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05/22/11 4:49 PM ET

Historic rotation run has put Seattle back in race

SAN DIEGO -- When Michael Pineda became the eighth straight starter to go at least seven innings and allow two or fewer runs on Saturday night, Seattle became the first Major League team to pull off that feat since the Mariners themselves in 2003.

But no rotation has done the deed nine straight times since the San Francisco Giants from July 1-10, 1988. Felix Hernandez will attempt to put the Mariners at that plateau when he starts Sunday afternoon against the Padres.

The rotation's run has helped Seattle climb back into the American League West chase despite an offense that continues struggling to score runs on a consistent basis.

"It's been quite a stretch," manager Eric Wedge acknowledged. "Anybody that ever talks about what is the most important part of the game, it has to start with starting pitching. They're the ones that give you a chance or not. It doesn't take anything away from the bullpen or the offense or defense, but the starting pitching, they set the tone and the game goes from there."

The Mariners' rotation has remained the same throughout the season's first two months with Hernandez, rookie Michael Pineda and veterans Jason Vargas, Doug Fister and Erik Bedard combining for a 3.10 ERA in 45 games.

Wedge said he's benefited greatly from having pitching coach Carl Willis as a holdover from last year's staff, with his immediate knowledge of the pitchers that the Mariners had available. Willis and Wedge previously worked together in Cleveland.

"I've known Carl for a long time and [I've] seen him do a lot of great things with pitchers," Wedge said. "He's a great communicator. I think he's a big part of it."

Padres impressed by rookie phenom Pineda

SAN DIEGO -- Count the Padres among the latest impressed by the power of Michael Pineda, the Mariners prize rookie pitcher who notched his sixth win in Saturday's 4-0 Seattle victory at PETCO Park.

San Diego managed just two hits off the 22-year-old in seven innings, on a night during which he mixed in more quality sliders along with an upper-90s mph fastball.

Pineda said it was his best game with the slider and Padres right fielder Will Venable agreed that pitch was a difference maker.

"His slider, you know, it's up," Venable said. "It looks like a good pitch to hit and then the bottom kind of falls out and it's got that straight down action, more like a curveball almost.

"You're trying to get ready for 96 [mph] and it looks like a fastball coming out of the hand and then he's throwing it 58 feet. He's good. He's a young, talented kid."

"I [didn't] think many guys were going to hit him the way he threw," said Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who drew Pineda's lone walk.

Equally impressive was the fact Pineda was the first Mariners player back on the PETCO Park field on Sunday morning, running laps by himself in the near-empty facility. There's no doubting the youngster's work ethic.

"He has some strong examples to work off of with the other starting pitchers, starting with Felix [Hernandez]," manager Eric Wedge said. "They all have strong routines. I've never seen a consistently successful starting pitcher that didn't have a strong routine and was pretty precise with it, and I think that's what he's doing."

Wedge said Pineda is also learning to pitch, as evidenced by an increased fluctuation in his velocity during Saturday's game.

"He was anywhere from 90-98 [mph]," said Wedge. "I think what he's doing is just getting a feel for pitching a little more. You see Felix do it. When he needed to reach back and get it, he did."

Excitable Ryan's energy key in rundown dance

SAN DIEGO -- Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan is naturally an excitable sort, a high-energy guy who acknowledges he's "not a guy who needs coffee" to get himself percolating.

So dancing up and down the third-base line long enough to stay in a rundown that allowed teammate Jack Wilson to move into third and pitcher Michael Pineda to get all the way to second after bouncing back to the mound in a sixth inning situation was no big deal to Ryan.

"I was doing my best Deion there," Ryan said. "I think I had a couple more throws in me, but we got everybody advanced."

The harder job, in that situation, might actually have fallen on Wilson, who was at second base. He had to read what Ryan was doing and not get caught himself between second and third once Ryan was tagged out.

"That was an awesome job by Ryan," Wilson said. "That's why you just don't give up. I was going back and forth [initially] because he was making some good moves. But then I was like, 'Alright, I've got to get to third.'"

Even Pineda got into the act by reading the situation and high-tailing it into second base while Ryan was doing his dodging.

"He was so excited," manager Eric Wedge said. "He was so proud he got to second base on that contact play and well he should. That's hard to do. On that play, he's working off Jack and Jack is working off Ryan. They all did a great job."

Wilson later scored from third when Padres catcher Kyle Phillips threw the ball into left field trying to pick him off, with Wilson getting up and scoring the Mariners' fourth run of the night to provide a little cushion.

Worth noting

• Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez was given Sunday off as he continues working his way back from stomach issues that wiped out his first two months of the season. Manager Eric Wedge was encouraged by Gutierrez's showing Saturday when he singled sharply up the middle in his first at-bat for his first hit of the season.

Despite a 1-for-12 start, Wedge isn't worried.

"I thought he had better swings [Saturday]," said Wedge. "He had better BP yesterday, no doubt. He had that ball he shot up the middle and then he had a couple other swings he just missed on. He definitely made progress yesterday."

• Reliever Shawn Kelley was scheduled to throw his third rehab start Sunday at Double-A Jackson, as he continues working toward a possible June 1 activation off the 60-day disabled list following partial Tommy John surgery. However, that game was rained out and he's now scheduled to pitch Monday during a doubleheader.

• The Mariners have the lowest ERA in the American League this month at 2.56, while their starters are at 2.15 for May and 0.73 over the past eight games.

• Third baseman Chone Figgins went 0-for-9 in the first two games of the Padres series, snapping a five-game hit streak as his average dipped back down to .212. Wedge will try to let Figgins right himself at the moment, instead of trying to give him a day off.

"I thought he was making progress there for a while," Wedge said. "He's had a rough couple days, but let's work through this road trip and see where we go from there."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.