DETROIT -- Jesus Montero has faced a lot of questions about his ability to be an everyday catcher. There's still a lot left to answer, but Wednesday night was a big step as the 22-year-old caught Felix Hernandez for the first time in the regular season.
"I caught him a couple times in Spring Training, so I know him a little bit," Montero said before the game. "He's good. He calls his game. He's tough. He's awesome. So I got a lot of confidence."
It's been a slow process for Montero. Last Thursday in Montero's last appearance at catcher, he threw out his first baserunner of the season. White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham was caught trying to steal second. Montero is 1-for-5 on throwing out runners.
Through the team's first 18 games, he had only been the starting catcher four times, catching Hector Noesi and Kevin Millwood twice each.
Now, for the second game of a three-game series against the Tigers, Montero will catch a former American League Cy Young Award winner.
"It's just another game," said Montero, who downplayed any pressure of catching a pitcher with the nickname "King." "I'm just happy because I'm going to catch him, and I just want to win. I want to do a good job for him."
Mariners taking pride in their defense
DETROIT -- It's been rare to see the Mariners on top of any statistical leaderboards this season. However, Seattle is in the company of the league's elite in one aspect of the game: their fielding.
Entering Wednesday night's contest against the Tigers, the Mariners owned a .991 fielding percentage, and had made only six errors, both of which were tops in the Major Leagues. The Yankees (.990), Red Sox (.990), Rangers (.989) and Phillies (.987) all followed closely behind.
Although defense certainly won't be the be-all, end-all of the season, it's an encouraging sign for a young Mariners team, especially one that is struggling to swing the bats.
"We talk about it," manager Eric Wedge said. "You work to have a clean game. And it starts with pitching and defense. As I've said so many times, our offense is going to continue to come along. It's still inconsistent, but ... you've got to pitch and you've got to catch the ball. That's a big part of it."
Last season, the Mariners averaged the fewest runs (3.17) of any team in the designated hitter era. To add insult to injury, they were the fifth-worst fielding team in the American League, committing 108 errors. It's a small sample size, but so far in 2012 they're on pace for 54.
The fielding is something Wedge said the team is certainly happy about, but they're not satisfied with just being strong in the field.
"Our motivation is to be a complete team," Wedge said. "We want to be a well-rounded ballclub. Everything that we do is working toward that. That's where I'm at with it, that's where they're at with it. We want every area of our club to be more consistent."
Wilhelmsen becoming bullpen's workhorse
DETROIT -- Typically, a team's setup man isn't usually referred to as an "innings eater." However, with 12 innings pitched this season, right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen is earning that label.
Of American League relief pitchers who have made no starts this season, Wilhelmsen ranks second in the league with his 12 innings, just behind Yankees right-hander David Phelps, who has pitched 12 1/3 innings.
The 28-year-old has given the Mariners the quality arm they had hoped for in the back of the bullpen. He's been touched up only twice, for a total of three earned runs, this season.
Manager Eric Wedge talked about Wilhelmsen's growth after Tuesday's 7-4 win against the Tigers. Wilhelmsen allowed the first two runners to reach in a two-run game, before settling down and ending the threat on a flyout and two strikeouts.
"He's very mature," Wedge said. "He's been out in the real world and then back into baseball. He's a good worker. He has a lot of fire in his belly. He's suited to be pitching late in ball games, and he's done a nice job for us."
Smoak back in lineup on Wednesday
DETROIT -- After three days off, first baseman Justin Smoak returned to the Mariners' lineup on Wednesday. Smoak had been nursing a sore right hamstring, and manager Eric Wedge felt it best to give him a few days off.
"He could've played yesterday, but that was my doing," Wedge said. "I wanted to give him an extra day, and just get further removed from that hamstring."
Smoak first sat out a week ago, on April 18, against the Indians. He returned to the lineup last Thursday, but went 0-for-11 in his next three games. The slump prompted Wedge to give him a rest.
With him sitting out Sunday and the Mariners' off-day Monday, Smoak was expected to be back at first base on Tuesday. However, Smoak sat out a third straight day.
Alex Liddi took his spot and hit an eighth-inning home run in a one-run game in his absence. Smoak, who insisted he was fine, took over at first and moved Liddi to third base -- his natural position. Kyle Seagar was given a non-injury-related rest.
Mariners react to Pineda missing season
DETROIT -- Just prior to Wednesday night's game against the Tigers, the Mariners were sitting in the visiting clubhouse getting prepared to take the field for batting practice when they heard the news that former teammate Michael Pineda would miss the season.
Pineda, who had been suffering from shoulder issues throughout Spring Training and was placed on the 15-day disabled list just before the start of the regular season, was diagnosed with an anterior labral tear in his pitching shoulder.
"You just feel bad for the kid," manager Eric Wedge said. "You wish him all the success, and I feel bad for him. Hopefully he can get healthy. He's young and he has a solid career ahead of him, and hopefully he gets healthy and back on track."
Pineda signed with the Mariners in 2005 at the age of 16. He made the Mariners' starting rotation out of Spring Training in 2011 and went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 28 starts as a rookie.
He was part of a four-player deal in the offseason that sent him to the Yankees along with Jose Campos and brought Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to Seattle.
After firing seven innings of one-run ball, Felix Hernandez talked about receiving the news of Pineda's injury. With the Mariners, he was somewhat of a mentor to the 23-year-old. Because of that, Hernandez said he couldn't bring himself to call him.
"I'm not calling him because he's probably a little frustrated," Hernandez said. "He's just got to work hard and come back, because he's a great pitcher."
Montero said he's never spoken to Pineda directly. He knows the pitcher only as the main piece in a deal that brought him to the west coast. However, even the 22-year-old catcher/designated hitter was somber when discussing the news.
"I feel bad for him," Montero said. "I feel sorry. Things happen, you know. I feel bad. I don't want him to be like that. But what can I say, I hope the best for him."
One of the biggest stories likely to come out of this is whether the Mariners had any idea of Pineda's injury, and therefore were compelled to pull the trigger on the trade.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik spoke to ESPNNewYork.com soon after the word of Pineda's season-ending injury got out and refuted those claims.
"Absolutely not," Zduriencik told ESPNNewYork.com. "None, whatsoever. Before the trade, he was going to be our No. 2 starter ... "I feel bad. We love Michael Pineda. He's a great kid. This is very unfortunate."
Manager Eric Wedge said Mike Carp, who is rehabbing a sprained right shoulder in Triple-A Tacoma, could be ready to return to the team within "the next three or four days."
He didn't want to solidify the return date -- citing that Carp was already too anxious to get back without him giving a date -- but said he should be back within a week.
Felix Hernandez had an eight-game unbeaten streak entering Wednesday night's game versus the Tigers. He hasn't lost a game to Detroit since April 23, 2006.
Dating back to last season, the Mariners are 7-2 in their past nine games against Detroit.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.