Preserving the guys in bullpen

CHICAGO – It’s a phrase managers now use any time a starting pitcher goes deep in a game: He’s “saving the bullpen.”

But precisely what does it mean?

“You look at our doubleheader (Tuesday), and we could easily have used our closer and setup man in both games, then neither would be available today,” Seattle Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair said.

“If that happens, everyone else in the bullpen moves up into a different role.

“We could have had to use two long relievers. Sometimes you play a series and you set the bullpen back a week, 10 days. So saving them when you can makes a big difference.”

Over the course of a season, relievers work in cycles, Adair said.

“You get a stretch of games where the starter gets to the sixth, seventh inning, and you go through the other stretches that are tougher – when the bullpen is asked to eat a lot of innings day after day,” he said. “You look at off days in the schedule and try to plan ahead. If someone hasn’t worked in awhile, you try to find him an inning.

“(Tuesday) in the ninth inning, for instance, we got Roy Corcoran an inning of work. At one point in the first game, we had Mark Lowe up, and David Aardsma was up late in case we’d tired that game.”

Saving a bullpen can also mean pitching well in the innings you’re in the game.

“If a starter is struggling, you might have guys up every inning, and some guys up two or three times,” Adair said. “My rule of thumb is, if you’re up three times in one game, you either have to get in the game or shut it down.

“When you have starting pitchers work 16 of 17 innings in a doubleheader, you can give the bullpen a break, let a few of them play catch to stay loose, but let them take a breather. It’s a long season, and those guys pitch a lot of innings.”

Short hops

Not only are the M’s assured of their first winning month in more than a year, they’ll finish April in first place in the American League West. It will be the first time they’ve led the division at the end of a month since July 2003. ...

Turn Back the Clock night: On Saturday, the Mariners will take the field in replicas of the 1939 Seattle Rainiers’ uniforms, while the Athletics will wear replica uniforms of the 1939 Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. ...

Wladimir Balentien started in left field in place of Endy Chavez Wednesday because manager Don Wakamatsu wanted to give Chavez a rest that would include today’s off day. Chavez had played in every game this season. ...

Kenji Johjima remains on schedule to return to the team Friday, which means Jamie Burke’s roster status will change.

On tap

Today is a scheduled day off for the Mariners, who open a three-game series with Oakland at Safeco Field on Friday.