SEATTLE -- Jesus Sucre, a 26-year-old catcher who had a brief stint with the Mariners last season, was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma by the club on Tuesday to fill the roster opening created after veteran backup John Buck was designated for assignment Monday night.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said the move gives Seattle a better defensive backup and allows starter Mike Zunino to get some needed days off without worrying about matching up the right catcher with Seattle's pitchers.
"That's one thing I'm very conscious of and we have to be careful with his innings moving forward and give him proper rest," McClendon said of the 23-year-old Zunino, who has played in 71 of Seattle's first 89 games. "Four days in a row is just not good. Moving forward, with the type of defensive catcher we think we have with Sucre, we don't have to worry about who is pitching that day as far as getting him rest."
Sucre played eight games for Seattle between May 24-June 4 last season before he fractured a bone in his left hand. He hit .192 with three RBIs in 26 at-bats with the Mariners, then finished the season with Tacoma when he finally got healthy again.
"I'm really happy to be here because I know this team is doing really good right now," Sucre said after flying in from Salt Lake City on Tuesday morning. "I'll try to do the best I can to help them win."
The Venezuela native is regarded by the Mariners as their best defensive catcher in the organization and he was also batting .274 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 48 games this season for Tacoma. Sucre has thrown out 21 of 41 attempted basestealers this year and 43 percent in his Minor League career, which began with the Braves as a free agent in 2006.
"He's proven he's a solid, solid backup catcher that really receives the ball well, blocks the ball well and pretty much just shuts down the running game," said McClendon. "He's swinging the bat a lot better this year. That was always a point of concern for him coming up through the Minor Leagues, but talking to the people at the Triple-A level, he's swung the bat extremely well this year. I think he's going to be a plus in that department."
Zunino, the Mariners' 2012 first-round Draft pick, is also an excellent defender and has hit 13 home runs, the most of any backstop in the American League.
Buck was signed as a mentor to Zunino and also a solid right-handed bat off the bench, but he's not regarded as a strong defender and hit just .226 with one home run and six RBIs in 84 at-bats in 27 games after signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Mariners.
Buck was a popular veteran in the clubhouse and making such a move while the team is winning raised some eyebrows. But McClendon said he's only worried about winning games.
"When you lose friends, you're never happy," he said of the Mariners' somber reaction to the news after Monday's game. "But when it's all said and done, you're glad it's not you. I was one of those guys, trust me. You talk about team chemistry and stuff. You win games and chemistry is just fine. You lose games, you've got bad chemistry.
"And that's not to take anything away from John Buck. I like John Buck," McClendon said. "He's a nice young man and I wish him well and hopefully he catches on with somebody. But as far as the Seattle Mariners were concerned in moving forward and trying to make this club better, Sucre makes us better."
McClendon said he's also not worried about Zunino needing a veteran mentor at his side.
"I certainly think he's battle tested," McClendon said. "He's crossed the river and I think is ready to take the next step. From that standpoint, he's just fine. And he's got three catchers on this staff that have over 100 years in the game of baseball, so I think he'll be just fine."
Seager returns to cleanup role as Hart moves down
SEATTLE -- After dropping Kyle Seager out of the cleanup spot for the first four games following Corey Hart's return from the disabled list, manager Lloyd McClendon had his All-Star third baseman back at No. 4 in the lineup for Tuesday's game against the Twins.
Seager has hit .296 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 21 games batting cleanup this year with an .880 on-base plus slugging percentage. The Mariners won two of four games with Hart back in that spot, but the right-handed hitter was just 2-for-14 (.143) and McClendon made the decision to drop him to sixth on Tuesday below Seager and Logan Morrison with another right-hander on the mound for the Twins in Phil Hughes.
"Obviously Seager hitting behind Robbie with a righty on the mound makes sense," McClendon said. "LoMo is swinging the bat well. And it takes a little of the pressure off Corey as well out of that four-spot against a right-hander. Hopefully we can get him to relax a little more down there and maybe get a few more pitches to hit."
The Mariners are 13-8 with Seager hitting fourth, 3-1 with Morrison there and 17-17 with Hart.
"Seager did a great job hitting there," McClendon said. "So did LoMo. So I like those three guys lining up against the righty."
Paxton throws sim game, inches toward rehab stint
SEATTLE -- Rookie left-hander James Paxton threw 33 pitches in a two-inning simulated game against Mariners teammates on Tuesday afternoon as he continued working his way back from a season-long struggle with shoulder issues.
Paxton hasn't pitched in a regular-season game since starting the year 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his first two outings in April, but said he's hopeful of beginning a second Minor League rehab stint soon. He said he'll throw a 50-pitch sim game on Saturday, then advance to either one more simulated game or go out for one rehab start with Class-A Everett before joining Triple-A Tacoma, barring any setbacks.
"I'm feeling really good," Paxton said. "I feel like I'm right where I should be, or better right now. My cutter was coming out really well. I was throwing it for strikes and my curveball as well. My changeup, I was getting in the dirt a little bit, but I'd rather be in the dirt right now than leaving it up. Another sim game and some rehab starts and I should be able to fine tune things and be ready to go."
Paxton has been down this road before, though. He went through the same steps and built himself up to a rehab start with Tacoma in late May, but was shut down again when soreness developed after a three-inning outing.
But he said he's feeling no issues now and was throwing close to full out on Tuesday.
"My first time coming back, I was definitely holding back a little in my first sim game," said the 25-year-old. "But today I was just feeling really loose and letting the ball go. I wasn't trying to muscle it by any means, but just feeling loose and fluid and the ball was coming out well."
Seattle teacher Zelko headed to All-Star Game
SEATTLE -- Kevin Zelko, a teacher at Kimball Elementary School in south Seattle, has been selected by fans to represent the Mariners at the All-Star Game as part of the "Target Presents People All-Star Teachers" campaign.
Zelko has taught special education for elementary students for more than 11 years and is a long-time Mariners fan who once worked as a beer vendor at Safeco Field. In 2001, Zelko received the Symetra "Heroes in the Classroom" award for his dedication to the field of special education.
Zelko will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Thursday night's game against the Twins at Safeco Field and will then join the 29 other winners representing each of the Major League clubs at All-Star Week activities in Minneapolis next week.
The 30 finalists will be recognized at the pre-game All-Star ceremonies beginning Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. PT on FOX from Target Field in Minneapolis.
Fans nationwide cast their votes at AllStarTeachers.com to select the 30 winners from a pool of 90 finalists.
• With Sucre being called up to the Mariners, catcher John Hicks was promoted Tuesday from Double-A Jackson to Triple-A Tacoma, while Steven Baron got bumped from Class A Advanced High Desert to Jackson. Hicks, a fourth-round Draft pick out of Virginia in 2011, hit .296 with three home runs and 27 RBIs in 53 games for Jackson. Baron, a supplemental first-round pick in 2009, hit .254 with one homer and 23 RBIs in 39 games for High Desert.
• After throwing seven scoreless innings in Monday's 2-0 win, Hisashi Iwakuma is 30-15 with a 2.89 ERA in his career. The only other MLB pitchers to debut in the past 25 years and reach 30 wins with 15 or less losses and an ERA under 3.00 have been Mike Mussina (30-12, 2.68 ERA) and Roy Oswalt (30-9, 2.90 ERA).