SEATTLE -- Even as Brad Miller's offensive struggles have continued, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has stuck with the young shortstop. But McClendon acknowledged prior to Wednesday's series finale with the Rays that it was not an easy situation.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned," McClendon said. "He's struggling right now, and I'm trying to get him out of it. I've said a few times, you either play 'em or you bench 'em. We're trying to play him and see if he can come out of it. I don't have any answers. I'm being honest as I can right now. I don't have that answer. I don't know."
Miller was 1-for-21 in the homestand entering Wednesday's game, and a move could be made if the 24-year-old does not turn things around in a hurry. After a solid second half last year and red-hot Spring Training, Miller was hit .156 in the first 35 regular-season games.
The only backup on the current club is veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist, who is hitting .182 and is needed as a backup at all the infield positions.
Asked if his options were limited, McClendon paused.
"As we speak, right now, yeah," he said.
Two options are present with Triple-A Tacoma, however, with Nick Franklin and Chris Taylor splitting time at shortstop and second base and both hitting well.
McClendon has gone the extra mile to get Miller going, however, and he worked with him personally in the batting cage prior to Tuesday's game, with a coach holding a folded towel in front of the plate as McClendon had Miller focus on balls in that area instead of outside the square.
"My point is hitting is hard enough," McClendon said. "The real good hitters make outs seven of 10 times, so to try to get hits on balls outside of the strike zone is going to make it even more difficult. So we're just trying to get a better recognition of the strike zone and where he ought to be looking.
"Right now, everybody has suggestions and everybody wants to help. But in the end, he has to clear his mind, get his focus and do what he does best. And right now that's a struggle for him."
McClendon ejected arguing strike call in eighth
SEATTLE -- Two hat throws. One ejection.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon was tossed with two outs in the eighth inning of the Rays' 2-0 win on Wednesday when he walked out of the dugout to argue a check-swing call that went against John Buck after the catcher appeared to hold up on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt.
McClendon's conversation with first-base umpire Lance Barksdale did not last long.
Barksdale listened for a few moments before he motioned that McClendon's day was finished.The first-year Mariners manager then took off his hat and chucked it before walking off the field with Seattle trailing, 2-0, and two outs instead of one with a runner on second.
When first-base coach Andy Van Slyke handed the hat back to him, McClendon tossed it into the stands.
"What I took exception with -- obviously I didn't think he swung -- but for the umpire to tell me don't come out there, that part I don't get," McClendon said. "It is what it is. You guys write what you see. You tell it, because if I tell it, then I'll get fined."
It was McClendon's second ejection of the season and the 25th of his career.
"That's one of the reasons we love playing for him," Buck said. "I was in starter mode, and I felt like I couldn't get thrown out there. He ran out there and wore one for me. That's a player's manager for sure."
What did Rays manager Joe Maddon think of the exchange?
"I really thought he'd go for the bag," Maddon said. "He's pretty good at that."
Rodney tunes out negativity after blown save
SEATTLE -- Fernando Rodney has blown saves before; it's part of the game. But that did not stop the boos from raining down or the alarm bells from going off among Mariners fans after their new closer saw a 1-0 lead turn into a 2-1 loss in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's game with the Rays.
Blowing a 1-0 game is as tough as it gets, but Rodney knows his role. And a big part of that is having thick skin. Rodney has the third-most saves of any closer in baseball over the past three seasons. But he also blew eight games in 2013 and two in a remarkable 2012.
Jim Johnson blew nine saves last year for the Orioles. Mariano Rivera blew seven for the Yankees. It happens. And when it happens, Rodney knows he will hear about it.
"I don't listen to the fans," he said after giving up four hits and two runs while getting just two outs on Tuesday. "They boo you if you're good, not good. That's part of the game. I have to keep focused on my game. That's my game. They're going to be there every day, or every night anyway, so I have to focus on my game."
Which is exactly why manager Lloyd McClendon appreciates having Rodney in his bullpen, having worked with him for years with the Tigers as well.
"When you have a good closer, you don't worry about how they respond," McClendon said. "That's why they're good closers: they have short memories. The reason I say I hope he's right back out there today, that means we're winning the game in the ninth inning.
"Listen, it happens. When it happens to you, you take it personally. But it happens all over baseball. Nobody has a perfect season. No closer has a perfect season. This guy is good, and he's closing for a reason, so we move on. I looked today, and the sun came up, and I said, 'I'll be darned. The sky isn't falling. We get to play again.'"
Reminded that it often rains in Seattle, McClendon laughed.
"It came up today though, didn't it?" he said. "If it had been raining, I'd have said, 'Oh [shoot].'"
Paxton, Walker signal progress with bullpens
SEATTLE -- Injured Mariners starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton both threw bullpen sessions on Wednesday as they moved closer to rejoining the club.
Walker threw 40 pitches in his second time up on the mound since he was shut down in mid-April with stiffness in his right shoulder during a rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma. Paxton threw 52 pitches in his third bullpen session since straining his left lat muscle on April 8 in Anaheim in his second start of the year.
Both youngsters said Wednesday's work went well and that they would accompany the team on its coming road trip to continue working. Walker has yet to throw in a Major League game this year after his shoulder began flaring up at the start of Spring Training, but he sees light at the end of the tunnel.
"Oh yeah," said the 21-year-old, who is rated the No. 6 prospect in baseball and No. 1 in the Mariners' system by MLB.com. "I think a couple weeks maybe, if I don't have any setbacks. So we'll just see how I respond tomorrow, and we'll go from there."
Paxton is a little ahead of Walker's schedule, as he was scheduled to throw a simulated game Saturday in Minnesota. He could either throw one more sim game after that or go immediately out on a Minor League rehab assignment, with a potential return around the end of May if all goes well.
The 25-year-old lefty ramped things up a notch on Wednesday, with good results.
"[It was] as intense as you can get in a bullpen," he said. "I kind of have trouble getting to that game intensity in a bullpen, but still I was throwing everything and throwing it hard, so it was feeling good."
Manager Lloyd McClendon indicated Paxton indeed was not far from heading to a Minor League rehab stint, which is the last step before rejoining the club. The youngster was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his first two starts and is 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in six starts since his Major League debut last September.
"I don't have an exact schedule; I can't tell you that," McClendon said. "But I can tell you he's close. If all goes well and he continues to progress, then yeah, he's close."
• Outfielder/designated hitter Logan Morrison also will accompany the team on its coming trip and continue running and hitting as he works back from a strained hamstring that has sidelined him since April 15. McClendon said Morrison would need an extensive Minor League rehab stint when cleared to start it.
"He had a tear in there, and it's got to heal," McClendon said. "When they say he's healthy, I won't really worry about anything. He's not a burner, by any means, so that doesn't bother me. I just know he needs to go get some at-bats and get right. He was hitting .150 when he got hurt; it's not like he was hitting .350. So he needs to go get some at-bats."
• Hisashi Iwakuma is the first pitcher in Mariners history with back-to-back starts of eight-plus scoreless innings without a walk. Only three pitchers in MLB history have three straight such starts, the most recent being the Padres' Randy Jones in 1980.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.