SEATTLE — If rookie reliever Carson Smith develops into a closer, as the Seattle Mariners expect, he might one day point to his roller-coaster ride over the last week as a seminal point in his career track.
“I’ve had both sides,” he said. “I’ve been on the losing end and the winning end. You’ve just got to keep your head up and know that you’re good enough to pitch up here. Prepare yourself that way.”
Smith had not allowed a run through his first 20 big-league appearances — a club record — before yielding a tie-breaking homer last Sunday to Evan Gattis in a 7-6 loss at Houston.
One night later, Smith worked a key inning in protecting a lead in a 3-2 victory against the Angels in Anaheim. But on Wednesday, the Angels struck back in beating Smith for a 4-3 walk-off victory.
Then on Friday, Smith pitched two scoreless innings against Oakland and got the victory when the Mariners won 4-3 on Logan Morrison’s walk-off homer.
“It is a growing process,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but the thing I really like is is the ability to get back in there, get back in the fire and compete. He’s not shying away. That’s a good sign.”
A short-term memory is paramount for any reliever, but it is particularly necessary for closers, whose poor outings almost always turn into losses.
“I try to flush it out as quick as I can,” Smith said. “It’d be easy to say it’s gone the minute it’s over, but that’s not the case. You sleep on it that night. But when you wake up and get to the field the next day — by that time, it’s gone.”
MILLER’S OUTFIELD DEBUT
Displaced shortstop Brad Miller logged a second straight game Saturday as the designated hitter but could be in line for a first career outfield appearance in Sunday’s series finale against Oakland.
“I don’t think you’re going to see Miller doing a lot of DHing,” McClendon said. “He will DH a little bit, but not a lot.”
Nelson Cruz is likely to serve Sunday as the DH after playing back-to-back games in right field. A resulting shuffle could open a spot for Miller in left field.
The Mariners shifted Miller to a utility role (VIDEO LINK) last Monday after recalling Chris Taylor from Tacoma to serve as their regular shortstop. Miller spent much of the week in the outfield during pre-game workouts.
“I don’t think he’s going to have a problem fielding a ground ball on the infield,” McClendon said. “He knows how to do that. The biggest challenge right now is the outfield.
“I’m not too concerned about sticking a first base mitt on him and saying, `Field a ground ball at first base and toss it to the pitcher.’ I think he has the ability to do that.”
With veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez posting solid numbers at Tacoma, and the Mariners once again starved for runs…well, OK, it’s an obvious question.
Quick answer: Not yet.
“He’s doing a nice job,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “I think everyone has been encouraged. It seems to be fine. I do think what we need to do is just continue to let him play.”
Gutierrez, now 32, entered Saturday’s game at Fresno (Astros) with a .324/.457/.554 slash through 22 games with the Rainiers. He has five doubles, four homers and 15 RBIs.
“How he feels is the big issue,” Zduriencik said. “How much can you count on him, physically? That’s not a secret here. Can you run him out there how many days a week? What’s he physically able to do?”
Gutierrez missed all of last season while recovering from gastrointestinal issues that limited his availability in previous seasons. He hasn’t played more than 92 games in the majors since 2010.
“To look at it through the first month,” Zduriencik said, “you’d say he’s done a nice job. A very nice job. But let’s see what happens going forward. He’s certainly on our radar.”
KING HOLDING COURT
Felix Hernandez seeks to extend the best start of his career Sunday when he faces Oakland in the conclusion to a three-game weekend series at Safeco Field.
Hernandez is already 5-0 for the first time in his career and 1.73 ERA is the lowest in his career through his first six starts in any season.
He has also won six straight decisions dating to last season, which matches the fourth-longest streak of his career. His personal best are nine-game streaks in 2009 and 2012.
Hernandez also had a separate seven-game streak in 2009.
It seems hard to remember now that Hernandez entered the season under a small cloud following some rocky outings in spring training. Not that he was concerned.
“Really?” he responded at the time when asked about those concerns. “I’m not worried about spring numbers. (Heck) no. I’ll be fine. I know myself, and I’ll be good.”
The man knew.
QUEST FOR 2,000
Hernandez also needs five strikeouts in Sunday’s game to become the fourth youngest pitcher in history to reach 2,000 in a career at 29 years and 32 days old.
The youngest ever was Bert Blyleven at 28 years, 97 days, followed by Sam McDowell (28.228) and Walter Johnson (28.235).
Hernandez would, if he gets the milestone, jump ahead of two pretty notable names: Nolan Ryan (29.213) and Sandy Koufax (29.2410).
OLSON TO DISABLED LIST
The Mariners rescinded their option on lefty reliever Tyler Olson after an subsequent examination revealed he suffered a bruised right knee while covering first base in a May 2 game at Houston.
Olson was, instead, placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 3 because of the injury. He had been optioned May 3 to Triple-A Tacoma but has not pitched for the Rainiers.
The switch means Olson, while on the disabled list, will continue to log major-league service time and continue to be paid under the major-league portion of his contract.
Olson, 25, spent most of last season at Double-A Jackson but won a spot in the Mariners’ bullpen through a series of strong performances in spring training. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 11 outings.
It was 27 years ago Sunday — May 10, 1988 — that Mark Langston set what was then a Mariners’ record by getting 16 strikeouts in a 4-2 victory at Toronto.
Langston broke his own record of 14, which he set on May 24, 1987, also against the Blue Jays but at the Kingdome.
Teammate Mike Moore matched Langston’s record of 16 later in the season on Aug. 19 in a 6-1 victory over the Yankees in New York.
Langston and Moore jointly held the record until Sept. 27, 1992, when Randy Johnson struck out 18 in just eight innings while getting a no-decision in a 3-2 loss at Texas.
Johnson broke his own record by striking out 19 on two occasions in 1997, which remains the club record.
Only once in the last 17 years has a Mariners pitcher struck out more than 13: Felix Hernandez had a career-high 15 on June 8, 2004 in just seven innings at Tampa Bay but got a no-decision in a 5-0 victory.
Logan Morrison not only had the first walk-off homer of his career Friday in a 4-3 victory over Oakland in 11 innings. It was the first walk-off hit of his career…The Mariners lead the majors with six extra-inning games, three of which have come against the Athletics — and the Mariners have won all three. The Mariners are 0-3 when playing any other club in extra innings…The Mariners and Athletics each have nine bullpen losses, which lead the majors…Oakland reinstated first baseman Nate Freiman from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game and optioned him to Triple-A Nashville…The Mariners have played 14 one-run games, which is the most in the majors. They are 7-7 in those games.
The Mariners and Athletics conclude their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (5-0, 1.73) will face Oakland right-hander Jesse Chavez (1-2, 1.80).
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN and 97.3 FM.
The Mariners have an open date Monday before starting a two-game series Tuesday against San Diego. The homestand concludes next weekend with a four-game series against Boston.