Baseball

Mariners notebook: Carson Smith cementing role as club’s primary setup reliever

Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon hesitates to assign bullpen roles beyond the obvious — Fernando Rodney is the closer — but the eighth inning increasingly belongs to Carson Smith.

It was Smith who got the call Friday and Saturday in the eighth inning to bridge leads to Rodney. Each time, he put up a zero in lowering his ERA to 0.90.

“He’s done a tremendous job for us,” McClendon said, “but we’ve got to be careful. We’ve got to be sure we don’t overuse him, but he’s got a bright future. That sinker is special.

“He’s got a nice slider. More than anything, he’s got great makeup. I think he’s built for it.”

Smith, 25, has pitched the eighth inning or later in each of his past 12 appearances. He has five of his club-high eight “holds” in that span.

“I don’t know if it’s a regular thing or not,” he said. “I just try to be ready whenever the phone rings.”

That’s probably best, since McClendon said there will be times when matchups prompt him to use other relievers in the eighth inning.

“I define roles for my relievers all of the time,” he said. “When you come in the game, get them out. Get outs for me.”

Smith has done that.

Smith has allowed just two runs and nine hits in 20 innings over his 21 outings. He also had 23 strikeouts and just five walks, one of which was an intentional pass.

Only two other American League relievers had pitched as many innings and allowed earned fewer runs: Dellin Betances of the Yankees (no earned runs in 23 innings) and Will Harris of the Astros (one in 222/3 innings).

Smith had 40 saves over three minor-league seasons but, with Rodney around, has yet to get one in the big leagues. He is among those who believe pitching the ninth inning is different.

“That’s from my minor-league experience,” Smith said. “But the eighth? I don’t see any difference from any other inning. I try to take the same approach.”

JACKSON’S RETURN

Don’t be surprised if outfielder Austin Jackson rejoins the Mariners at some point during their upcoming three-game series at Tampa Bay.

Jackson got three hits Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma in a 13-7 loss to Iowa. He is 10 for 33 (.303) through eight games of a rehab assignment after suffering a sprained right ankle on May 3 at Houston.

General manager Jack Zduriencik said Jackson would be re-evaluated after the Rainiers’ game Sunday at Iowa.

MILLER AT SECOND

New super utilityman Brad Miller found himself starting at second base Sunday for the first time this season when McClendon opted to use Robinson Cano as the designated hitter.

Miller has played in six different spots, including DH, since losing his job as the starting shortstop on May 4. He played 26 games at second base over the two previous seasons.

“He played second in spring training quite a bit,” McClendon said. “If you can play short, you can play second. Is he the greatest second baseman in the world? No. But he’ll make the plays. He’ll be fine.”

Miller had no problems with two grounds and in recording an out at second through the first six innings, but failed to cover first base on Ezequiel Carrera’s bunt in the seventh inning to first baseman Logan Morrison.

The result was an RBI single that fueled a four-run inning.

“It is what it is,” McClendon said. “The second baseman didn’t cover first base. That’s all.”

GUNSLINGER WILLIE

Willie Bloomquist registered his first outfield assist Saturday since 2010 when he gunned down Danny Valencia at second base from right field in the fourth inning.

Bloomquist made the play while backing up center fielder Justin Ruggiano, who tried for a diving catch.

“It’s tough to tell which way the ball is going to kick off this turf,” Bloomquist said. “I was just trying to get a read in case (Ruggiano) missed it, which way it was going to bounce.

“It kind of took a tricky hop, so I’m glad my ACL is still intact. I was able to get it and make a good throw to second.”

The Mariners led 3-1 at the time, and Bloomquist’s assist kept them on top when Chris Colabello followed with a home run. That’s how it ended: 3-2.

The South Kitsap grad has 11 assists in 336 outfield game over his 14-year career, but his last one, also from right field, came Aug. 21, 2010 while playing for Royals against the Chicago White Sox in Kansas City.

That came in the 10th inning of a tie game when Bloomquist retrieved a double by Carlos Quentin and threw a relay to second baseman Mike Aviles, who threw out pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge at the plate.

Kansas City won the game 6-5 in 11 innings on a walk-off RBI single by ex-Mariner Yuniesky Betancourt.

SURGING PAXTON

James Paxton said getting his first career victory in his homeland didn’t mean anything more to him on a personal level than a victory in, say, Cleveland.

That’s what he said — even as he acknowledged that his emotions were on overdrive in the first inning of Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Toronto.

“It sped up a little bit on me in the first inning,” he said. “It’s special to be back in my home country…I feel I was better prepared for it (than last time), and I’ll be better prepared next time, also.”

Paxton held the Blue Jays to two runs and four hits in six innings before the Mariners’ bullpen closed out the victory. It marked his sixth consecutive start in which his permitted two or fewer earned runs.

He is 3-1 with a 1.63 ERA in that span. Paxton’s next scheduled start is Thursday, when the Mariners open a four-game weekend series against Cleveland at Safeco Field.

LOOKING BACK

It was 26 years ago Monday — May 25, 1989 — that the Mariners traded pitcher Mark Langston and a player to be named to Montreal for pitchers Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris.

The Mariners completed the deal on July 31 by sending pitcher Mike Campbell, their first-round pick in 1985, to the Expos.

SHORT HOPS

Chris Taylor had two hits for the second consecutive game after having only six in his first 13 games. … Kyle Seager extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a homer in the second inning. … Toronto’s Jose Bautista, who didn’t play Sunday, has reached base in 34 consecutive games against the Mariners. He received a cortisone shot prior to the game as treatment for an ailing right shoulder.

ON TAP

The Mariners open a three-game series against Tampa Bay at 4:10 p.m. (PDT) Monday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Lefty Roenis Elias (1-1, 2.76 ERA) will face Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi (3-4, 2.43).

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