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Seattle Mariners

Mariners recall Lee, bring up two relievers

By Bob Dutton Tacoma News Tribune

CHICAGO – As expected, the Mariners bolstered their thin bullpen prior to Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox and sought to balance their lineup by recalling first baseman Dae-Ho Lee from Triple-A Tacoma.

Joining the relief corps are switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, acquired earlier this month from Toronto in a waiver claim, and hard-throwing righty Dan Altavilla, who is making the jump directly from Double-A Jackson.

Closer Edwin Diaz made a similar move in early June, but manager Scott Servais cautioned against holding Altavilla to Diaz’s standards.

“Careful, I don’t want to put that on anybody,” Servais said. “We certainly did not expect Edwin Diaz to do what he’s done. But (Altavilla) is a young guy that we’ll give an opportunity to.”

The Mariners cleared space for Venditte, who was recalled from Tacoma, and Altavilla after Friday’s 3-1 victory by optioning outfielder Nori Aoki and infielder Mike Freeman to the Rainiers.

“Aoki getting sent out was probably the toughest conversation,” Servais said. “Nori has done an outstanding job since he’s been back here. He’s been a catalyst at the top of the lineup.

“Just looking at what’s coming down the pike here, the number of left-handed starters we’re going to face, the number of starts he was going to get was going to be limited. We need pitching.”

Lee returns from an eight-day remedial trip to Tacoma after the Mariners opted to put reliever Tom Wilhelmsen on the 15-day disabled list because of spasms in his lower back. Otherwise, Lee would not have been eligible to return until Monday.

As it is, Lee went immediately into Saturday’s lineup as a right-handed bat against Chicago lefty Jose Quintana and figures to start again Sunday when the White Sox send out another lefty in Carlos Rodon.

“Hello, everybody,” Lee bellowed while waving as he entered the clubhouse. “Hello! I’m back.”

Lee, 34, was 14 for 27 in seven games at Tacoma after getting just four hits in his last 51 big-league at-bats. He batted .246 overall in 84 big-league games with 13 homers and 41 RBIs.

“He wasn’t swinging the bat well,” Servais said. “I think just going down there and taking a deep breath, kind of regrouping, (was all he needed). He’s proven he can hit in this league. It’s just a matter of getting the confidence back.”

Venditte, 31, compiled a 1.08 ERA in five appearances at Tacoma following the Aug. 6 waiver claim the brought him from the Blue Jays. He was 2-2 with a 4.58 ERA in 34 big-league games over the last two years with Oakland and Toronto.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” he said, “especially when you get picked up like that. There are some expectations for you to go to Triple-A and perform well. Fortunately, I was able to do that.”

While Venditte is capable of pitching with either hand, and switches accordingly against each hitter, the Mariners plan to use him primarily against left-handed batters as a counterpoint to right-handers Steve Cishek and Nick Vincent.

“That was the main reason we acquired him,” Servais confirmed, “to come in and get the lefties out in the fifth, sixth, seventh innings.”

Venditte’s career splits support the plan. He permits a .175/.242/.298 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) against lefties, but that jumps to .271/.350/.471 against right-handers.

Altavilla, 23, turned into one of the organization’s top prospects this season after switching to the bullpen. He compiled a 1.91 ERA in 43 games as Jackson’s closer.

Wilhelmsen’s time on the disabled list is backdated to Friday, which means he is eligible to return Sept. 10 at Oakland. He has a 3.20 ERA in 22 games since returning to the Mariners as a free agent on June 22.

“I know it’s something that he’s dealt with here in the past,” Servais said, “and he’s been able to work through it. But we really don’t have time to give him five or six days. I hate to lose him, but we do have to have healthy guys who can pitch.”

Aoki and Freeman must remain in the minors for at least 10 days unless, like Lee, they replace a player placed on the disabled list. That means they can’t be recalled until Sept. 6.