DETROIT -- When manager Eric Wedge chose to let Miguel Olivo swing away with runners on first and second and nobody out in a tie game in the top of the 10th Wednesday in Chicago, the skipper was going in part on a gut feeling about the matchup and his catcher's penchant for coming through when it counts.
But he also was relying on a recent trend that shows Olivo hitting .328 with six home runs, 18 RBIs and a .688 slugging percentage over the past 18 games.
Olivo has become one of the Mariners' best offensive weapons, and a guy Wedge is relying on more and more, as he did when he eschewed the normal sacrifice situation and saw Olivo rip a two-run double that led to a 7-4 victory.
"It's a combination of things," Wedge said of that decision. "You look at the matchup with the pitcher, you look at the situation, who is hitting behind them, what they have. You look at everything, but you do it real quick.
"But ultimately, Miggy is a clutch hitter. I've seen it on the other side. He gets hits at the right time, big hits. I felt that was a pretty good matchup for us and if we turned him loose, he'd be ready to hit. And he was."
Olivo felt his heart rise when third base coach Jeff Datz gave him the signal to swing away, knowing most managers opt to push the go-ahead run to third in that scenario.
"Datzy told me you've got the green light to swing and I thought, 'He trusts me too much. I cannot let him down. I just need to do my best,'" Olivo said. "In a situation like that, you can be a hero. You get a good pitch to hit and make contact, a lot of good things can happen."
For Wedge, Olivo has earned the right to get those chances by coming through in the past.
"I've seen him play for a lot of years on the other side of the diamond. He's had enough big hits against us at big times," Wedge said. "But this year, it's just getting to know the man. I love his toughness, I love his passion, the way he competes. He hates to lose, takes pride in the pitching staff. It's personal to him."
Smoak, Figgins, Cust rest in opener vs. Tigers
DETROIT -- Eric Wedge gave struggling veterans Chone Figgins and Jack Cust the day off Thursday, but the Mariners manager also rested young first baseman Justin Smoak as the club opened a four-game series against the Tigers in Comerica Park.
Smoak had started 39 straight games since returning from bereavement leave following the death of his father and just needed a day off, Wedge said. Adam Kennedy took his place at first base in Thursday's 4:05 p.m. PT start.
Meanwhile, Cust was benched for the second straight day in favor of Mike Carp, who just was called up from Triple-A Tacoma. And Figgins, who continues fighting through a season with a batting average at .187, was replaced in the lineup by Luis Rodriguez.
Rookie Greg Halman, hitting a healthy .857 (6-for-7) in two starts, was also in the lineup Thursday in left field -- even against the right-handed Justin Verlander -- as Wedge abandoned his normal platoon system in order to get the youngster back in the lineup with Detroit starting four straight righties.
"We're just mixing and matching," Wedge said. "I wanted to get Halman back in there and give Carp another day. We're going to work that dynamic with the three young kids between left field and the DH spot. And I needed to give Smoak a day."
Smoak's numbers have dipped a bit recently -- he's hit .227 since the start of May, dropping his season average to .249. But he leads the team with 10 home runs, 34 RBIs and a .468 slugging percentage, thus Wedge isn't worried that his transition to the No. 3 spot in the order has caused difficulties.
"He's had a lot of big hits," Wedge said. "When you're getting big hits, it means you're up there at the right time and that means a lot. It's no different than Kennedy hitting fourth last night and getting that first run on the board by being up there at that point in time.
"That's why that three-four hole range is just a tricky thing, but so important. He's going to end up playing more than he's ever played this year and it's going to be a different grind for him. He's going through a lot, too, and I think he's handling it very well."
Coaches watching NCAA baseball closely
DETROIT -- Mariners bench coach Robby Thompson and first base coach Mike Brumley will have an extra rooting interest this weekend, as both have sons competing in the NCAA Super Regionals.
Thompson's son, Tyler, is a junior outfielder at Florida who was drafted in the 46th round this week by the Washington Nationals. Thompson, 21, has had an injury-plagued season, but rebounded strongly in the postseason and went 7-for-13 with four runs and four RBIs in three Regionals games.
"He's getting healthy at the right time," said Robby Thompson, a two-time All-Star with the San Francisco Giants himself.
The Mariners coach said his son tore a hamstring just before the season started, then got a nasty infection under a fingernail that cost him time. Just as he was getting on track, a back injury slowed him again.
But the younger Thompson is still filling a key role for a Florida squad that will host Mississippi State on Friday in the first game of the best-of-three format.
Robby Thompson said he thinks his son's draft status was hampered by his lack of playing time this year, but that he'll now have the choice of returning to Florida for his senior year or opting for a shot with the Nationals.
Meanwhile, Mike Brumley's son, Logan, is a sophomore reserve infielder for a Dallas Baptist squad that upset Oklahoma earlier in the tournament and now faces Cal in the Super Regionals beginning Saturday at Santa Clara.
Brumley said his son will play for the Everett Merchants semi-pro team this summer.