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Originally published May 5, 2012 at 7:15 PM | Page modified May 5, 2012 at 10:38 PM

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Mariners send Ramirez to Tacoma to stretch out arm as possible starter

Erasmo Ramirez was optioned to Class AAA by the Mariners on Saturday so he could stretch out his arm in case he's needed as a starting pitcher...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sunday Minnesota, 1:10 p.m., ROOT | Noesi (1-3, 7.83) vs. Blackburn (0-3, 6.64)

Monday Detroit, 7:10 p.m., ROOT | Beavan (1-3, 4.45) vs. Fister (0-0, 0.00)

Tuesday Detroit, 7:10 p.m., ROOT | Millwood (0-3, 5.34) vs. Verlander (2-1, 2.38)

Wednesday Detroit, 7:10 p.m., ROOT | Vargas (3-2, 3.09) vs. Smyly (1-0, 1.61)

Friday @N.Y. Yankees,4:05 p.m., ROOT | Hernandez (3-1, 1.89) vs. Kuroda (2-4, 3.75)

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Erasmo Ramirez was optioned to Class AAA by the Mariners on Saturday so he could stretch out his arm in case he's needed as a starting pitcher.

Shawn Kelley was called up in his place and was in the bullpen for Saturday's game against the Minnesota Twins.

Ramirez, 22, had rocketed up the minor-league ranks as a starter before making the team out of spring training as a relief pitcher. He had a 2.45 earned-run average in seven outings, but had seen less action as the season moved into its second month.

"We're at the point in the season now where if we did need a spot starter, he wouldn't be able to give us a great deal pitch-count wise," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "So, we'll get him down there, get him going. Plus, we want him to pitch a little more frequently as well."

The Mariners might need another starter in coming weeks with Kevin Millwood and Hector Noesi continuing to struggle. Millwood is 0-3 with a 5.34 ERA, while Noesi is 1-3 with a 7.83 ERA.

Kelley had been optioned to AAA shortly after giving up a critical home run to Yoenis Cespedes in a loss to Oakland in the second game of the season at the Tokyo Dome in March. Kelley underwent partial Tommy John ligament transplant surgery on his elbow in August 2010 and appeared in only 10 games for the Mariners last September.

He was 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA and had 19 strikeouts versus only four walks in nine outings at AAA this year.

"I feel good right now," he said. "My arm strength's good. I feel healthy. I feel better arm-strength wise than I did last September. I'm still a year and a half from surgery, so just recently, in the last few weeks, I started to really get the full extent of my shoulder and elbow strength back, and my velocity has gone up a little bit."

Notes

Chone Figgins said he wasn't sure how surprised he was by his demotion to a utility role with the club. Figgins said he knew he wouldn't have all year to improve on his penchant for chasing pitches outside the strike zone, which had led to 28 strikeouts his first 25 games.

"I feel great," he said. "I'm back to driving the ball, hitting to the middle of the field. My going out of the zone is still off. Other than that, everything feels great."

Figgins said he'll simply wait for his next opportunity. "I have to respect his decision," he said of manager Wedge. "He's the manager. He knows I want to be out there."

• The Mariners had their pitchers take early batting practice ahead of their interleague schedule, which begins May 18 in Colorado. They worked mostly on bunting, but a handful did let fly with some shots — including a pair of Charlie Furbush homers, the deepest one just inside the right-field foul pole.

Furbush said the last time he homered in a game was in 2006 when he played in the Cape Cod summer developmental league — where he doubled as a first baseman when not on the mound.

For the record: W-L: 12-17 W PCT: .414 Streak: W1 Home: 4-7 Road: 8-10 vs. AL West: 6-5 vs. L.A.: 0-0 vs. Oakland: 5-2 vs. Texas: 1-3 vs. AL East: 1-6 vs. AL Cent: 5-6 vs. NL: 0-0 vs. LHP: 3-4 vs. RHP: 9-13 Day: 2-6 Night: 10-11 One-run: 3-7 Extra inngs: 2-1 HOME ATTENDANCE Saturday's crowd: 28,437 Season total: 236,816 Biggest crowd: 46,026 (April 13) Smallest crowd: 11,343 (April 18) Average (11 dates): 21,529 2011 average (11 dates): 18,842

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @gbakermariners

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