BOSTON -- Among the more pleasant surprises the Mariners have put together during their recent hot streak is a bullpen that has gone five straight games without allowing a run.
In 13 1/3 innings of work, the relievers held opposing batters to a .133 batting average (6-for-45) with just three walks and 10 strikeouts.
Manager Eric Wedge has established roles with Brandon League as the closer, Jamey Wright as the eighth-inning setup man and Aaron Laffey and David Pauley the primary "bridge" guys between starters and late-inning relievers as needed.
League, now 7-for-7 in save situations after slamming the door on the Red Sox two straight days, said it's helped knowing specific roles after starting the season with some uncertainty with an almost entirely new group that was missing closer David Aardsma.
"I think we're jelling and starting to show on the field, with guys just doing their job and what they need to do," League said. "Everything else takes care of itself. We're on a nice little streak right now."
League has now exceeded his previous career high of six saves set last year while filling in at times for Aardsma. League came into the season with eight saves in seven Major League seasons, having never been the primary late-inning man until now.
"I feel pretty good," League said. "It's Jamey and then me. It's always nice to know when you're pitching. It makes your job easier knowing when to focus. You start the inning before rather than needing to be ready from the sixth on."
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 thus far.
"He's proving to be very comfortable in that role," Wedge said. "You have to respect the history he's had with different roles, as a setup guy, a little as a closer, his ability to give you some length at times. He's handled it all very well."
Wedge is learning to understand League's even-keeled approach.
"When you're in a closer's role, you either have to be amped up out of your mind or the coolest cat in the house," said Wedge. "And I think he's the second of those two."
Cust glad to contribute with game-winning hit
BOSTON -- It's not always easy switching teams, starting fresh with a new club and new expectations. Carl Crawford is going through it right now with the Red Sox, the premier free agent struggling so much he was batting eighth in Boston's batting order for Saturday's game with Seattle.
Jack Cust isn't quite on the same salary or pressure level, but without question the Mariners' new designated hitter has been pressing to perform after getting off to a slow start with Seattle. So the 32-year-old breathed a hearty sigh of relief after delivering an RBI double that held up as the winning run in Friday's 5-4 victory at Fenway.
Any hits are welcome at the moment for Cust, who is hitting .185 with no home runs and nine RBIs in 23 games. Manager Eric Wedge dropped him to sixth in the order this week in favor of Miguel Olivo in the cleanup role.
"Obviously in that situation it felt real good, because a lot of guys have been coming up with big hits and you just want to contribute any way you can," Cust said Saturday afternoon in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway.
The personable New Jersey native has been a vocal presence among the Mariners, able to joke with Ichiro Suzuki and other quieter teammates and keep things loose. But Cust knows as well as anyone that he needs to hit.
And, yes, Cust's been pressing to do just that, especially when he looks up at the scoreboard every day and sees a batting average that starts with a one.
"Yeah, definitely," Cust said. "It's a new team, new teammates, new coaches. I know they know what I can do, but when you start the season slow, that's all you have to look at is that crap that is up there right now. You can't help but get caught up in it.
"If the same thing is happening in June, July or May, you've already got some other good stuff to show for it. When you start the season like this, you've got to remember what you've done your whole career and think about all the positive things you've done and just keep that in your mind.
"You just keep working hard, coming to the park every day waiting to feel something. And once you feel it, you have to take it over and just be consistent every day with your at-bats and get the timing and feeling. It's a slow process. I wish it would happen overnight, but I think I'm getting closer and closer. So we'll see."
Cust said getting dropped down to sixth in the lineup has helped by giving him a different look. He's certainly not going to argue, given Olivo has hit .444 with eight RBIs, seven runs and two home runs in the cleanup spot the last five days, with Justin Smoak equally productive in the fifth spot.
"I don't mind wherever I hit," Cust said. "It seems like the lineup has taken form now and we've been playing good baseball. Hopefully Miggy stays hot there and Smoaky stays hot. I'm hitting with a lot of guys on base still in the sixth hole with those guy being productive. ... Well, unless Smoak's hitting home runs and clearing all the bases."
Felix likely to move up in Seattle's rotation
BOSTON -- After some pondering, manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis are likely to move Felix Hernandez up a spot in the rotation once again next week due to Monday's day off.
Hernandez pitches Sunday to close out the Red Sox series in Boston and then would come back for his next start Friday against the White Sox in Safeco Field, if the current plan holds. Doug Fister, who would have been in line to pitch that day, instead will push back to Saturday against Chicago and go on six days' rest.
This will be the third time Hernandez has been moved up in the rotation following off-days in order to keep him on an every-fifth-day schedule.
Erik Bedard will pitch the opening game of the Texas series at Safeco Field on Tuesday against Alexi Ogando, Michael Pineda goes Wednesday against C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas throws Thursday against Colby Lewis.
Hernandez will then leapfrog Fister, pitching on Friday and giving Fister an extra two days' rest this turn as he'll be bumped back to Saturday.
Aardsma may need more time with Rainiers
BOSTON -- Closer David Aardsma was pulled after two-thirds of an inning Friday upon reaching his 25-pitch limit in his fourth rehab appearance for the Tacoma Rainiers and likely will need more time in the Minor Leagues before coming off the 15-day disabled list.
"It was like 25 degrees. He hasn't had any cooperation with the weather," manager Eric Wedge said. "His hip feels good. He's still looking to get back a little more velocity and command. We'll look to see if everything is fine and then go from there."
Wedge said Aardsma will be looked at by doctors when the Rainiers return home after the weekend, just to make sure he's fine physically, before a decision is made on his next outing. But it sounds as if he's not quite ready after giving up a double and throwing a wild pitch, while also striking out two in Tacoma's 9-6 victory at Reno.
"He's probably going to need a little more work," said Wedge. "The velocity is not a concern, he just needs to pitch a little more. It's Spring Training for him. As long as he's OK health-wise, that's the most important thing we need to look at."
Aardsma is coming back from left hip labrum surgery in early January.