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06/08/10 1:45 AM ET

Lee gives bullpen much-needed day off

Ace hurls complete game vs. Rangers in series opener

ARLINGTON -- Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu told someone before Monday's game against the Rangers -- he didn't say who -- that Cliff Lee was going to go nine innings and give the Seattle bullpen a rest.

Not to take away from the skipper's prognostication skills, but that's kind of like waking up in the morning and predicting it's going to rain in Seattle.

Lee has become a lock to go deep into a game, and he did it once again, hurling a seven-hitter in the Mariners' 4-2 victory over Texas on a sweltering Monday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Lee notched his fourth complete game in his past 22 starts against American League opponents. Counting the postseason, he has gone at least seven innings in 23 of his 27 starts against AL teams. The guy is a bullpen savior.

Lee used 107 pitches and threw 23 balls all night. That's an economical amount -- his counterpart, Rangers starter Scott Feldman, threw 120 pitches for 5 2/3 innings.

"I wish I could go through a game and throw eight or nine balls," Lee said. "That's hard to do."

Even at that, this was almost a perfect night for a Mariners team that came in 12 games under .500 and eight games behind the first-place Rangers. Lee got off to a great start, retiring the first nine batters he faced.

Lee got all the runs he needed with one out in the top of the second inning, when Michael Saunders jacked his third home run of the season -- a three-run blast to right field. It set up Lee to pitch the Rangers' lineup like he wanted to, as he attacked the strike zone with his fastball and cutter, mixing in a curve ball here and there.

"Get on them early," Wakamatsu said. "You have Cliff Lee out there and you know what he's capable of doing. You spot three runs on him and you feel pretty good with the rest of the ballgame."

Saunders saw three fastballs from Feldman before he threw him a cutter on a 1-2 pitch. Feldman had offered Saunders a heavy dose of cutters the previous time he faced him, so while Saunders was looking for a fastball, he was also expecting the cutter.

"It was a cutter that stayed in the middle of the plate," Saunders said. "I just hit it."

The rest of the night was all Lee -- the Mariners did add a run in the top of the third, taking advantage of a two-out bases-empty error by the Rangers as catcher Rob Johnson eventually produced an RBI single.

Lee dealt with the 93-degree game-time temperature and suffocating humidity by working quickly.

"That makes it fun to play behind him," Saunders said.

Lee gave up his first hit to start the top of the fourth to Rangers leadoff hitter Craig Gentry. But then he struck out two tough right-handed hitters, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. After Vladimir Guerrero singled with two outs, Lee got Josh Hamilton to roll out weakly to first base.

Lee gave up two more singles in the bottom of the fifth, including a two-out single to No. 9 hitter Andres Blanco. But Lee got Gentry to ground out to shortstop.

From there, Lee retired the next nine batters he faced, getting him to the ninth inning. Lee gave up singles to Young and Kinsler to start the inning, and the Rangers eventually scored two runs on Hamilton's single and Justin Smoak's fielder's choice. Lee even stayed in the game after David Murphy reached on an infield single -- Lee raced to the bag with Murphy and actually beat him there, but he dropped the throw from first baseman Casey Kotchman.

"I reached behind and just didn't catch it," Lee said.

Wakamatsu stayed with Lee even with the winning run at the plate in Rangers catcher Matt Treanor. Lee rewarded his manager as Treanor popped out to Kotchman to end the game.

"That was as professional as you can pitch in a ballgame," Wakamatsu said. "I said earlier he was going to go nine to give our bullpen a rest, and he did."

As easy predictions go, Wakamatsu got this one right.

Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.