Top Prospects: Stephen Pryor, RHP, Mariners

OAKLAND -- A year ago, Stephen Pryor opened the season with Double-A Jackson as a largely unknown reliever who'd spent only a few days in the Mariners' Major League camp in spring before leaving for the birth of his daughter in Tennessee and then getting sent to the Minors upon his return.

But there he was Monday night, getting called into a hornet's nest at the Oakland Coliseum in his first Opening Day appearance: bases loaded, two outs and Felix Hernandez's game on the line in the eighth inning.

So what does the hard-throwing 23-year-old do upon striding in to face A's catcher Derek Norris?

A first-pitch breaking ball, something rarely seen last year after Pryor joined the Mariners in midseason and displayed an upper-90s fastball in his 26 rookie appearances with the big club.

Norris didn't offer at the pitch, but he saw it, he had to think about it and he wound up grounding out to second base four pitches later to end the threat in a game the Mariners went on to win, 2-0.

"This spring, I threw that pitch every time I got a 3-2 count, just to throw it in situations like that," Pryor said. "To come in and be able to throw it like that, it wasn't for a strike, but I had confidence to throw it. It definitely helps to show it, especially when they know you throw a fastball most of the time."

The maturation of Pryor and Carter Capps as late-inning relievers will be critical for the Mariners this season. As manager Eric Wedge showed Monday, they're going to get thrown straight into critical situations this season.

Both got some experience late last season, but this was their first Opening Day with the big club and expectations and roles have been raised. Wedge liked what he saw from Pryor in what he noted was a heated atmosphere in front of a sellout crowd on the road.

"This is a young man that continues to get better," Wedge said. "We talked about it all spring. He worked hard to be a complete pitcher and it puts him in position to go out and have success."

Pryor said he had just one thing on his mind when he was called in to face Norris, who was brought in to pinch-hit for John Jaso when A's manager Bob Melvin looked to avoid Jaso facing left-hander Charlie Furbush.

"Don't walk him," said Pryor. "Throw strikes. Make him hit it."

Tough situation for any reliever, let alone one in his first Opening Day. But Pryor said it was the perfect way to jump into the season.

"It was good just to be able to go out there in the first game and get all the butterflies and nervousness out of the way," Pryor said. "I like the situation, I like the pressure and I'm just glad I got called on to go into it."

Ryan off to perfect start at plate for Mariners

SEA@OAK: Ryan makes a nice throw to nab Cespedes

OAKLAND -- As a guy who dueled with the Mendoza Line -- and lost -- last year, Brendan Ryan shouldn't be blamed if he smiles at the sight of a 1.000 batting average next to his name going into the second game of the year.

Ryan only had one hit in the opener, but it was a key single in the two-run rally that fueled the Mariners' 2-0 win over the A's. And he also walked twice, stole a base and scored a run. Not to mention a dazzling defensive play to stifle Oakland in the fourth inning and help preserve the shutout.

The defense? That comes with the territory from the 31-year-old veteran. But getting on base all three times?

"I'll take that the rest of the way," Ryan said with a grin.

Ryan hit .194 last season, but has been a much better hitter in his career and has worked hard to get back to using the whole field and doing the little things to help his team win. Which was exactly the case Monday when he blooped his single to right. Dustin Ackley aggressively hustled to third on the play, narrowly beating a throw from strong-armed Josh Reddick, as Ryan smartly scooted into second.

When leadoff hitter Franklin Gutierrez followed with a single up the middle, both runners scored for the only tallies of the night.

"That was a great read by Ack, a great time to be aggressive," Ryan said. "Obviously it worked out. That's something we want to do, be aggressive in the right times. Most of the times it'll work out for us, but we need to be able to live with it if it doesn't, because we're doing the right thing. It was just a good read by him and I tried to follow."

"Ack and I are trying to have some fun, score some runs and be a spark down there at the bottom of the lineup."

Mariners reconfigure outfield against A's righty

SEA@OAK: Gutierrez singles home two in the fifth

OAKLAND -- With the Mariners facing A's right-hander Jarrod Parker in Tuesday's Game 2, manager Eric Wedge started lefty Raul Ibanez in the outfield in place of Franklin Gutierrez.

Michael Saunders shifted to center field, with Michael Morse in right and Ibanez in left. Wedge said the purpose was two-fold, as it gets Ibanez early playing time coming off a good spring and allows Gutierrez to ease into the season after dealing with some leg soreness in camp.

"We're going to continue to get everybody in there," Wedge said. "Guys did a nice job this spring and we want to make sure we don't give them too much time off. So we'll work to get all these guys in there and Raul is in there today."

Wedge said Gutierrez was fine after playing Monday's opener, but will be given regular days off initially to keep him healthy.

"We do want to make sure we take care of Guti early on," Wedge said. "That's part of it. But the fact of the matter is, you still have to find a way to get Raul in the lineup. So it works both ways. We'll get him back in there tomorrow and he'll be ready late in the game if we need him."

Saunders will lead off and play center field after batting second behind Gutierrez on Monday and playing right.

"There's a lot of versatility throughout the lineup, a lot of different players can hit anywhere," Saunders said. "I can't speak for the skipper, but I'm imagining that's a good thing to have. For now, it looks like Guti and I are at the top of the lineup and that's a good position to be in with the guys that are hitting right behind us.

"My job is to play my game, get on base, no matter where I'm at in the lineup. And that goes for fielding, too. More than likely I'll be playing all three positions throughout the course of the year. I'm not going to prepare any differently, but I'll definitely come in every day and always check the lineup."

Ibanez played 76 games in the outfield last year for the Yankees and showed Wedge this spring he can still play the position at age 40.

"He's a hard worker. I thought he did a nice job," Wedge said. "Obviously with Gutierrez on the bench, you've always got that option late in the ballgame. So that's something you have to look at. But he did a nice job. He's a pro and he's been doing it for a long time."

Worth noting

• Monday's 2-0 victory was the third Opening Day shutout in Mariners history (also 3-0 vs. the Tigers in 1995 and 4-0 vs. the A's in 2007). It was also the 300th shutout in club history, with Felix Hernandez being the winning pitcher in 25 of those.

Randy Johnson has been the winning pitcher in 26 of the shutouts, with Jamie Moyer now third on the list with 24.

• Hernandez is the only Mariners pitcher to throw at least seven shutout innings on Opening Day, and he's now done it twice.

• Eric Wedge became the first manager in club history to win his first three Opening Days and is now tied for second with Darrell Johnson (3-1) for the most Opening Day wins overall. Lou Piniella tops that list with five (5-5).

Tickets are still available for the Mariners' home opener next Monday against the Astros, a 7:10 p.m. PT game that kicks off a 10-game homestand also including series against the Rangers and Tigers.