SEATTLE -- The last time the Mariners had a rookie right-handed starting-pitching phenom, they made sure to take care of his arm.
Seattle's strategy in 2006 -- to cap then-20-year-old Felix Hernandez at 200 innings for the entire year, including Spring Training -- worked to the benefit of the franchise. They'll likely soon come up with a similar strategy for 22-year-old Michael Pineda, who has been electrifying in his first four big league starts this season.
Pineda was shut down in late August last year, ending his Minor League season after 139 1/3 innings split between Double- and Triple-A. The Mariners will be discussing the optimal plan for the right-hander, who has touched 99 mph on the radar gun with his fastball while going 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.
"We'll come up with a number, maybe another month in," Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said. "He's had four starts, and they've been very good starts, but it's early. To this point, he's shown a lot of maturity for a 22-year-old who's experiencing his first big league time here. I think he's handling his emotions well and keeping himself in check. If we see things continuing to go the way they're going, it will allow us to reasonably put a number on it."
Willis also said Pineda will probably be limited to roughly 105 pitches per outing. So far, the most he's thrown in a start is 103. In his last outing, he pitched six scoreless innings against the A's on Friday night and departed after 97 pitches.
"First of all, you're thinking about that any time a pitcher approaches 100 pitches around the fifth or sixth inning. In his case, the other night he had a 30-pitch second inning, which is why that count was as high as it was," Willis said. "It's not always the total number. It's how you get there. If they get there methodically, usually they'll go deeper in the game.
"I'd be surprised if you ever saw Michael throw more than 110, with respect to his youth and what he can bring for the future. It makes sense not to push him really beyond 105, which is kind of my number."
So what will it be, 175 innings? Two hundred, like it was with Hernandez?
"We'll talk about it," Willis said. "Right now, as well as he's pitching, we're trying to utilize the off-days to benefit him, to give him two extra days [between starts], as we were able to do with the first off-day we had, and now he'll get one extra day with this off-day tomorrow.
"Any time he can benefit from the off-day, and someone else doesn't need it more, he'll be the guy we'll look to bump back, just to protect him."
Aardsma could return after outing on Tuesday
SEATTLE -- Don't let David Aardsma's crooked line from Sunday's rehab outing in Salt Lake City fool you. The Mariners closer is encouraged about where he is in his recovery from hip surgery and is eager to continue the progression.
"The most important thing is [that] I feel great physically," Aardsma said Sunday afternoon when reached by phone in Utah. "Everything is falling into place."
Aardsma said he will pitch again for Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday, which could be his final rehab appearance. The right-hander took the loss on Sunday for the Rainiers against the Salt Lake Bees, giving up four runs on three hits in one-third of an inning. But he said he didn't think he pitched all that poorly, noting that his fastball and split-finger pitches were in solid shape.
"Believe it or not, it went well," Aardsma said with a laugh. "It's not the greatest numbers you might see in a pitching line, but I felt great, and considering it was the first day I've pitched where I've had only one day off in between outings, it was a positive step.
"I actually made really good pitches. I was sitting at 90-92 mph [with the fastball], which is exactly where I would be at this stage of Spring Training. All the hits off me were opposite-field hits, just guys going with pitches, and I threw some great splits. I'm encouraged."
Aardsma could be back with the team after Tuesday, and when that happens, Brandon League will go back to being Aardsma's setup man. League has done an admirable job as the pro-tem closer in David Aardsma's absence because of hip surgery. League is 5-for-5 in save opportunities this year.
"It makes the bullpen stronger," League said. "You get your closer back, it's only going to get better. Not only myself, but the other guys that are capable of closing, too."
League said he doesn't care where he pitches but that closing helps in honing the mindset that any late-inning reliever needs.
" "Any time after the fifth or sixth inning, you have to have that mentality because you're holding a lead," League said. "Even though the ninth is the last inning, sometimes the sixth, seventh and eighth are the hardest innings, depending on the situation, the batting order, and the score.
"I'm just excited that we're going to add another arm to the back end of our bullpen and make it even stronger."
Smoak will be activated on Tuesday
SEATTLE -- The Mariners announced after their 5-2 loss to the A's on Sunday that first baseman Justin Smoak will be activated off the bereavement list for Tuesday's game in Detroit and that right-handed reliever Dan Cortes will be recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.
To accommodate these moves on the 25-man roster, the Mariners will option reliever Josh Lueke and outfielder Carlos Peguero to Tacoma.
Smoak was placed on the bereavement list on Tuesday after flying to South Carolina to be with his father, who died later in the evening. Keith Smoak was 57 and had been battling lung cancer in recent weeks.
Smoak has hit in seven consecutive games and leads the Mariners with a .291 batting average. He also has an OPS of .885.
Cortes, who throws in the upper 90s and has touched 100 mph with his fastball, has the chance to make his 2011 debut for the Mariners after getting a taste of the big leagues last year in a September callup. Cortes, who is 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, went 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA and six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings over four games with the big league club last year.
Cortes, 24, didn't make the team out of Spring Training this year and was 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA and nine strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings over six games for Tacoma this year.
Lueke, who beat out Cortes for a spot in the team's Opening Day bullpen, was roughed up in Saturday night's loss to the A's and had allowed seven hits and seven runs over 1 1/3 innings of his last two outings to see his ERA climb to 17.05.
Peguero, who replaced Smoak on the roster, got his first big league hit on April 21 against Oakland and went 2-for-11 overall with five strikeouts.
Ichiro raps two hits as designated hitter
SEATTLE -- After grinding every day in right field, Ichiro Suzuki was given the day "off" Sunday.
Ichiro, who went 2-for-5 on Sunday to raise his average to .309, was penciled in at designated hitter and in his customary leadoff position for the series finale against the A's. Manager Eric Wedge said he discussed it with Ichiro, and it is something Wedge had planned for the day before the club's first off-day in 17 days and the upcoming six-day road trip to Detroit and Boston.
"As we got into it, it felt like, after talking to him a little bit, it might be the best thing to do to couple it with the off-day, so it gets him off his legs for a couple of days here," Wedge said.
Wedge was asked what he's learned from observing Ichiro.
"I'm still getting a feel for him, too," Wedge said. "I saw him sporadically from the other side of the diamond. His approach, obviously, is unique.
"He knows exactly what he's trying to do up there, and you know it's going to happen. You know the consistency's going to come. But from one at-bat to the next, regardless of results, you don't see a whole lot of difference there because he is very consistent with is approach."
Busy stretch was beneficial, Wedge says
SEATTLE -- Sunday marked the Mariners' 17th consecutive day with a game, a scheduling rarity for the opening month of the season. Mariners manager Eric Wedge said the 2 1/2 weeks without a breather might have been more beneficial than one would think.
"Sometimes, it's a good thing when you have to have a stretch like this early in the season," Wedge said. "It tests your toughness, both mentally and physically. You immediately get into the grind, so the next time you go through it, you're a little bit wiser for the wear, and it also gives you the opportunity to play everybody a little bit more because, obviously, you need to give some calculated days off.
"So there are some positives to it, and I think that's what we've tried to do with this."
Mariners speedster Ichiro Suzuki had played designated hitter in 28 games, in which he has posted a .369 average (44-for-119). He has scored 22 runs while driving in 12 and collected three doubles, two triples and three home runs. He has also added seven walks and eight steals, while being caught just once. ... Mariners pitchers did not allow an extra-base hit in back-to-back games from April 21-22, tying a team record. It's the 23rd time in club history they've accomplished this and the first time since June 19-20, 2010. ... Entering Sunday, Mariners right-hander Brandon League joins Neftali Feliz of Texas and Jonathan Papelbon of Boston as the only American League closers to be perfect in five or more save opportunities.