BY John Hickey 05:54PM 07/03/2011

Hickey: Mariners may come up short in All-Star Game

A curious set of circumstances may keep the Mariners from having anyone actually participate in the All-Star Game, even though Felix Hernandez and Brandon League have been picked for the team.

Brandon League has had more on his mind than just making the AL All-Star team. / Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

When it comes time to play the All-Star Game a week from Tuesday in Phoenix, will anyone in a Mariner uniform take part?

Well, despite the fact that Seattle had two men named to the American League team Sunday – pitchers Felix Hernandez and Brandon League were selected with 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki bypassed – it’s likely the Mariners’ representation could be in name only.

Hernandez is currently scheduled to start the last game before the All-Star break, July 10 against the Angels in Anaheim. In recent years it has become standard practice for managers – in this case Texas skipper Ron Washington – to skip any starter on the roster who pitches the Sunday before the game.

The rule is one that Hernandez scoffs at, but it’s there to keep pitchers from hurting themselves by pitching on unusually short rest. And Seattle manager Eric Wedge said the club still plans to have Hernandez pitch that Sunday when the first half ends.

As for League, his wife, Sasha, is expecting the couple’s third child any day now. The due date is July 13, one day after the All-Star Game. And while League said Sunday that doctors are now saying “it could be any day now,’’ there’s at least a chance that League will be called away to higher duties.

That storyline will play itself out over the course of the next week or so. Sunday, the Mariners were happy that two of their pitchers had been selected to represent the team. But they were also dealing with the fact that Ichiro was off the team for the first time in a decade. And there was more than a little puzzlement that Michael Pineda, who has seven wins and a team-best 2.65 ERA, also was skipped.

“Maybe he can go out there and pitch for me,’’ said Hernandez in a light moment while talking about the omission of Pineda. This is Hernandez’s second selection to the All-Star team, having pitched a scoreless inning in 2009.

He is coming off a Cy Young Award winning season in 2010, when, curiously enough, he was not an All-Star. With two starts left before the break he’s 8-7 with a 3.35 ERA. A year ago at the break he was 7-5 with a 2.88 ERA and didn’t get picked, which demonstrates the power of seeing your name on the list of Cy Young Award winners.

After all, those numbers are almost identical to Pineda’s 2011.

“I haven’t pitched as consistently (as last year),’’ Hernandez said. “I’m close (to being at the level he wants), but I haven’t had the consistency I want.’’

League was supposed to be the setup man in Seattle this year, but when David Aardsma needed off-season surgery, the idea was for League to take over for a few weeks. A few weeks have evolved into a few months, and League has been up to the challenge. Save for a four-game-stretch in early May, League has been almost untouchable. With a save on behalf of rookie Blake Beavan on Sunday in a 3-1 win over the Padres, League has reeled off 13 consecutive saves and has not allowed an earned run in his last 17.2 innings, getting his once bulky ERA down to 3.38.

He leads the AL with 22 saves and said that while he was extremely excited to be selected as an All-Star, his focus has been elsewhere.

“I can’t say I didn’t think about it,’’ League said. “but I’ve got other things on my mind right now. We went to the hospital two nights ago and the doctor said, `any day.’ ’’

League has saved 22 of 25 chances after having gone 6-for-12 in save opportunities as a setup man a year ago.

“I’ve always wanted to be a closer, ever since I became a bullpen guy,’’ League said. “It wouldn’t have been possible if Wedgie hadn’t given me the opportunity to close.’’

As for Ichiro, who had two hits and scored two runs Sunday while pushing his batting average up to .272, he declined to talk about his All-Star status. Before this year, he was voted into the game by the fans nine times in 10 years and the 10th year (2005) he was picked as a backup.

The season has been difficult on Ichiro, who is enjoying playing for a competitive (41-43) team but who is also saddled with the understanding that if he wasn’t almost 50 points under his career batting average (.331 at season’s start), the Mariners would be over .500 at a minimum and possibly close to or in first place.

Wedge didn’t talk specifically about any of his players who were passed up in the All-Star selection process, but of Ichiro he said, “he’s had a great career.

“He’s working hard to find what’s missing,’’ Wedge said. “He’s still trying to fight through it.’’

Though Beavan didn’t learn until Saturday that he’d be starting for the Mariners Sunday, he had time to get his wife and his parents on planes from the Dallas-Fort Worth area so they could see his debut. It was worth the flight.

Beavan, a 6-foot-7, 240-pounder, threw seven innings in which he allowed just three hits and one run. Ichiro scored a run in the first inning on an Adam Kennedy single, then scored again in the third on a Justin Smoak sacrifice fly, a run that put Seattle up 2-1. The game’s final run scored moments later on a Dustin Ackley sacrifice fly, and that was enough for Beavan, who retired seven of the final eight men he faced.

“It was awesome,’’ Beavan said. “I didn’t shake off (catcher) Josh Bard once. I just tried to hit the mitt and let him call the pitches.’’


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