ANAHEIM -- The Mariners had two off-days in the five days prior to Tuesday's series opener against the Angels, a welcome relief for a bullpen that has been heavily used by manager Eric Wedge down the stretch.
"We needed that," Wedge said prior to Tuesday's game, which opens a nine-game stretch to close out the season. "That did help us. We're pretty much back on track now."
Over the previous 12 games, Wedge made 42 pitching changes, which plays out to 3.5 relievers per game. The bullpen has pitched 44 2/3 innings in that dozen outings over a two-week span, or about 3 2/3 innings per game.
Closer Tom Wilhelmsen and setup man Josh Kinney threw seven times each in those 12 games, Shawn Kelley had six appearances, Lucas Luetge and Stephen Pryor five each, Oliver Perez and Carter Capps four, Charlie Furbush three and Hector Noesi one.
Wedge has occasionally used several relievers just to get through one inning, mixing and matching his lefties and righties to maximize advantages and playing things as if every out was crucial, even with his team out of playoff contention.
"These last few weeks, we just want to win every game we can," said Kelley. "That's how skipper is managing it and it's good. We've turned things around since the All-Star break, but it's all for nothing if we don't finish strong.
"We're playing the best competition here and now is our measuring stick to see how good we really are. If we want to make a run for the playoffs next year, that's how we're going to have to play September."
Kinney has thrown 31 games in Seattle after pitching 27 times for Triple-A Tacoma, four shy of the career-high 62 appearances he made last year while in the White Sox organization. Kelley has thrown 44 games in Seattle and 14 in Tacoma, already a career-high 58 outings for him.
"I definitely know my arm is better. Tommy John worked," said Kelley, who is a year and a half removed now from surgery. "It's still going. We're in September and with all I threw here and in Tacoma, I still feel good. I'm very happy with this season and just want to finish strong."
Furbush is the one pitcher who has seen his appearances greatly reduced lately, but he said he feels fine and Wedge said it was just a matter of situations.
"We're trying to be careful with everybody here toward the end, whether it be our starters or relievers," Wedge said. "With starters you're talking about innings pitched and with relievers it's more about appearances as far as I'm concerned."
Ackley returns to Mariners lineup
ANAHEIM -- Second baseman Dustin Ackley was back in the Mariners lineup Tuesday against the Angels after missing the previous two games with a sore neck.
"It's a lot better," Ackley said before the series opener. "I probably could have played Sunday, but it was one of those situations where we had the next day off and they wanted to give me that extra day to try to get better.
"It's not 100 percent. I still feel it a little bit, but I can play with it. And if I can play, I'm going out there."
Before sitting out the weekend, Ackley was tied with Kyle Seager for the most games played on the team at 144. He still leads the club in at-bats with 571 in his first full season in the Majors. He's not sure whether that long haul is catching up with him, but he wants to finish the season strong.
"I don't know if it was from all the innings from all those games we'd played previously or if that had anything to do with it or what, but I felt it right when I woke up [Friday]," he said. "I probably slept on it wrong, plus all those innings we'd just played. You never know. But I'm ready to go now."
Saunders misses game for birth of first child
ANAHEIM -- Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders was scratched from the lineup on Tuesday after flying to Colorado for the birth of his first child, a baby girl, on Tuesday morning.
Saunders and his wife, Jessica, have a home in Castle Rock, Colo.
Manager Eric Wedge said Saunders flew home after Sunday's game and the baby was born Tuesday. Though Saunders was penciled in at right field in the initial lineup for Tuesday's game, he was replaced by Eric Thames several hours before game time.
Wedge said he wasn't sure yet when Saunders would rejoin the team.
"We'll just communicate and play it by ear," Wedge said. "I'll talk to him again later tonight or early tomorrow."
Saunders is the third Mariners player to have a baby in the last two months, joining Mike Carp and Tom Wilhelmsen.
The Mariners were 1-for-40 with runners in scoring position over their past six games going into Tuesday's contest in Anaheim.
Left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge has stranded 42 of the 50 baserunners he's inherited in 62 appearances this season, with that 16 percent of inherited runners scoring the seventh-best mark in franchise history for pitchers with at least 30 chances in a season. Bill Wilkinson set the club record of 11.8 percent in 1988 when he allowed just four of 34 runners to cross the plate.
Hisashi Iwakuma's ERA of 2.93 as a starter (in 14 starts) is the currently the second-lowest in Mariners history for a rookie with a minimum of 10 starts. Felix Hernandez set the rookie record of 2.67 in 2005.