SEATTLE -- During the first three weeks of the season, Mariners closer J.J. Putz was ready and willing to protect late-game leads, but he never had a save opportunity.On Saturday night, he was off limits. For one of the few times since he became the team's door-shutter early last season, Putz was unavailable because of back-to-back five-out saves that sapped some energy from his valuable right arm. "If it came down to getting one hitter, I could do that," Putz said, "but [a day off] would be nice. We'll see what happens, but a day off would be nice." Putz admitted he was "pretty much on fumes" during the ninth inning of Friday night's game against the Royals at Safeco Field. He hit the first batter he faced and walked the next one before getting the three outs necessary to register his third straight save and the second in two days. But he was needed for five outs both times, instead of the usual three. "I don't want to do that," manager Mike Hargrove said of using Putz in multi-inning save situations. "We need him all year long, and if we do that too often, he won't be the J.J. Putz that we know in August and September. He'll be worn out. We've got to find somebody who can get us to the ninth so we can just use J.J. for three outs." That someone remains a bit of a dilemma. Hargrove said left-hander George Sherrill and right-handers Chris Reitsma and rookie Brandon Morrow would share the setup up role for now. Morrow, a closer in college, lacks Major League experience, but Hargrove is gaining more confidence in the 22-year-old with a strong arsenal of pitches, including a high-powered fastball. When Putz ran into problems Friday night, Morrow was warming up in the bullpen and might have been handed his first big-league save opportunity. "We got him up to be on the safe side, just in case it kind of snowballed on J.J.," Hargrove said. "But he went ahead and did the job." Bell ringer: Hargrove admitted he was more than a little concerned about Sherrill a month ago before breaking camp in Peoria, Ariz., but all is well with the left-handed reliever. He went into Saturday night's game against the Royals with a 0.00 ERA in 5 2/3 innings over eight appearances, retiring 15 consecutive batters over his past six outings. "He didn't have a good Spring Training at all, and for me, that was a major concern," Hargrove said. "I mean, he was not effective at all, and even though he was good for us the past couple of years, you like to see somebody do something in Spring Training -- and George didn't. Sherrill compiled a 13.00 ERA in nine Cactus League games, allowing 12 earned runs in nine innings. "But since the bell rung for the start of the regular season," Hargrove said, "he has done a good job." This 'n that: Since April 18, the Mariners bullpen trio of Putz, Sherrill and Reitsma has surrendered just six runs in 24 innings. ... With six postponements so far this month, the Mariners will play the fewest games in April (20) in a non strike-shortened season. The previous low was 21 games in 1980, '85, '86, '91 and '92. ... The Mariners have reached double digits in hits in nine of their last 13 games, batting a combined .290 as a team. The surge has raised the team batting average 77 points, from .187 to .264. ... Designated hitter Jose Vidro has led the way, going into Saturday night's game with an 11-game hitting streak.
On deck: The three-game series against the Royals will end with a Sunday matinee with Seattle right-hander Cha Seung Baek making his first start at home. The Royals will counter with right-hander Brian Bannister, son of former Mariners pitcher Floyd Bannister. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. PT.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.