ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners manager Eric Wedge has missed nearly a month since suffering a minor stroke on July 22, but acting manager Robby Thompson said Wedge could be ready to return to the club at the end of its nine-game road trip.
"He's doing really good," Thompson said prior to Thursday's series finale against the Rays. "He's doing outstanding. I talked to him yesterday. He's passing everything with flying colors. He's feeling much better. And there's a real good chance that he'll rejoin us when we get back. That's kind of where it stands right now.
"We're not 100-percent sure on that, but that's what we're hoping," said Thompson, who has been Wedge's bench coach for his three seasons in Seattle. "He sounds great. Each and every day, he's feeling better. He's following all the rules and guidelines of what he should be doing, and he's determined to get through this thing and get back in it and continue where he left off."
After the Rays series, the Mariners fly to Arlington and then end their road trip in Oakland before opening a six-game homestand on Aug. 23 against the Angels. The club has gone 9-12 with Thompson as acting manager.
General manager Jack Zduriencik has said that he doesn't want Wedge returning until he's ready to run the team on a full-time basis, but Thompson said no plan has been finalized for how things might be initially handled when the 45-year-old returns.
"We're going to talk about it," Thompson said. "We've talked briefly. I'm sure, through the doctors, he's trying to come up with a game plan for easing back into it. We'll talk again in Texas and Oakland and then have something based off what Eric wants to do. We'll have an answer to that before he comes back on the homestand."
Mariners support proposed instant replay
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners players reacted in positive fashion Thursday to word that Major League Baseball owners are proposing an expanded instant replay system for the 2014 season. The system would allow managers to challenge calls, which would be quickly decided by an umpire crew overseeing games on television monitors in New York.
"I fully agree with it," said Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley. "It's something that could really make the game right. There are calls later in games that change the course of a game. Now that [we may] have that, I think it'll just make the team that is supposed to win, win.
"I don't see why anybody wouldn't be on board with it," Ackley said. "Umpires aren't perfect, and everybody knows that. It's one of those situations where if we can go to the replay, why not? All the other sports are doing it, so why not go to the replay?"
Shortstop Brendan Ryan initially had some reservations when hearing that managers would be able to challenge one play in the first six innings and then two more in the seventh inning on, while retaining those challenges for further plays if the New York crew agrees with their protest.
"Wow. Holy cow," Ryan said upon first hearing of the idea. "The most important thing is getting it right, but geez, are we going to have a halftime, too? There's already four-hour games. There's probably enough plays missed out there to warrant that and justify it. The only bad part is prolonging the games."
But Ryan eased back on that concern when told the umpires on the field wouldn't be going off to a booth to review the plays, but rather would rely on quick communication with the New York command center.
"That's a good measure," said Ryan. "That's what we've been saying. Why have them run down underneath? Why not just have a guy sitting in front of a TV and, boom, replay, it's 15 seconds. So that's pretty good. If I'm safe and I get called out, then I'm pretty happy about that guy sitting in front of the TV. That's not so bad. I'm all for it then. It's cool to have some human error in the game, but there's some stuff missed out there that nobody should feel good about."
Felix the same guy one year after perfecto
ST. PETERSBURG -- Exactly one year after throwing his first perfect game, Felix Hernandez was asked what has changed for him since that historic day at Safeco Field.
"I don't know. You tell me." Hernandez said with a grin. "I don't know. I'm the same guy."
The Mariners ace does indeed seem to have remained the same hard-working, fun-loving character in the wake of that 1-0 perfecto on Aug. 15, 2012, against the Rays. But things have changed around him.
Of the nine Mariners who started alongside Hernandez that day, only four were in the lineup against the Rays on Thursday at Tropicana Field as Seattle closed out a three-game set.
First baseman Justin Smoak and third baseman Kyle Seager are still in their same positions, while center fielder Michael Saunders is now playing left, and Dustin Ackley was penciled into center Thursday after playing second base a year ago in the perfect game.
The rest of the Mariners from that day? Shortstop Brendan Ryan is still on the team, but didn't start Thursday. Designated hitter Jesus Montero is in the organization, but not with the Major league club. Gone completely are catcher John Jaso, left fielder Trayvon Robinson and right fielder Eric Thames.
Hernandez's own memory remains perfectly intact, of course.
"I don't know if anything was different than usual, but I felt pretty good," he said. "It was just one of those days, you know? Everybody was in the right position. It was the right day, I made the right pitches. That was a perfect day."
Manager Eric Wedge isn't with the team now either, continuing to recover from a minor stroke that has sidelined him since June 22. Acting manager Robby Thompson was the bench coach that day, however, and looks back fondly as well.
"How can you not?" Thompson said. "Watching that game and having that knot in your gut, waiting for that last out. Any time Felix takes the mound, he's got a chance to do that. There are several guys throughout the league that legitimately have that chance to throw a no-hitter or perfect game. So nothing surprises me, but perfect games and few and far between. That was a day we'll all remember."
Ryan said playing shortstop in that game was emotionally draining.
"Man, that was one of the best baseball memories of my life," Ryan said. "There's nothing that could be more pressure-packed. I think Game 7 of the World Series could be the only thing, because in that position, it's like only bad can come of it if you [mess up] this wonderful, masterful game that is being pitched in front of you.
"But to see the emotion of Felix and having played behind him for a couple years, to see how genuinely thrilled and excited he gets after you make a play behind him, there's no phoniness there, and that made it all the more special."
• Tom Wilhelmsen made his third appearance for Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday and gave up three runs on two hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings in the Rainiers' 8-6 win at Round Rock. Wilhelmsen started the game in order to provide him a controlled situation and threw 33 pitches. He's 0-1 with an 10.50 ERA in six innings since being sent down.
• Hector Noesi also had a rough outing for Tacoma on Wednesday, allowing five hits and three runs in two innings of relief, but Chance Ruffin picked up the win after throwing three scoreless innings and giving up just one hit.
• The Mariners' 5-4 loss to the Rays on Wednesday was their ninth walk-off defeat of the season, tying them for the third most in the American League behind Baltimore and Detroit (10 each). Seattle has a Major League-leading 45 walk-off losses over the last four seasons, well ahead of runner-up St. Louis with 36.