Kevin Millwood doesn't figure to be in Seattle next season. On the other hand, the Mariners' bullpen, top to bottom, could be in place for quite some time.
Together, the veteran starter and the corps of younger relievers combined to throttle the Toronto offense for all but one pitch Wednesday in a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays that keeps alive hopes for a .500 finish to the season.
Millwood gave up two hits in the first five innings, but one of them was a monstrous, two-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion that cut into a 3-0 Seattle lead in the fourth. Millwood pitched the fifth, then turned the game over to manager Eric Wedge, who played musical relievers for the second night running with great success.
He did it out of necessity, because Millwood's right shoulder had begun to tighten up.
"He gritted through that last (fifth) inning, but I just didn't feel right pushing him back out there,'' Wedge told the media after the game. ``He's a warrior. Always has been. I was just so thrilled we were able to get him that win. The bullpen did a great job, obviously."
Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, Josh Kinney and Tom Wilhelmsen turned back the Jays over the final four innings as Seattle improved to 69-74, five games under .500 with 19 games left in the season.
Millwood, at 37 and nearing the end of a good career, is a free agent at season’s end. The Mariners in 2013 are forecast to have a surplus of starting pitching with Tuesday’s winner, Erasmo Ramirez, likely to compete for a spot in the rotation next spring with 2011 top draft pick Danny Hultzen and perhaps Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
If so, he’s going out in style. After getting one win in 17 starts from May through August, he’s 2-0 in September, giving up just three runs in 11 innings to two teams that have hurt him in the past, Boston and Toronto. He was 2-8 career against the Jays before Wednesday’s win.
Of the relievers used Wednesday, all could be back next year based on age and performance. Kelley got four outs, Perez retired the only man he faced, Kinney got four outs and Wilhelmsen pitched a scoreless ninth.
It’s a trend. There is scarcely a Mariner reliever who hasn’t picked it up for the final month of the season. Seattle relievers allowed four earned runs in 29.1 innings.
That 1.27 bullpen ERA this month is one reason the Mariners hope they can make a run at .500 despite the fact that after Thursday’s finale north of the border, there will be no sub-.500 teams left on the schedule.
It would be beneficial to the pitchers if the hitters would pick it up a bit. Miguel Olivo’s solo homer and a two-run single by Franklin Gutierrez was all the offense Seattle managed against Toronto lefty Ricky Romero, who’d lost eight straight coming in.
They wouldn’t have had as much as they did if Dustin Ackley hadn’t done a nice job eluding the tag at home plate on Gutierrez’s single.