HOUSTON -- After a strong first month in the Majors, Mariners rookie second baseman Nick Franklin has endured his share of struggles.
Franklin hit .299 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in his first 32 games with the club. But since July 2, he's batted .176 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 42 games.
The 22-year-old has maintained some power, but has struck out 66 times in 165 at-bats in that span. He clubbed his 12th home run of the season in Thursday's 3-2 win over the Astros, but also struck out twice.
Franklin acknowledged the learning curve hasn't been easy. He carried a .227 batting average into Friday's game with the Astros, a big drop from his initial month.
"It definitely gets the best of you sometimes," Franklin said. "But at the end of the day, you've got to come to the field every day and prepare yourself for the game and don't let yesterday or the day before bother you. I think that's the biggest thing. A lot of this game is mental; it's 90 percent mental. It's a tough toll on your body. But you have to just grind through it and work through it."
Mariners promote Walker, Almonte from Triple-A
The Mariners added top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker to their roster as expected Friday, but also selected outfielder Abraham Almonte from Triple-A Tacoma and immediately inserted him in their starting lineup as well.
Both players played key roles in Friday's 7-1 win over the Astros. Walker, 21, picked up his first Major League win as he gave up just two hits and one unearned run in five innings.
Almonte, 24, went 1-for-5 with two RBIs while also displaying excellent speed and a strong throwing arm in right field. He was promoted after hitting .314 with 11 home runs, 50 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 94 games with Tacoma. Almonte was acquired from the Yankees for reliever Shawn Kelley last spring.
"I wanted to get him in there against the right-hander [Brad Peacock] tonight," Wedge said before the game. "Let him keep going with the momentum of his day and let's see what happens. He's an exciting player, good speed, good arm, puts up competitive at-bats. He's still learning, but he's a physical player that can be exciting to watch. So let's see how he transitions up here."
Almonte was informed Thursday night in Tacoma that he would be joining the Mariners and flew to Houston on Friday morning.
"It was amazing," Almonte said of his sudden promotion. "It feels really good. But I just need to do what I do. I'm still the same person. I just need to be the same guy."
The Mariners already had one open roster spot created by outfielder Michael Morse's trade to the Orioles for Minor League outfielder Xavier Avery earlier in the day.
They opened a second spot by optioning right-handed starter Erasmo Ramirez to Tacoma in what essentially is a paper move, since he will be able to be recalled in time for his next start for the Mariners in Kansas City after the Rainiers' season ends on Monday.
Ramirez started Thursday's game against the Astros, improving to 5-1 with the victory.
Almonte was expected to be called up when rosters can be expanded in September, but Friday's move gives the Mariners an extra outfielder for the weekend and provides him a couple extra days in the Majors. The Dominican native started this season in Double-A Jackson, where he hit .255 with four homers, 18 RBIs and six stolen bases in 29 games. Almonte blossomed in Tacoma, hitting .333 with six doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 RBIs in 28 games in August.
"He was our leadoff hitter and got things started pretty well," said rookie second baseman Nick Franklin, who played with Almonte earlier in the year in Tacoma. "He's fast, he's got life in his bat, works the count, fights. He likes to bunt. I just remember him being really fast. You'll see it tonight. He's probably going to run as fast as he's ever run. I remember my first callup; you run pretty fast. But he's pretty fast as it is."
Catcher Blanco doubles up phenom Walker in age
HOUSTON -- Mariners catcher Henry Blanco turned 42 on Thursday, which made for perfect timing when it came to working with rookie Taijuan Walker in his Major League debut on Friday.
The veteran backstop is exactly twice as old as Walker, who turned 21 two weeks ago.
"That's got to be up there," manager Eric Wedge said of the age discrepancy in his battery. "But good for Henry and good for Taijuan. To have somebody back there that has been through all that, it has to be something of a comfort zone I would think. I do feel good about that."
According to Elias, the last time a starting battery had an age difference of at least 20 years was last season when the Rockies' Jamie Moyer and Wilin Rosario were 27 years, 98 days apart.
But the last time a starting battery had an age difference of at least 20 years when the catcher was the older player was 1993, when Carlton Fisk and Alex Fernandez had an age difference of 21 years, 231 days with the White Sox. The age difference between Blanco and Walker is 20 years, 350 days.
How does it feel for Blanco to catch a guy half his age?
"Good," Blanco said with a smile several hours before Friday's game. "It's going to be fun. We haven't sat down and talked yet. But we'll go over the scouting report and do the best we can."
Blanco's advice for the youngster will be pretty simple.
"Just focus on the hitter," said Blanco, who will be catching his 808th game in 16 Major League seasons. "I know there are going to be some butterflies in his stomach. But I'm sure they'll get out of there after the first hitter. Just work the strike zone and hopefully we'll get him some runs so he can relax a little."
Blanco said the clubhouse has changed a lot since his own rookie days in 1997 with the Dodgers. More players are on computers and iPads rather than sitting and talking baseball or playing cards.
"There are not as many older guys," Blanco said. "Raul [Ibanez] and I, we have a few stories. But it's fun to be around the young talent and the young kids now. Hopefully they play the game for a long time."
• The Mariners had 87 home runs on the road this season, the most in the Majors going into Friday's game.
• Franklin's 12th homer tied him with Bret Boone in 1993 for the most by a Mariners rookie middle infielder. Alvin Davis holds the record for any Mariners infielder with 27 in '84.
• Walker and Almonte are the ninth and 10th Mariners players to make their MLB debuts this season, joining Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre, Brandon Bantz, Brad Miller, Franklin, Yoervis Medina, Brandon Maurer and Bobby LaFromboise. Seattle had eight MLB debuts in 2012 and 12 in '11.