ST. PETERSBURG -- After the first 11 days of the regular season, veteran utility player Miguel Cairo was in select company among his Major League peers.

As of Thursday morning, more than 700 players had appeared in at least one game this season, a long list that didn't include Cairo. He was the only player on the Mariners' 25-man Opening Day lineup not to see any action.

"I always come to the ballpark mentally prepared to play," Cairo said. "If I'm in the lineup, cool. And if I'm not, I have to go back to work to keep myself ready."

He was a spectator and cheerleader most of Thursday afternoon as well. That changed in the eighth inning when, because the Rays scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to take a seven-run lead, Cairo was used as a pinch-hitter.

His debut was a line drive out to center field.

While it's unusual for Cairo to go this long into the regular season without stepping foot on the other side of the white lines while a game is being played, he says it's something he's gotten accustomed to and takes it in stride.

"I have been doing this [utility role] for the past seven or eight years, and I have learned that you have to work twice as hard, maybe three times as hard as everyone else to stay ready," he said.

American League managers use their extra players a lot less than their National League counterparts -- largely because of the designated hitter rule -- and Mariners skipper John McLaren has used his reserves sparingly. Super-sub Willie Bloomquist has played in two games and has one at-bat and Charlton Jimerson has appeared in one game and scored one run.

Backup catcher Jamie Burke has been the busiest of the bench brigade, with three appearances and eight at-bats.

"It has been tough getting the bench players in there," McLaren said prior to Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Rays. "These guys are working behind the scenes and we'll get them in there."

He pointed out that shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and second baseman Jose Lopez have been two of Seattle's best hitters and they play the positions Bloomquist and Cairo are best at.

"It's hard to take those two guys out of the lineup the way we have been swinging the bat," said McLaren, referring to Betancourt (.344) and Lopez (.333).

Meanwhile, Cairo reports to work each day and checks out the lineup card.

"I know what my role is here," he said. "When I signed, I knew what my role was going to be. I have to be ready, mentally and physically to play every day. Whenever they need me, I'm there."

Cairo has been there and done this.

He started last season with the Yankees and was used sparingly the first month, playing in just four games and going 0-for-9. May was even less busy as he played in three games.