as manager of the San Diego Padres. He also managed Boston, Texas and the Cubs over parts of 13 seasons.
Zimmer served as the Yankees bench coach from 1996-2003 and spent the last 11 years with the Rays before succumbing to heart and kidney problems. As McClendon notes, Zimmer was also fond of the track.
“He always told me, `Somebody’s got to win the race. Go bet the money,’” McClendon said. “I lost a lot of money in his honor (on Thursday). I was out of bullets at the end of the day.”
Now cleaning up
John Buck batted cleanup Friday for the first time this season when McClendon unveiled the latest version of his right-handed lineup in matching up against Tampa Bay lefty Eric Bedard.
Buck shrugged it off.
“When you’ve been around for a while,” he said, “people know you enough — especially in this day and age — they know how to get you out. They know your strengths and weaknesses.
“That’s not going to change whether you’re in the eight-hole or the four-hole.That’s how I am (in calling a game) as a catcher. Knowing that helps me stay within my approach. The slot in the lineup doesn’t affect that.”
McClendon said Mike Zunino will likely be the starting catcher for the series’ remaining three games.
McClendon all but ruled out the option of shifting right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma up one day in the rotation even though doing so would have would have kept Iwakuma on a regular five-day schedule.
“As of right now,” McClendon said, “we’re staying in the rotation.”
If so, that sets up a marquee match-up Tuesday at Safeco Field when the Mariners open an eight-game homestand with the first of three games against the Yankees: Iwakuma vs. Masahiro Tanaka.
An open date Thursday afforded an extra day of rest for Chris Young, Roenis Elias and Felix Hernandez prior to their starts against Tampa Bay.
“It’s the right thing to do,” McClendon said, “and it’s the smart thing to do. I don’t know what results we’ll get, but pitching is our foundation. It’s our backbone. We’d better do everything we can to try to take care of it.”
What McClendon didn’t do was identify a starter for Monday’s series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Erasmo Ramirez is still on the roster, but he gave up five runs in three innings Tuesday in Atlanta, and the Mariners are likely to seek an alternative.
The top two possibilities: promote right-hander Matt Palmer from Tacoma or promote a reliever and cover the game with the bullpen corps. Of note: Palmer was pulled Thursday after three innings and 48 pitches.
Plans call for lefty James Paxton to begin playing catch Monday in his recovery from the shoulder soreness that surfaced after a May 24 rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma (in his recovery from a strained back muscle)…Right-hander Taijuan Walker is scheduled to start Monday for Tacoma in his ongoing recovery from shoulder soreness. That gives him an extra day of rest, after throwing 56 pitches in two innings on Tuesday, and keeps him in line to step into the fifth spot in the big-league rotation…First baseman Justin Smoak returned to the lineup after not starting Wednesday at Atlanta because of a sore left quadriceps muscle.
Noting 2013 draftees
Point to note while the draft continues through Saturday: Third baseman D.J. Peterson and outfielder Austin Wilson, the Mariners’ first two picks in 2013, are No. 2 and No. 7 on Baseball America’s latest Prospect Hot Sheet.
Infielder Griefer Andrade, the club’s top 2013 international signing, received mention as the “Helium Watch” player for his success in the Venezuelan Summer League.
Peterson, 22, was 14-for-28 over the last seven games at Hi-A High Desert with nine extra-base hits and nine RBIs. He is batting .317 overall in 52 games with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.
Wilson, 22, as 10-for-26 over the last week at Lo-A Clinton with 11 extra-base hits and 12 RBIs. He is batting .289 in 52 games with eight homers and 42 RBIs
Andrade, 17, is batting .338 through 17 games in the VSL with a .389 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage. He received a $1.05 million bonus last year. The international signing period commences July 2.
Hi-A High Desert outfielder Gaby Guerrero was the only Maverick selected to represent the California League in it’s annual All-Star Game against the Carolina League.
Guerrero, 20, is batting .320 in 59 games with seven homers and 42 RBIs. He also has a .368 on-base percentage and a .473 slugging percentage.
The game is June 17 in Wilmington, Del.
Lo-A Clinton placed four players on the West Division club for the Midwest League All-Star Game, which is June 17 in Comstock Park, Mich.
The four are catcher Marcus Littlewood, shortstop Jack Reinheimer and pitchers Edwin Diaz and Emilio Pagan.
Littlewood, 22, was a second-round pick in 2010. He is batting .276 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 36 games.
Reinheimer, 21, was a fifth-round pick in 2013. He is batting .281 with no homers and 24 RBIs in 55 games.
Diaz, 20, was a third-round pick in 2012 and is generally viewed as one of the organization’s top prospects. He is 2-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 11 starts.
Pagan, 23, was a 10th-round pick in 2013. He is 1-2 with eight saves and a 3.28 ERA in 17 appearances.
It was 18 years ago Saturday — June 7, 1996 — that Mariners third baseman Russ Davis suffered a broken leg while chasing a foul ball by Keith Lockhart in the fourth inning of a 9-5 loss at Kansas City.
Davis missed the rest of the season.
The Mariners acquired Davis in the December 1995 trade that sent first baseman Tino Martinez to the Yankees. Davis is also the answer to a trivia question: Who hit the first homer at Safeco Field?
The Mariners and Rays continue their four-game wraparound series with at 1:10 p.m. Pacific time Saturday at Tropicana Field. The game is expected to be delayed 15 minutes because of a planned tribute to the late Don Zimmer.
Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias (4-4 with a 3.53 ERA) is scheduled to start against Tampa Bay righty Alex Cobb (1-3 and 3.19).