HOU@SEA: Almonte ties the game at 2 with a double

NEW YORK -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon gave struggling leadoff hitter Abraham Almonte the day off Thursday in Seattle's series finale against the Yankees, hoping the young center fielder can relax and work on some things to help turn around a tough start to the season.

Almonte, who hit .204 with a .248 on-base percentage in April, was replaced by Michael Saunders in both center field and in the leadoff role against Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.

"I'm just trying to put him in more favorable matchups, that's all, and see if we can get him going," McClendon said. "He just needs positive results. He's working his tail off to try to get it straightened out and it's just not happening right now."

Almonte said he watched video on Wednesday and noticed he was pulling his head off the ball early on his swing, and he worked extensively in the batting cage to correct that Thursday afternoon.

"I think that's the cause of most of my trouble right now, that my head is going too quick," said the 24-year-old Dominican. "I see [the ball] early, but by the time I swing my head is going out a little. It feels better in the cage today, so I hope that works."

Almonte said he endured a far worse slump in 2009 while with Class A Charleston in the Yankees' system, hitting .190 for the first half of the season before finding solutions that ignited a 26-game hitting streak during which he hit .405 to raise his final average to .280.

"It's tough because they give you a chance and you want success, you want to do great every time you come to the field," he said. "When you see things not going the way you know they're supposed to, it's a little bit tough.

"But the last person that can stop believing is me. I have to believe and trust I can do it. I've been through worse than this before and I got out of it. I know I can do it."

Iwakuma scheduled to make debut on Saturday

Hisashi Iwakuma is set to start Saturday vs. the Astros.

NEW YORK -- Though the Mariners haven't made anything official yet because he's still on the 15-day disabled list, All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will make his regular-season debut on Saturday against the Astros during Seattle's three-game set at Minute Maid Park.

Iwakuma will need to be added to the 25-man roster prior to Saturday's 1:10 p.m. PT game in Houston. The 33-year-old missed all of Spring Training after spraining a tendon in his right middle finger. He threw four innings in a Minor League rehab start last Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma, and he will rejoin the Mariners rotation a month into the season.

Iwakuma's addition will be a big boost for a Mariners rotation that also has James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Blake Beavan on the disabled list. Iwakuma was third in the American League Cy Young Award voting last year after going 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 33 starts.

Iwakuma will slot in behind Felix Hernandez, who'll pitch the opening game of the Houston series after having his Thursday start against the Yankees pushed back by a Wednesday rainout in New York.

Manager Lloyd McClendon said he considered starting Hernandez on Thursday, given his outstanding history against the Yankees. McClendon instead kept the rotation in order, with rookie Roenis Elias getting the nod in the series finale in the Bronx after his Wednesday start was postponed.

"I wanted to give him an extra day, and it also gives Elias an extra day. It just made sense," McClendon said. "Felix has been taxed quite a bit and has pitched on regular rest for quite a while. This is an opportunity to get him where we need him to be. His last two outings have not been sterling outings, I think we'd all agree. So this is a chance to freshen him up and get him back on the right track."

Hernandez was 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA with three walks and 39 strikeouts in his first four starts of the year, but he posted an 0-1 record with a 3.46 ERA, four walks and eight strikeouts in back-to-back losses to the Astros and Rangers his past two outings.

The tentative pitching plan for the Mariners calls for Brandon Maurer to follow Iwakuma on Sunday in Houston. The Mariners would then head to Oakland and hand the ball to Chris Young on Monday, Elias on Tuesday and have Hernandez and Erasmo Ramirez pitch in Wednesday's doubleheader. Ramirez currently is with Triple-A Tacoma.

Hopeful pitching signs for Mariners in down April

The Mariners ended April with an 11-14 record.

NEW YORK -- With Wednesday's rainout, the Mariners finished April at 11-14, the fifth straight year they've opened the season with a losing record in the first month.

Seattle's last winning April was 2009 when the club went 13-9 on the way to an 85-77 record, which also happens to be the Mariners' last winning season.

The Mariners were outscored 102-97 in their 25 games in the first month with a slash line of .231/.289/.368. How does that compare to a year ago? In 2013, the Mariners were 12-17 in April when they were outscored 128-95 and posted a slash line of .242/.306/.378.

But while Seattle's offensive numbers were superior last year, they've pitched better out of the gate this spring with a 3.67 ERA and .236 opponents' batting average as opposed to a 4.23 ERA and .249 batting average.

That pitching prowess is all the more impressive given that Hisashi Iwakuma was sidelined the entire month and James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are also on the disabled list. Iwakuma was 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in six April starts last year. He'll rejoin the rotation Saturday in Houston, while Paxton and Walker continue to play catch in Seattle as they work their way back.

Paxton has been sidelined since April 9 with a strained lat muscle, while Walker has yet to pitch in the Majors this season due to ongoing shoulder soreness.

Worth noting

• First baseman Jesus Montero hit his team-leading seventh home run of the season on Wednesday for Triple-A Tacoma in an 8-0 victory at Sacramento. Montero's three-run shot was his fifth homer in his last eight games. He's hitting .288 and is leading the team in RBIs with 21 through 20 games.

• Going into Thursday's game, the Mariners were 10-9 against teams with a .500-or-better record at the time they played and 1-5 against sub-.500 clubs.