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July 8, 2014 at 5:02 PM

McClendon: Sucre makes Mariners better

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon explained the decision to let go of backup catcher John Buck and replace him with Jesus Sucre: It makes the Mariners better.

As the Mariners push into the second half of the season squarely in contention for the playoffs, growing concerns about Buck’s defense, particularly his ability to block and receive pitches, caused the Mariners to designate him for assignment. Buck was a leader, and his teammates were somber in the clubhouse after learning of his fate following a 2-0 win Monday, which also happened to be Buck’s 34th birthday.

But McClendon said he made the decision that was best for the organization. Sucre, 26, provides the Mariners with a better defensive option. McClendon called him a “shutdown-type of catcher” in terms of throwing baserunners out, and he also praised his ability to block and receive pitches.

Buck had thrown out just three of 14 base stealers, while Sucre threw out 21 of 41 runners in Tacoma this season.

“I’ve been working really hard with my defense down there, especially with my footwork stuff and throwing the ball to second,” Sucre said. “I feel much better this year,”

Sucre’s defense should also give McClendon more comfort in resting starting catcher Mike Zunino. Zunino has played in 72 of the Mariners’ 90 games. That’s the 13th-most games played by a catcher in the majors this season.

More important, McClendon said there’s a noticeable drop in Zunino’s numbers after he plays four straight games.

“That’s one thing I’m very conscious of,” McClendon said, “and we have to be careful of his innings moving forward.”

He added, “Moving forward, with the type of defensive catcher we have in Sucre, we don’t have to worry about who’s pitching that day as far as giving him rest.”

Sucre played in just eight games for the Mariners last season. The knock against him has always been his offense, but McClendon said the feedback he heard from Tacoma was that Sucre had improved.

Sucre is hitting .274 with two homers, 16 RBI and a .653 OPS for the Rainiers.

“I think he’s going to be a plus in that department,” McClendon said.

McClendon also brushed off the notion that Zunino, 23, needs a veteran presence around.

“I’ll say this about Zunino: I certainly think he’s battle tested,” McClendon said. “He’s crossed the river, and I think he’s ready to take the next step.”

Paxton throws sim game: Injured pitcher James Paxton threw two innings in a simulated game Tuesday and said he felt “awesome.”

He will throw another simulated game Saturday. He said he and the team are trying to decide if he will throw two or three simulated games. He said if he only pitches two simulated games, he will go to Class A Everett after Saturday and make his first rehab start, then move on to Class AAA Tacoma for his second rehab start.

Thursday starter? Not yet: McClendon said he hasn’t decided who will start Thursday’s game, but he said he would announce it Wednesday. He also said he would announce who will start for the Mariners this weekend against the A’s.

Felix Hernandez will start Friday against the A’s. He was originally scheduled to start Thursday, which is why the Mariners have an opening there.

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