HOUSTON -- With Fernando Rodney firmly installed as the Mariners closer this year, Tom Wilhelmsen hadn't picked up a save since losing that job 11 months ago, until he finished out Monday's 10-4 victory over the Astros with three strong innings.
As per MLB rules, if a reliever finishes off a victory with three or more effective innings, he's awarded a save no matter what the score is and Wilhelmsen filled that bill. And the big right-hander relished the chance to continue contributing to a bullpen that ranks first in the American League with a 2.59 ERA entering Tuesday.
"Yeah, it feels good to do your job," Wilhelmsen said. "To do your job and get a win is what we're here for. It's why we play."
Wilhelmsen is becoming an increasingly versatile option for manager Lloyd McClendon, who has used him in two three-inning situations in the last six days. Wilhelmsen has delivered, posting a 1.87 ERA over his last 10 outings with just four runs and 10 hits in 19 1/3 frames to lower his season mark to 2.60 in a team-high 45 relief innings.
"He's done a nice job," McClendon said. "We've run him out there several times, two or three innings, and he seems to handle it. He's strong. It doesn't affect him, he bounces back, and it's been big for us because it's given us an opportunity to use other guys in different fashions at different times."
Wilhelmsen said pitching coach Rick Waits asked if he'd be okay throwing another inning after he'd shut out the Astros in the seventh and eighth on Monday and he happily agreed. Pitching longer stints has led to a slightly different approach that could help the hard-throwing right-hander in the long run.
"Maybe there is a little adjustment," Wilhelmsen said. "I'm trying really hard not to overthrow and really work on location, throwing more quality pitches to get ground balls and outs so my pitch count can stay somewhat low. I try not to think about it too much, really. Just throwing strikes."
The result is an increasingly versatile bullpen in which any number of relievers are helping set up Rodney, who heads into Tuesday's game tied for first in the American League with 23 saves.
"It's a good recipe right now," Wilhelmsen said.
And he's been a main ingredient.
Big game puts Jones in rare company
HOUSTON -- James Jones set a career high with a four-hit night in Monday's 10-4 victory over the Astros and tied his best for stolen bases in a game with three as the young center fielder continued his strong rookie campaign for the Mariners.
Jones became just the second player in Mariners history with four or more hits and three or more stolen bases in the same game, joining Ichiro Suzuki, who had four of each on July 20, 2004 against the Red Sox.
The only other player in the Majors to accomplish that feat this year is Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon, who had five hits and three stolen bases in an 11-inning game on May 3 at Miami.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said it's just another step forward for the 25-year-old from Brooklyn, who has hit .289 with 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts since being called up on May 5. Jones was third in the Majors with 12 stolen bases in June.
"He's doing great," McClendon said before Tuesday's game with the Astros. "He came in yesterday and knocked on the door and said, 'Can I talk to you?' and I thought something was wrong, a family problem or something. He said, 'What can I do to get better?' I told him after the game, 'Keep getting four hits and three stolen bases. You'll be good and I'll be real smart.'
"This kid is special in that respect. He wants to be the best he can be and I don't think he's motivated by the dollar figures, he's motivated to be the best player he can be."
Jones has been a sponge since his arrival and McClendon said he's been shadowing Robinson Cano and other veterans, picking their brains as well.
"I always feel like there's something I can improve on," Jones said. "Just being on the same page as the manager, I know I have some things, personally, I can improve. But getting his perspective, that's a lot of experience. He's seen everything. I just wanted to get his insight."
As for Cano? Jones said he and others have been teaching him the value of studying film to pick up opposing player's tendencies, and not just at the plate.
"I really didn't know anything about looking at video," Jones said. "I just looked at movement. But I realize now, being that I'm a basestealer, I could do times off how quick guys are to the plate and any trends they have when they're going home or picking off, just studying and trying to pick up patterns."
McClendon feels Jones could become a force on the basepaths as he learns more about opposing pitchers. For now, the coaching staff is supplying much of his knowledge and taking some of the decision-making out of his hands, though he's usually on his own when it comes to stealing third.
"It's more like a team effort, to be honest," Jones said. [First-base coach Andy Van Slyke] helps me a lot over there. He usually points out keys to me before I even notice it, then I realize it after the fact. The coaching staff definitely helps with me adjusting to pitchers."
Mariners turn the page after successful June
HOUSTON -- After entering June a game under .500 at 27-28, the Mariners put together the second-best record in the American League in the just-completed month and turned the calendar to July with a 45-38 record and rising hopes of a legitimate postseason run in the second half.
Seattle finished June with an 18-10 record, with their .643 winning percentage second only to division-rival Oakland (17-9, .654) among AL teams. After a 16-14 May, it's the Mariners first back-to-back months with a winning record since July-August of 2012.
The Mariners had the best run differential in the Majors in June at plus-47, which lands them second to the A's in the Majors at plus-56 for the season going into Tuesday's games. The Dodgers are third in those rankings and the Angels fourth, putting three AL West teams among the top four in MLB.
Pitching clearly was the biggest factor for Seattle in June as the Mariners led the Majors with a 2.53 ERA, breaking their club record for the best month in franchise history of 2.80 in July, 1991. The bullpen also set a monthly club record of 1.64, topping the old mark of 1.88 in June, 2012.
Felix Hernandez led the rotation with a 3-1 record, 1.22 ERA and 26 hits, six walks and 54 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings over six starts, while Fernando Rodney had nine saves, Joe Beimel didn't allow a run in 11 relief appearances and Yoervis Medina did the same in nine outings.
But the offense also was improved, with the Mariners hitting .262 with 29 home runs in June after batting .232 with 43 home runs in the months of April and May combined.
Kyle Seager hit .309 with four home runs, 22 RBIs and a .536 slugging percentage to lead the way and Robinson Cano batting .307 with four homers, 17 RBIs and a .485 slugging percent. But the surprising boost came from shortstop Brad Miller, who emerged from a two-month struggle to hit .298 with five homers, 12 RBIs and a .512 slugging percentage.
• Erasmo Ramirez was scratched from Monday's start for Triple-A Tacoma, with Forrest Snow moved up a day to replace him. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Ramirez became the father of twins earlier in the day. He was scheduled to start instead on Tuesday in his first outing since being sent down last week.
• Brad Miller moved into a tie for the most home runs by an American League shortstop when he hit his eighth of the season on Monday, tying him with Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians and Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox.
• ROOT Sports and ESPN Deportes Seattle Radio Group announced Tuesday that its four stations in the Puget Sound area will broadcast the Mariners Spanish Audio feed for the remainder of the 2014 regular season on 1490 AM Seattle/Bremerton, 1480 AM Tacoma/Lakewood, 92.1 FM Tacoma/Puyallup and 1280 AM Olympia/Lacey.
Alex Rivera is the Spanish play-by-play voice of Mariners Spanish Audio and former Mariners second baseman Julio Cruz will join him in the booth for select games throughout the season.