SEATTLE -- Mariners ace Felix Hernandez is accustomed to his own cheering section at Safeco Field. Dubbed the "King's Court," the fans resemble soccer supporters with constant chants and choreographed cheers. With the club turning back the clock to 1955 on Saturday, Hernandez's special section got a little facelift.
Instead of just the normal one section, "King's Court" expanded to four for Saturday's game against the Angels, with approximately 1,700 fans donning special red shirts, instead of the normal yellow ones.
"It's awesome, it's a great feeling," Hernandez said of King's Court. "When you're on the mound and there's two strikes and they start yelling, 'K, K, K,' it's unbelievable."
Hernandez, who leads the Majors with five starts of at least eight innings without allowing more than one run, said he loved the improvements for Saturday contest.
League loses closer's role for the time being
SEATTLE -- Less than a day after struggling Mariners closer Brandon League blew his fourth save of the season, manager Eric Wedge announced the team would go a different direction at the end of games. Wedge said he will now play the matchups, opting not to name an alternate closer.
League gave up three runs to the Angels in the top of the ninth inning on Friday in a 6-4 loss, the third time in four outings he allowed at least two runs in the ninth inning. Wedge said after Friday's loss that he didn't want to make a decision immediately after the game, but after discussions with pitching coach Carl Willis, Wedge made the announcement before Saturday afternoon's contest.
"Carl and I have talked to Leaguer and we're going to pull him back a little bit and give him some opportunities outside that closing role and work to get him back on track," Wedge said. "Very similar to what we did last year. I would say that worked well for him and for us. So we talked to him about that and a couple little things we feel like he needs to do. He's very understanding about that.
"I feel like it's best for Brandon and I feel like it's best for the team right now, and it will be the best thing for us moving forward. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a couple steps forward, and that's what we're doing."
Last season, League blew three saves and gave up the lead in a tie game in four straight appearances, from May 8-13. Wedge gave the right-hander a mental break and then inserted him into a game in a non-save situation before reinstating him as the closer. League went on to become an All-Star and ended the season with 37 saves.
Wedge said he hopes to take a similar route with League, who has been struggling with his command. In 21 appearances, he already has issued 12 walks, which eclipse the 10 he had all of last season. Even so, Wedge is more concerned with other areas of the All-Star's game.
"Obviously, his walks are up a little bit, but when you look at him, I look at his last three outings," Wedge said. "He's had his good stuff, he's been in the right arm slot, the ball's coming out of his hand good. I'm not going to get into the details of what and why, but there's a couple things he needs to do, and he knows it, he's aware of it. He's a good worker. Last year, he made some good adjustments, and I anticipate him doing so this year."
In the meantime, Wedge will use a closer-by-committee approach, saying everyone could be called upon, except League and long-reliever Hisashi Iwakuma. No other Mariners pitcher has recorded a save this season.
"We're not going to name a closer, we don't feel like that's where we are with the rest of the guys in the bullpen right now, with our youth and inexperience," Wedge said. "So we'll just match it up, we'll just play the game out and match it up as we feel like what's best for us on that particular night."
Liddi learning how to make adjustments
SEATTLE -- Even as reserve Alex Liddi was in the midst of starting in four straight games, including a contest in which he hit his first-career grand slam, Mariners manager Eric Wedge cautioned that the young player was still growing.
The learning curve quickly became apparent, as Liddi has struggled since hitting a grand slam against Texas on May 23. In two games since, the rookie is 0-for-8 with six strikeouts.
"Sometimes I'm just swinging at bad pitches, it's not really my swing, just chasing out of the zone," Liddi said. "Just got to go back to the same approach and I'll be fine."
"It just reminds you of how tough it is up there," Wedge said. "I'm sure he's aware of it. What we've seen with Alex, and a few of the other guys, too, you can't expect to have success up here without making adjustments. If they keep getting you out a certain way, at some point in time, you have to take that away from them. Alex has not done a very good job with that the past couple days."
Liddi, who was not in the lineup for the Mariners' game against the Angels on Saturday, has made himself a valuable asset by being able to play multiple positions. A natural third baseman, Liddi has also started two games in left field and is able to play first base.
The Mariners have 12 steals (13 attempts) in their last 11 games. That comes after collecting 17 in their first 37 contests. Michael Saunders and Ichiro Suzuki are tied for the team lead with seven steals.
After two walks Friday, Kyle Seager has walked eight times in his last seven games. He collected just three free passes through his first 35 games.
Injured outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (plantar fasciitis) ran for the second time Saturday, and could potentially take the next step in the rehab process Sunday in extended spring games in Arizona.
"I want to see how he feels today," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "I know he's up around that 70-80 percent, if he's not beyond that 70-80 percent today, then we'll probably have to keep him around here for another couple of days and then get him to Arizona."