SEATTLE -- The Mariners bullpen ranks fourth in the American League with a 3.11 ERA going into Saturday's game with the Astros, and has been even better of late, not allowing a run over the last 15 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen said the group has come together nicely with veterans Fernando Rodney and Joe Beimel and rookie Dominic Leone joining a mix that also includes returnees Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina.
"We're all loosey goosey and relaxed and having a good time, leaning on each other," said Wilhelmsen, who is working on his own scoreless streak of 13 2/3 innings. "It's just a little family within the bigger family. That's important and we're all meshing really well."
Wilhelmsen said the 22-year-old Leone has helped by showing an aggressive approach that has rubbed off on him and others.
"He's kind of the leader by example right now," Wilhelmsen said. "He's doing pretty darn well for himself. He just gets in and shows strike one, strike two and is just a bulldog. He goes right after you. He's truly fun to watch. I'm just trying to follow Dom's lead."
Getting ahead in counts has been one of Wilhelmsen's biggest breakthroughs as he's dropped his ERA from 4.82 to 2.05 over his last 12 outings.
"Strike one is the most important pitch in baseball," he said. "It sets the tone. You turn that dial when the phone rings. Very, very rarely are you trying to throw a ball. It's just the nature of the beast. It happens. But it's the most important pitch and it's going to be a lot easier if you can get that one."
Wilhelmsen lost his role as closer last year, but isn't worrying about when he pitches now or what role he's filling. He said he no longer tries to anticipate when his name will be called, but is just ready when the phone rings and his name is called.
"I have no idea how it's going [as far as specific roles]," he said, "but whatever he's doing, he's doing well, because the bullpen has been pretty solid all year."
Paxton works three innings in first rehab start
SEATTLE -- Left-hander James Paxton made his first Minor League rehab start Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma and allowed three runs (two earned) over three innings against El Paso, as he returns from a strained lat muscle that has sidelined him since April 8.
Paxton threw 62 pitches in three frames and surrendered four hits -- including three doubles -- with two walks and five strikeouts.
Paxton allowed an unearned run in the first on an error, a walk and a passed ball, then was nicked for another run in the second while giving up a pair of doubles.
El Paso scored again in the third on a walk, a double and an RBI single by former Mariners catcher Adam Moore, before Paxton dug in and retired the next three batters to strand runners at first and third.
The 25-year-old is 5-0 with 1.75 ERA in his first six Major League starts, the lowest ERA through that span in club history. He was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA this year before being shut down in the sixth inning of his second outing.
Meanwhile, right-hander Taijuan Walker is expected to start Wednesday for Tacoma against Salt Lake City in a 7:05 p.m. PT game at Cheney Stadium in what will be his first start since being shut down in mid-April during a previous rehab stint with the Rainiers.
Walker, 21, threw three innings of a simulated game Friday and said he felt great on Saturday.
"That was one of the biggest things, to see how I bounced back today, and I feel really good," said Walker, the No. 6-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB.com. "I'm excited to get back out there on Wednesday and be on my regular five-day routine again."
Walker has yet to throw in a Major League game after being hampered by a sore shoulder since the start of Spring Training. He said he'll throw about 70-75 pitches on Wednesday if all goes according to plan.
Bloomquist earning increased time at shortstop
SEATTLE -- When Willie Bloomquist signed with the Mariners as a utility player, he didn't know exactly when or where his playing time would come, but he vowed to be ready for whatever possibilities arose.
Now with Brad Miller struggling, Bloomquist finds himself getting most of his opportunities at shortstop and he was in the lineup there for a second day in a row Saturday after going 1-for-3 with a home run, sacrifice fly and three RBIs in Friday's 6-1 win over the Astros.
Bloomquist is hitting just .188 in 18 games (12 starts), but this will be his ninth appearance at shortstop and sixth start there. He's started four games at third base, two in left field and one at second.
Manager Lloyd McClendon likes to say that players make out the lineup by playing well and forcing their way into the action, and this appears to be one of those cases.
"Willie had a good day yesterday," McClendon said prior to Saturday's game with Houston. "We'll see if we can do it again. We need the offense. Hopefully that will get him going and we can keep it going."
But the 36-year-old Bloomquist knows his situation as a utility man means it isn't quite as simple as just playing if he performs.
"No, I take one day at a time and when I'm in there, I try to do the best I can," he said. "If that leads to me playing more, the next day or whatever, great. If it doesn't, I'll take every day as it comes. It's not my first rodeo where I have to try to earn some things. So I don't put a lot of stock into it. I just come and play as good as I can when I'm given an opportunity and leave it at that."
McClendon usually tells Bloomquist the night before a game if he's going to be starting the following day, so he doesn't have to come in and search for the lineup card to see if he's penciled in.
"I know some days Kyle Seager has the flu or whatever and things happen, but for the most part, I like knowing the day before if I can," Bloomquist said. "I knew I was playing last night. For me, that's just an at-ease thing. One thing I hated as a young guy was coming to the ballpark and kind of peeking around the corner and seeing if I was playing. This lets you go home at night and rest easy, knowing you're playing tomorrow, and do what you need to do to get ready. They've done a nice job with that."
But some things can't be foreseen and Bloomquist knows his job is to be ready for anything. Right now, that means more time at shortstop.
"A team's needs change day by day and week by week," he said. "That's just something I have to be ready for. I'm playing shortstop today and it might be somewhere else tomorrow. That's my job, my role, and I have to be prepared to play 'em all."
• Logan Morrison went 0-for-3 with a walk as the designated hitter in his first rehab game with Triple-A Tacoma on Friday. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Morrison's healing hamstring didn't have any issues.
"He didn't have much running to do, so I guess yeah, he's fine," McClendon said. "He'll be back in there tonight."
• Since the start of the 2010 season, Felix Hernandez has 25 starts of at least eight innings and nine-or-more strikeouts, as he accomplished again Friday. Only two other pitchers in baseball have more than 15 such starts in that span: Cliff Lee with 21 and Justin Verlander with 15.
• Third baseman D.J. Peterson, last year's first-round Draft pick, went 2-for-5 with two home runs -- including a grand slam -- in Class A High Desert's 12-8 loss at Bakersfield on Friday. Peterson is hitting .285 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs.