Mariners need Felix to be sharp after 18-inning contest

Sep 19, 2012, 11:03 AM | Updated: 1:44 pm

By Shannon Drayer

It is safe to say the Mariners’ bullpen is spent. One of the reasons last night’s game went so long – and at 5 hours 44 minutes the game was the longest in Safeco Field history – was that it is September and rosters are expanded, so both teams had the pitching to take the game from day to night if necessary. That is what they did.

The trouble for the Mariners is that Hector Noesi didn’t last two innings the previous night so the bullpen options will be limited tonight. I would expect Eric Wedge to want to stay away from Josh Kinney, Lucas Luetge, Oliver Perez, Stephen Pryor, possibly Tom Wilhelmsen and Noesi, who is now back in the pen.

Wedge will need innings from Felix Hernandez, who is coming off back-to-back outings where he has failed to get into the fifth inning. That shouldn’t be a problem tonight. In fact, I think the bullpen situation might help Felix focus a bit more.

His problem the last three outings has been fastball command and finishing his pitches. When I spoke with pitching coach Carl Willis after the Toronto start he said he didn’t believe Felix was fatigued. The velocity and movement are still there with all of his pitches. He said that focus can play into finishing pitches as there has to be an awareness with every pitch that you are getting out over the ball and getting the extension. Let up the tiniest bit and the pitch may veer off a few inches from where you want it to go.

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Miguel Olivo caught all 18 innings of Tuesday’s game against Baltimore. (AP)

Felix is aware of this and aware of the bullpen situation. That gives him a little extra heading into tonight’s game and it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Of course, a little run support would help, too. The Mariners went an ugly 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position last night. They managed to get guys on but not over or in and that helped contribute to the long night. Jesus Montero had a particularly ugly line, going 0-for-8 and leaving seven runners on.

One guy we will not see in the lineup tonight is Miguel Olivo, who caught all 18 innings. He admitted to being a bit tired last night but there is no question he wanted to be out there. It was a good night for Olivo, who not only handled the pitching well and blocked multiple pitches in extra innings but also was responsible for the two runs the Mariners got, stole a base and walked three times. Three times!

After the game when I put three fingers up he understood immediately.

“Can you believe that?” he said. “I don’t think I have ever done that before.”

“How many did I have so far this year?” he asked, shaking his head.

Olivo said the mental part of catching 18 innings was toughest.

“I keep my mind busy,” he said. “I keep the pitchers going, try to call the right pitch.”

When John Jaso was announced as a pinch hitter then lifted from the game before he hit after a lefty was brought in, Olivo realized it was all him behind the plate no matter how long the game went. He thought about what he saw earlier in the game when the home plate umpire ejected Michael Saunders, who quietly argued a bad call on a third strike. Olivo knew he could not allow that to happen to him in this situation.

“When I saw Jaso come out I say, ‘OK, I need to get in that game because no matter what, try to be with the umpire,'” he said. “He missed a couple of pitches but I say nothing. After he take Saunders out you want to keep going so I just hold it to myself and say nothing.”

A tired Olivo said that 18 innings would not have an impact on him going forward.

“I just eat, work out and be ready for tomorrow,” he said.

Which, of course, is today.

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Mariners need Felix to be sharp after 18-inning contest