SEATTLE — First baseman Jesus Montero joined the Mariners just in time for the series finale Thursday night against his former club, the New York Yankees, at Safeco Field.
The Mariners recalled Montero from Triple-A Tacoma to fill the vacancy created by Wednesday’s post-game decision to put outfielder Michael Saunders on the 15-day disabled list because of a sore right shoulder.
Montero didn’t hide his elation at returning to the majors but insisted he returns as a changed person after a tumultuous 15 months.
“The biggest thing I learned (at Tacoma),” he said, “was how good it is to be in the big leagues. I’ve got to respect the game. I’ve got to do my best to be here all life and to help the team to win. That’s what I learned.”
Say this: Montero isn’t arriving with a hot bat. He was 3-for-19 without an RBI over his last six games at Triple-A Tacoma. Even so, the Mariners judged him as the best replacement piece for Saunders.
“I think he’s trying to get things back together,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s been working hard. Actually, he’s been swinging the bat better than the indicated down there. For me, he was the logical choice.”
The Mariners chose Montero over several other promotion candidates, including infielders Nick Franklin and Chris Taylor, and outfielders Xavier Nady and Abraham Almonte.
Summoning either Taylor or Nady would have required a corresponding space-clearing move on the 40-man roster.
“We’ve got a 15-day DL (with Saunders),” McClendon said, “and (Montero) is on the roster. It just made sense to bring (up) this young man and give him an opportunity.”
McClendon said Montero would serve, primarily, as a designated hitter against left-handed pitchers.
Montero, 24, had eight homers and 40 RBIs in 59 games for the Rainiers while compiling a .270/.345/.455 slash (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage).
But…seven of those homers came in his first 20 games. Montero hit just one homer in his last 39 games for the Rainiers while batting .261 with 19 RBIs.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s Triple-A. There are a lot of veteran guys there pitching. I feel great to be here. I feel I earned it, and I feel like I learned something. Now, I want to be here forever.”
The Mariners acquired Montero from the Yankees in a Jan. 20, 2102 trade for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. The Mariners also got pitcher Hector Noesi in the deal.
At the time, Montero was widely viewed as one of the game’s top prospects.
Montero batted .260 in 135 games as a rookie in 2012 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs, but he slumped badly last season and was sent to the minors on May 23, in part, to facilitate a position change from catcher to first base.
While at Tacoma, Montero suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee, which required surgery and sidelined him from June 1 to July 18.
Shortly after returning, he received a 50-game suspension for allegedly obtaining performance-enhancing drugs from the Biogenesis, a health clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.
That suspension carried through the end of the season.
Montero then drew the Mariners’ ire this season by reporting 40 pounds overweight when he arrived for spring training. He was optioned March 14 to Tacoma.
“I’ve focused a lot on my cardio to get better with my body,” Montero said. “I’m trying to do my routines every single day. That’s what I did in Tacoma.
“They wanted me to do a lot of stuff at first base, and I kept doing it every single day. I think that helped me to be here again.”
Saunders should be ready to return to game action in roughly a week, if all goes as expected, but McClendon argued the Mariners needed to make a roster move.
“I don’t expect it to be more than five or six days,” McClendon said, “but I don’t we’re the type of club that can play short for five or six days.”
Saunders suffered the injury last Friday on a swing at Tampa Bay, then missed three games before playing Tuesday in the series opener against the Yankees. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
The Mariners placed him on the disabled list after Wednesday’s game because of inflammation in the right AC (acromioclavicular) joint, which is at the top of the shoulder.
“It’s not a major injury,” McClendon acknowledged. “It’s one that nagging. To go back out there in the next day or two, a swing-and-miss is going to hurt it again. He needs rest.
“It’s unfortunate, but he’s going to have to go on the DL to do that.”
The decision means Saunders is ineligible to be activated until June 26, although tentative plans call for him to go to the minors on a rehab assignment at some point next week.
Left-hander James Paxton is “feeling good” in his latest recovery program.
“I played catch (Wednesday) at 60 feet for seven minutes,” he said. “I felt really strong. Everything was coming out well. I throw again (Friday), I believe, at 60 feet for 10 minutes.
“I’m trying to build up the endurance a little bit. After that, we’ll probably go up in distance.”
Paxton was diagnosed with a strained back muscle (left latissimus dorsi) after an April 8 start against the Angels. He made one rehab start, May 24 for Tacoma, but encountered a setback when he experienced shoulder soreness.
There is no target date, he said, for returning to the mound.
“Right now,” Paxton said, “it’s more of a day-to-day thing just to see how I come back from each day. Just move forward from there.”
The Mariners confirmed 28 signings from their 40 selections in last week’s draft, including the next 13 picks after outfielder Alex Jackson, their still-unsigned first-round pick.
In all, Seattle has signed picks 2-14, 16-19, 21-26, 29-30, 32-33 and 38.
The signings include two area players: left-handed pitcher Nick Kiel, an 18th-round pick from Bellevue College; and shortstop Taylor Smart, a 26th-round pick from Maple Valley who attended Tennessee.
Left-hander Andrew Summerville, a 34th-round pick from Lakeside, is among the 12 selections still unsigned.
Now signed: OF Gareth Morgan (competitive balance B pick at end of second round), OF Austin Cousino (third round), LHP Ryan Yarbrough (4), RHP Dan Altavilla (5), LHP Lane Ratliff (6) and LHP Taylor Byrd (7).
RHP Kody Kerski (8), RHP Peter Miller (9), C Adam Miller (10), RHP Jeremiah Muhammad (11), SS Nelson Ward (12), RHP Marvin Gorgas (13), SS Chris Mariscal (14) and C Wayne Taylor (16).
RHP Trey Cochran-Gill (17), Kiel, RHP Robin Pierce (19), SS Jay Baum (21), LHP Jarrett Brown (22), LHP Pat Peterson (23), 1B Sheehan Planas-Arteaga (24), RHP Vinny Nittoli (25), Smart and RHP Tyler Herb (29).
C James Alfonso (30), 2B Chase Nyman (32), SS Tom Verdi (33) abd OF Taylor Zeutenhorst (38).
Still unsigned: Jackson, RHP Lukas Schiraldi (15), RHP Hawtin Buchanan (20), 2B Andy Peterson (27), C Dominic Blanco (28), CF DeAires Moses (31), Summerville and LHP Chris McGrath (35).
LHP Spencer Herman (36), RHPSam Lindquist (37), 3B Kavin Keyes (39) and C Scott Manea (40).
The Mariners will turn to Felix Hernandez in their series opener against Texas in hopes of reversing their cursed history on Friday the 13th. They are 10-25 in their history on Fridays falling on the 13th of a month, which includes a 1-1 mark in postseason. The Mariners have also lost seven of their last eight games on a Friday the 13th…Robinson Cano entered Thursday as the American League batting leader at .332…the Blue Jays released ex-Mariners lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith after he gave up eight runs in 14 innings at Triple-A Buffalo.
It was 23 years ago Friday — June 13, 1991 — that Alvin Davis hit a homer for the 100th time in his career at the Kingdome. It was a two-run shot that capped a three-run eighth inning in a 6-5 victory over Detroit.
Davis was the first player to hit 100 homers at the Kingdome. He would hit just one more there before retiring.
Only two other players hit reached triple figures at the Kingdome, which the Mariners called home from 1977 through June 27, 1999: Ken Griffey Jr. hit 198, and Jay Buhner hit 125.
After Davis’ 101, Edgar Martinez ranked fourth at 95 with Ken Phelps and Alex Rodriguez tied for fifth at 60.
The Mariners continue their eight-game homestand when they open a three-game weekend series against Texas at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (8-1 with a 2.39 ERA) will face Rangers right-hander Nick Tepesch (2-2 and 4.91). Root Sports will carry the game.