The Week Ahead: Cliff Lee to make Mariners debut

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Cliff Lee M's throwing.jpgCliff Lee was dominant in his rehab start on Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma, tossing six shutout innings against Salt Lake.

The former AL Cy Young winner threw only 68 pitches, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out four. Two of the hits were a bunt single and a fly ball that the center fielder lost in the sun, so Lee clearly has healed nicely from his abdominal injury and is ready to go.

He’s scheduled to make his debut for the Seattle Mariners on Friday against the Rangers at Safeco Field, and as I speculated last week, he’ll take Ian Snell’s spot in the rotation.

This is good news for the Mariners, who will finally get a look at the guy they envisioned as Ace No. 1A — along with Felix Hernandez – when they acquired him from the Phillies in the offseason. The problem is what the Mariners really need is for Cliff Lee to morph into Adrian Gonzalez, as pitching hasn’t been their problem.

Even without Lee, the Mariners have the third best team ERA in the AL (3.41). They’re also fourth in walks allowed, sixth in homers allowed, sixth in on-base average against, and with that stellar defense behind them, they’re second in double-plays turned. Back-end starters Jason Vargas (2-1, 3.60 ERA) and Doug Fister (2-1, 1.67) have been more than adequate in the rotation.

Unfortunately, their offense is holding them back, as they are 12th in runs scored, 13th in slugging percentage, and last in home runs. As a team, Seattle has left the yard only eight times, while the Blue Jays lead the AL with 26 dingers.

If only Lee could hit.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Dodgers at Mets, April 26-28:
Two big-market, high-hype teams that are looking pretty mediocre so far. This will be entertaining for the hand-wringing on both sides alone.

Padres at Marlins, April 26-28: Last week I wondered if the Marlins were for real, then they went out and played as if they had read my post and actually believed it. (Sorry, Fish fans) This week I was tempted (very briefly) to ask the same question of the Padres, who had won eight straight before losing on Sunday. Instead, let’s just watch these two slug it out, then wonder which thrifty team will end up with the best wins-per-dollar ratio.

Twins at Tigers, April 27-29: I’m not going to call this a battle between the best in the AL Central, even though the standings say so. First, it’s too early to write off the White Sox. Second, the Twins are clearly the class of the division, with everyone else a distant second. Still, this series is definitely worth checking out, especially for the Liriano-Verlander matchup on Tuesday.

Mets at Phillies, April 30-May 2: This was a nice little rivalry before the Mets fell on hard times last season. Heck, even Jimmy Rollins hasn’t done much to stir the pot. Even before his injury, the best he could do was to say Roy Halladay was better than Johan Santana. Still, we’ve got until Friday for someone to spout off. Keep your fingers crossed.

Rockies at Giants, April 30-May 2: I’m not including this game just to prove we don’t have an East Coast bias here at HBT, but because this should be an honest-to-goodness entertaining series. The Giants have found some offense to go with their pitching, and the Rockies have as much talent as any team in the division. 

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Dodgers at Mets (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Twins at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Rangers at Mariners (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Mets at Phillies (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Astros at Braves (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., White Sox at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m., Mets at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Giants acquire Eduardo Nunez from the Twins

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 07: Eduardo Nunez #9 of the Minnesota Twins throws for an out at first in the fourth inning during a game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 7, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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The Giants have acquired All-Star infielder Eduardo Nunez from the Twins in exchange for minor league pitcher Adalberto Mejia, the club announced on Thursday night.

Nunez, 29, went 0-for-4 in Thursday night’s game against the Orioles. He’s hitting .296/.325/.439 with 12 home runs, 47 RBI, 49 runs scored, and a league-best 26 stolen bases in 391 plate appearances this season. Nunez has played mostly at shortstop this season, but has also logged significant time at third base and a handful of games at second base, so he’ll give the Giants some versatility.

Nunez will likely play a lot of third base for the Giants as Matt Duffy is still sidelined with a strained left Achilles. He’s earning $1.475 million this season and will enter his third and final year of arbitration eligibility heading into 2017.

Mejia, 23, was considered the Giants’ seventh-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento last month after posting a 1.94 ERA with Double-A Richmond. In seven starts with Sacramento, he has a 4.20 ERA with a 43/11 K/BB ratio in 40 2/3 innings.

With a roster spot open, the Twins called up infield prospect Jorge Polanco from Triple-A Rochester, per MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger.

Report: Mariners’ Taijuan Walker drawing “strong” trade interest

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 08:  Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker #44 of the Seattle Mariners looks on from the dugout after completing eight innings against the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field on June 8, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY reports that the Mariners have received “strong” trade interest for starter Taijuan Walker. The right-hander is currently on the mend from tendinitis in his right foot.  He’ll throw a bullpen on Friday at Wrigley Field with scouts in attendance.

Walker, 23, has a 3.66 ERA with an 80/18 K/BB ratio in 86 innings this season. It’s his first bit of sustained success at the major league level. What’s arguably just as intriguing is the fact that Walker will be under team control through 2020.

The Mariners have been hovering around .500 for the last month and entered Thursday six games behind the first-place Rangers in the AL West and 4.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card slot, behind three other teams as well as the two Wild Card leaders. It’s enough uncertainty which could push the Mariners to sell.