Yovani Gallardo’s first relief appearance since the 2008 playoffs turned out well Friday when he closed out the Mariners’ 13-3 victory over Houston by pitching three scoreless innings.
Gallardo also recorded his first professional save since 2005, when he was pitching for Lo-A West Virginia in the Milwaukee system.
This is not the role that Gallardo wants. He has long been a workhorse starting pitcher and averaged 31 starts per season over the previous eight seasons.
"We all know things weren’t going the way I expected this year," he said. "It’s just one of those things that happen. I’ve just got to go out there and throw well whenever my name is called."
Gallardo, 31, is the only member of the Mariners’ original rotation who wasn’t on the disabled list by mid-May. Even so, his performance left club officials with few options: He was 3-7 with a 6.30 ERA in 14 starts when he lost his job.
"I’ve been feeling great the whole year," he said. "It’s just a matter now of going out there, keep pitching and we’ll see what happens after that."
The road back to the rotation is crowded.
Felix Hernandez returned Friday from the disabled list. Drew Smyly and Hisashi Iwakuma should return at some point in July. Lefties James Paxton and Ariel Miranda are rotation fixtures.
Plus several replacement parts — Sam Gaviglio, Andrew Moore and even Christian Bergman — have jumped past Gallardo in the feeding line.
Even so, the Mariners, at least at this point, have no intention of releasing Gallardo — and not just because it would force them to eat roughly $7 million in guaranteed salary.
"One thing this season has taught us," a club official said, "is you hang on to healthy starting pitchers. Yovani is healthy. His stuff is good. You don’t release healthy starting pitchers who can throw in the low-90s.
"He’s just left too many pitches over the middle of the plate."
So Gallardo works as a long reliever. Maybe for a long time.
***Gaviglio (3-1 with a 3.43 ERA) will start Saturday against Houston right-hander Lance McCullers (6-1, 2.58) — assuming McCullers is activated, as expected, from the disabled list. He hasn’t started since June 8 because of a sore back.
***The game starts at 7:10 p.m. and can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.
***McCullers is 4-2 with a 2.14 ERA in six career starts against the Mariners, but he is 1-2 with a 3.45 ERA in three starts at Safeco Field.
***Robinson Cano is 7-for-16 in his career against McCullers, but Nelson Cruz is just 1-for-10. Kyle Seager is 4-for-14. No other Mariner has more than seven career at-bats against McCullers.
***The Mariners’ six-game winning streak is their longest since an eight-game run from last Sept. 7-14.
***Ben Gamel has a 15-game hitting streak and has hits in 25 of his last 26 games. His .353 average leads the American League even though he is six plate appearances shy of qualifying. Adding an 0-for-6 still leaves him with the highest average.
***Nelson Cruz leads the American League with 58 RBIs, one more than New York outfielder Aaron Judge. Former Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison, now with Tampa Bay, is third with 54.
***The Mariners have scored 166 runs while going 18-8 in their last 26 games for an average of 6.38 runs per game.
***Saturday is Turn Back the Clock Night. The Mariners and Astros will be outfitted in 1977 replica uniforms. The first 20,000 fans receive a retro trident logo cap.
It was 20 years ago Saturday — June 24, 1997 — that Randy Johnson set an American League for strikeouts by a left-hander when he got 19 against Oakland — but still lost the game 4-1.
Johnson gave up 11 hits, including homers by Mark McGwire and George Williams, in a 142-pitch outing.
The Big Unit would match his 19-strikeout performance later in the season on Aug. 8 in a 5-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox at the Kingdome. He remains the only AL left-hander to record 19 strikeouts in a game.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners