ATLANTA — Remember when the Mariners appeared overloaded with first basemen? Justin Smoak, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison? The concern throughout spring training was how to find playing time for all of them.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon at Turner Field.
The Mariners started veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist at first base.
“The manager (in Seattle) was Bob Melvin,” Bloomquist noted, “the last time I started at first.”
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Right. Sept. 30, 2004. At Oakland.
“There are a lot of little things you don’t think about until you’re playing there,” Bloomquist said. “It’s those in-between plays that you don’t recognize.
“If there’s a ball to my right, do I go after it or do I go to the bag? Those sort of things. To be honest, there are times when I have to remind myself, `You’ve got to cover the bag on any ball anywhere in the infield.’
“That seems juvenile, but I’m not used to having to run to the bag if the ball’s not hit to me unless it’s a double play.”
So why was Bloomquist at first?
Smoak is battling a sore left quadriceps muscle and a deepening slump. Hart and Morrison are on the disabled list, although Morrison is currently playing at Triple-A Tacoma on a rehab assignment.
Even so, before Wednesday, Bloomquist hadn’t even played the position since doing so for a few innings in 2010 while playing for Kansas City.
“Aw, (heck),” manager Lloyd McClendon reasoned. “Catch the ball and run to the base.”
It went well. Bloomquist handled 10 defensive chances with no problems before Smoak entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning of a 2-0 victory.
“Seag (third baseman Kyle Seager) gave me a nice little sinker on one,” Bloomquist said. “But most of the throws were up here (chest high). It’s kind of fun to play something different.”
It figures to be a one-day move.
Smoak is expected to start Friday night when the Mariners, after an open date, begin a four-game series at Tampa Bay
“He’s probably a little fatigued,” McClendon said. “Instead of one day, we’ll give him two days (off). I think fatigue has something to do with (his slump). This gives us a chance to get him fresher.
“Hopefully, that will quicken his bat up.
The Mariners face a decision in their rotation after getting disappointing outings Tuesday from Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker.
McClendon plans to discuss available options, none of which appear appealing, with general manager Jack Zduriencik.
Ramirez allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings against the Braves in a spot start after getting recalled from Tacoma. Walker struggled through 56 pitches in two innings in a rehab start for the Rainiers.
“Taijuan didn’t throw it very well,” McClendon said. “We’ve got an off-day (Thursday). We’ve got a chance to rest some guys, and we’ll see where we are.”
The decision doesn’t have to be made until Tuesday.
The Mariners plan to start Chris Young, Roenis Elias and Felix Hernandez for the first three games at Tampa Bay. Ramirez’s spot comes around Monday, but Hisashi Iwakuma could pitch that day on regular rest.
McClendon said he prefers to give Iwakuma an extra day of rest, which the open day allows, because he is still building strength after missing the season because of a finger injury.
One other possibility: Replace Ramirez on the roster with a reliever and cover the entire game with the bullpen. The likely starter, in such a scenario, is Tom Wilhelmsen.
For now, the Mariners appear unlikely to ride again with Ramirez, who escaped with a no-decision Tuesday when homers by Stefen Romero and John Buck combined with strong bullpen work in a 7-5 comeback victory.
“You’ve got to make quality pitches,” McClendon said, “and he just didn’t make many quality pitches. He got behind and was in the middle of the plate.”
Walker yielded just one run and one hit at El Paso (Padres) in the second start on his latest rehab assignment for a sore shoulder. But he walked four and hit a batter.
“My understanding is he’s healthy,” McClendon said. “He just pitched like (spit). That’s the way it goes.”
Asked if he believed Walker required another rehab start, McClendon answered: “Or more.”
Wilhelmsen had just one thing in mind, he claimed, Tuesday night when summoned to start the fourth inning as the replacement for an ineffective Ramirez.
“I’m immediately thinking I’m going to get an at-bat,” he said. “That was the first thought in my head. That it’s going to happen in Atlanta.”
No…Wilhelmsen, 30, has never had an at-bat in a professional career that began in 2003.
“I grew up rooting against Atlanta,” said Wilhelmsen, who spent his youth as a Mets fan. “I’m thinking, `I’m going to hit a home run. I know it. It’s in the stars.’”
Wilhelmsen pitched two scoreless innings in kick-starting a run of six shutout innings by the bullpen in a comeback victory. He did not, however, get an at-bat.
Stefen Romero drew duty as the clean-up hitter for the first time in his big-league career when McClendon chose to stock the lineup with right-handed hitters against Braves lefty Mike Minor.
The move also came one day after Romero fueled a comeback victory with a three-run pinch homer.
“Somebody’s got to hit there,” McClendon said. “We have to fill a lineup out. There’s no significance to it, trust me. I don’t have (Barry) Bonds. So it’s going to be Romero.”
It was noted to McClendon that Bonds is available. He responded: “Another left-handed hitter.”
Romero delivered two hits as the cleanup hitter and each contributed to a run in the 2-0 victory. He had one of three singles in the fourth, and his one-out triple in the eighth preceded Seager’s RBI single.
“It’s just to start the game,” Romero said. “If you’re hitting eighth, you could be hitting cleanup in any (particular) inning. My mind-set was, if anybody was on base in scoring position, to drive them in.
“Nothing really changed, too much, hitting in the fourth spot.”
It was just one year ago Thursday — June 5, 2013 — that the Mariners suffered a remarkable 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox in 16 innings at Safeco Field.
The game was scoreless through 13 innings before the White Sox scored five times in the 14th. The Mariners answered with five in their half of the inning on Seager’s two-out, two-strike grand slam.
But the Mariners had no answer when the White Sox scored twice in the 16th inning. The combined 12 runs were a major-league record in a game where the two teams were scoreless through nine innings.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday — their only open date in a 37-day stretch — before opening a four-game wraparound series Friday at Tampa Bay.
Right-hander Chris Young (5-2 with a 3.27 ERA) will pitch the opener against ex-Mariners lefty Erik Bedard (2-4 and 4.27) at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time Friday at Tropicana Field.