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Sasaki hoping to save job as closer

By Mark Bodenrader, MLB Contributing Editor

Mariners team report

(Sports Network) - The Seattle Mariners currently hold the top spot in the AL West despite some rocky outings by their usually-reliable bullpen, most notably closer Kazuhiro Sasaki.

Sasaki's future as the Mariners' closer was in doubt after he blew three of his last six save opportunities in 2002. The Japan native hasn't helped his cause this season by blowing three of his first seven chances and posting a team-worst ERA of 6.48.

The righthander averaged nearly 40 saves and just six blown opportunities over his first three major league seasons.

Over nine appearances this year, the 35-year-old Sasaki has allowed seven runs -- six earned -- in just 8 1/3 innings. If Sasaki continues to fail in the late innings, the Mariners may be forced to go with Jeff Nelson or Arthur Rhodes as the closer.

Still, Seattle manager Bob Melvin insists that Sasaki's role is secure despite his recent struggles.

"He's had some tough outings this year and his spring training was limited, but he's our closer and that's not going to change," said Melvin.

On Saturday, the Mariners carried a 6-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth against the Anaheim Angels. Sasaki came on for Seattle, but surrendered a leadoff single to Chone Figgins.

Figgins stole second and came home on David Eckstein's base hit to right. Eric Owens then singled and Tim Salmon plated Eckstein with a base hit to tie the game. One out later, Troy Glaus stroked a ground ball to Mark McLemore, who misplayed the ball and allowed Owens to score with the winning run.

But Sasaki had another chance on Sunday in the series finale thanks to a late rally by the Mariners, who snapped a tie with two runs in the top of the ninth.

Sasaki came on and surrendered a leadoff double to Eckstein, who then moved over to third on a wild pitch. Scott Spiezio then singled to right to bring Anaheim within one run at 7-6 and Glaus later added another single to make it first and second with two outs.

But Sasaki held tough this time, striking out Brad Fullmer to end the game.

"That was my best pitch of the game," Sasaki said of his strikeout pitch to Fullmer. "I threw a splitter as hard as I could."

The Mariners have won seven of their last nine games to improve to 11-8 on the year.


Second baseman Bret Boone is batting .303 with a team-high five home runs, 11 RBI and 14 runs for the Mariners this season. He's been especially hot of late, going 14-for-36 over his last nine games.


The Seattle outfield has been brutal so far in terms of run production. Centerfielder Mike Cameron has just six RBI this season, while rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki and leftfielder Randy Winn have driven in only three runs apiece.


The Mariners begin a six-game homestand on Tuesday when they take on the Cleveland Indians in the opener of a three-game series. Seattle then completes the home stretch with a three-game set against the dismal Detroit Tigers.

04/21 16:25:42 ET

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