9/8/2013 3:34 P.M. ET
Mariners' lefties finding ways to handle shift
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- Rays manager Joe Maddon is the master of the infield shift, moving his defenders around more than any skipper in the Majors to tighten the field to the pull side of left-handed hitters. The Mariners have faced Tampa Bay twice in the past month and their southpaws are growing used to the tactic.
Part of the point of the shift is to make hitters change their approach, since having three infielders between first and second base leaves the left side open to a potential bunt or push single.
"It's hard to ignore," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. "They're human, they see it. But you can't let it get in your head. Joe has always been about being drastic. That's just the way he goes about his business, which is fine. But it's our job to just go out there and do what we do. I think as these players become a little more experienced, they'll be able to manipulate and work through that a little better. You can't let it take you out of your game."
Kyle Seager attempted to lay down a bunt against the shift on Saturday and has done that successfully before against the Rays. Justin Smoak solved it the best way, driving a home run to the opposite field in his first at-bat Saturday against Chris Archer.
But Smoak admits he's thought about dropping down a bunt against the shift, even though he can't remember bunting since he came to Seattle.
"It'll happen one of these days against that shift," he said. "You try to ignore it. But some time I'm going to lay one down. They're still going to shift me, because they won't think I'll do it again. I was up there right-handed once [Saturday] and [second baseman Ben] Zobrist was on the other side of second base."
Wedge said the best way to beat the shift is to just to be able to hit the ball well to all fields and listed Seager as a batter who will eventually make that hard for the Rays.
"As he continues to play, they're not going to continue to shift on him," Wedge said. "He's too good a hitter. He'll be spraying the ball all over the place."
After knock to the head, Franklin sits out
SEATTLE -- Rookie second baseman Nick Franklin wasn't in the lineup Sunday after getting kneed in the back of the head by first baseman Justin Smoak as the two collided while going for a bloop single into shallow right field in the sixth inning of Saturday's 6-2 win over the Rays.
Franklin remained in the game and hit an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth, but manager Eric Wedge moved Dustin Ackley back to second base for Sunday's series finale and gave the 22-year-old a day off.
Wedge said the decision to sit Franklin wasn't just about his head, but also wanting to get Ackley some time at second base to maintain his versatility and to balance the lineup against tough Rays lefty Matt Moore.
"He's fine," Wedge said. "I appreciated the fact he stayed in the ballgame and helped us win. Obviously, the trainers took a good look at him and felt comfortable with it. If they didn't, we would have taken him out. But the fact he stayed in there and contributed, that was impressive. That was good to see."
Franklin said he was okay after Saturday's game.
"It was just a little knee to the head and I'll get right back at it," Franklin said. "Obviously, you get a little shock at the beginning. You know something hit you hard. But at the same time, I was just desperate to stay in."
Smoak said he had no idea Franklin was even there as he went back for the bloop hit by Wil Myers.
"I told the little guy, don't stand on the tracks when the train is coming through," Smoak said. "He was down for the count. I was just going for the ball there. I didn't think he'd even be there, with the righty up and they were shifted over. I should have caught the ball. But I'm just glad the little man is all right. Maybe it knocked some sense into him."
"He squared me up pretty good," retorted Franklin, "but I'm worried more about his knee than my head."
Wilhelmsen working his way back in bullpen
SEATTLE -- Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen saw his most-extensive duty Saturday since rejoining the Mariners as a September callup, and the big right-hander worked his way in and out of trouble in a scoreless seventh inning in Seattle's 6-2 win over the Rays.
Wilhelmsen walked the first two batters he faced and was initially having trouble throwing his fastball for strikes. But after a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position on a wild pitch, he dug in and retired the next three batters in order.
"Where he was at the end vs. where he was at the beginning, were night and day for me," manager Eric Wedge said. "This guy obviously has to get his confidence back, he has to trust his fastball, trust his stuff. He has to get back to the bulldog mentality. And he has to do it.
"He took the job as the closer and he lost the job as closer. That was something that he did. So what he has to do is get himself back to being a guy who is a viable option for us up here at this level. There's no reason he shouldn't do that. But it has to start up here," Wedge said, pointing to his head. "He's only pitched a few times. It takes time."
Wilhelmsen faced just a total of three batters in his first two appearances, getting two outs and giving up a hit while throwing just five pitches as Wedge got him in and out quickly. But Saturday's outing gave Wilhelmsen an opportunity to work his way through more things in a 26-pitch outing and Wedge said that's a big step.
"It's that eye of the tiger, that's what he has to have and that's what he has when he's really going good," Wedge said. "Hey, he got beat up a little. It happens. You've got to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get back on. And that's what he's doing. I was really proud of what he did last night. He made it tough on himself again, walking that leadoff hitter and working from behind. But he squeezed by and he did get by. He had to dig deep for that.
"The biggest part of it is the fastball command, no doubt. He was obviously comfortable going to his breaking ball, which is what he did to get himself going again. Commanding the fastball, driving that ball down on the plate, is what he has to get back to."
• Felix Hernandez will throw a bullpen session Monday to test his back before his scheduled start Wednesday against the Astros. Hernandez initially was slated to throw Sunday, but the Mariners pushed that back three days after his back cramped up during his last start Monday in Kansas City.
Hernandez's back felt a little stiff when he threw off flat ground on Saturday, but manager Eric Wedge said that was to be expected as he worked his way back.
• Wedge said the fact James Paxton's grandfather died early Saturday before the rookie won his Major League debut with six strong innings in a 6-2 victory over the Rays only added to the impressive poise shown by the 24-year-old lefty.
"It wasn't something that was really out there until after the game," Wedge said. "He handled himself great. He was free and easy, he was confident, composed. I was just really impressed with him. Carrying that burden around on top of it, all the more."