SEATTLE — As good as the Mariners’ bullpen has been in compiling a 2.63 ERA, the final two innings from Sunday’s 5-4 victory at Cincinnati nonetheless provided a measure of reassurance.
Veteran setup man Joaquin Benoit was far sharper in working a 10-pitch eighth inning than in a 29-pitch trek this past Thursday at Baltimore, which marked his first outing in nearly four weeks.
That got the game to Steve Cishek in his first save situation since blowing one-run leads on successive nights in losses May 13-14 to the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
Cishek delivered a one-two-three inning against the Reds for his 12th save in 15 opportunities.
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“I was hoping for that opportunity in Baltimore,” he said, “but our offense was too good. The first night (in Cincinnati), it looked like I was going in for a three-run save. Those are always nice. But, again, we put a hurting on them.”
Benoit admitted he felt rusty Thursday against the Orioles after being sidelined since April 21 because of inflammation in his shoulder.
“It feels better and better,” Benoit said. “I believe that the more I get on the mound, the better I’ll feel.”
And that should only make the bullpen better.
“It’s great to see him out there,” manager Scott Servais said. “It really allows us to do some other things in the sixth and seventh inning, knowing that you have him and Cishek rested behind those games.”
It allows right-hander Nick Vincent and lefties Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery to serve as a sixth-and-seventh inning bridge. Those three entered Monday’s series against Oakland with ERAs of 1.40, 1.29 and 1.90 respectively.
Veteran right-hander Joel Peralta had served, because of his experience, as the bullpen’s primary eighth-inning reliever in Benoit’s absence. There were some bumps, as evidenced by his 4.42 ERA in 21 outings.
Peralta now joins righty Steve Johnson in lower-leverage roles as the Mariners await progress on four other injured relievers: lefty Charlie Furbush and right-handers Tony Zych, Aaron Cook and Evan Scribner.
“It was clicking before but now, with Joaquin, we’re deeper,” Cishek said. “That helps Peralta and me out a lot. We were getting used quite a bit early on.”
For all the advances in baseball analytics, it remains hard to find any single definitive metric that gauges defensive success. Even so, this much is hard to dispute: The Mariners are a far better defensive team this season than a year ago.
Two examples that seek to measure runs saved above average.
The Mariners entered Monday’s series opener against Oakland at plus-11 in total zone computations by www.BaseballProjection.com, which ranked third among American League clubs.
A year ago, the Mariners finished at minus-34, which was next-to-last among AL clubs.
The plus-45 run improvement matches the Chicago White Sox as the best in the league.
Baseball Info Solutions is less kind, projecting the Mariners at minus-5 in defensive runs saved above average, which ranks ninth among the 15 AL clubs.
Even so, that represents sharp improvement over last year, which the Mariners finished last among AL clubs at minus-51. Their plus-46 improvement is easily the best in the league.
New York ranks second at plus-26.
Double-A Jackson outfielder Guillermo Heredia had just one hit in 14 at-bats after returning May 14 from a nine-day absence for a bruised left hand, which resulted from getting hit by a pitch.
Since then, Heredia is 10-for-16 with seven walks, which boosted his overall average, through Sunday, to .302 with a .389 on-base percentage.
Heredia, 25, is a Cuban defector who signed with the Mariners on March 1. Prior to this season, he hasn’t played regularly since 2013. Heredia received a $400,000 bonus and is making $82,700 this season in the minors.
It was 21 years ago Tuesday — May 24, 1995 — that a slumping Mike Blowers, batting .118, went 4 for 5 with four extra-base hits and eight RBIs in a 15-6 victory over Boston at the Kingdome.
Blowers tied a franchise record for RBIs, which Alvin Davis set in 1986 against Toronto. Mike Cameron matched the record with eight RBIs in a 2001 game at New York.
The four extra-base hits by Blowers were a franchise record that has since been matched on six occasions by five players: Ken Griffey Jr. (1998), Cameron (2002), Adrian Beltre (twice in 2007), Raul Ibanez (2007) and Seager (2014).
Center fielder Leonys Martin has reached base in 16 of his past 17 games through Sunday, and is batting .345 (20 for 58) during that span with a .418 on-base percentage. ... Second baseman Robinson Cano has reached base safely in 21 consecutive games through Sunday and is batting .341 (30-for-88) during that span with a .379 OBP. ... Third baseman Kyle Seager has reached base safely in 22 of his past 23 games through Sunday and is batting .365 (31-for-85) in that span with a .439 OBP. ... The Mariners have won eight of their past nine one-run decisions and are 9-6 overall in one-run games. ... The Mariners’ bullpen is 7-0 with nine saves and a 1.47 ERA on the road but just 2-4 with four saves and a 4.44 ERA in home games.
The Mariners and Athletics continue their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Nathan Karns (4-1, 3.33 ERA) will face Oakland right-hander Kendall Graveman (1-6, 5.48).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710-AM.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
TOTAL ZONE TOTAL FIELDING RUNS ABOVE AVERAGE
2016 (Though Sunday)
Tampa Bay: plus-7
Kansas City: plus-4
Los Angeles: minus-4
New York: minus-5
Kansas City: plus-20
Los Angeles: plus-13
Tampa Bay: plus-4
New York: minus-15
DEFENSIVE RUNS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE
(Baseball Info Solutions)
2016 (Through Sunday)
Tampa Bay: plus-18
Los Angeles: plus-14
Kansas City: plus-10
New York: minus-13
Kansas City: plus-51
Los Angeles: plus-9
Tampa Bay: plus-7
New York: minus-39