Farquhar looking like Mariners' saving grace
Rookie filling bill as Thompson declares him to be Seattle's closer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Of all the developments with the Mariners this season, the biggest surprise might be the emergence of Danny Farquhar as the team's closer.
Since Tom Wilhelmsen was demoted two weeks ago, the 5-foot-9 Farquhar has stepped into the void in near-perfect fashion and acting manager Robby Thompson finally is conceding the job belongs for now to the 26-year-old Florida native.
Though Thompson originally said the Mariners would fill the ninth-inning role with several candidates on a matchup basis, Farquhar, prior to Wednesday, had gotten the ball in all five save situations since Wilhelmsen's departure, with outstanding results. Farquhar notched the five saves while allowing just two hits with no walks and eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
That run ended on Wednesday night when he allowed a walk and four hits without getting an out as the Rays rallied for a 5-4 walk-off win.
Though his ERA stands at 5.17 in 28 appearances this rookie season, even after Wednesday's blowup, Farquhar has surrendered just eight hits and two runs in his last 14 2/3 innings with five walks and 22 strikeouts. He ranks third among American League relievers with 13.62 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (58 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings).
Farquhar, acquired in the Ichiro Suzuki trade with the Yankees last year, said the turning point came July 28 in Minnesota when he struck out five in two perfect innings of relief as he began pitching more inside and feeling comfortable setting up hitters with his fastball, cutter, curve combinations.
"I would say my confidence really started getting going after the Twins game," he said. "Way back, I was throwing the ball really well there and I'm just building on that. I think that's how I got myself in the closer's role, just by throwing the ball well and having the confidence. I'm just rolling with that."
Farquhar showed his arsenal to the Rays while slamming the door on Tuesday's 5-4 win with a perfect ninth. He struck out Ben Zobrist looking with a 95-mph heater, then froze Matt Joyce on a 76-mph curve before getting Evan Longoria to fly out.
"Being able to throw three pitches in there for strikes, they're good little weapons to have," he said. "I enjoy it and it definitely keeps hitters off balance, having three instead of two."
The offspeed pitch to Joyce was a thing of beauty, leaving the Rays outfielder watching helplessly after setting himself for a full-count fastball.
"I shook two or three times to it," Farquhar said. "It was the one that felt good in my hand. He was sitting on something hard and I knew I just needed to flip something in there right down the middle, and he'd just take it at that point."
Farquhar has been a closer in the Minors, but never had a save opportunity in the Majors until Aug. 3 against the Orioles. He hasn't flinched since.
"Closing in the Minor Leagues is not the same as up here," Thompson said. "It's very difficult to get those final three outs. It takes a special guy on the mound, with a different mentality. So far, he's proven that he's capable of being out there as closer. He's kind of got what it takes. We'll see if he runs with it and what he can do with it. But so far, so good."
Ackley happily breaking in his hitting shoes
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners center fielder Dustin Ackley seems to have turned a corner in recent days. Entering Wednesday, the former No. 2 overall Draft pick has hit .328 since the All-Star break as he's begun to salvage a tough season.
Ackley, 25, went 3-for-4 and hit the go-ahead RBI triple in Tuesday's 5-4 victory over the Rays. Ackley was hitting .205 when he was sent down to Triple-A in late May and saw that average dip to .194 on July 5 even after his recall.
He's hit .313 (26-for-83) since then, however, to raise his average to .233 and hike his confidence as well.
"It's just feeling great in batting practice," Ackley said. "There were a couple starts I had against lefties where I was able to see the ball pretty good and put some pretty good swings, and that kind of confidence rolls over. Then, I got some starts against righties and things started feeling great there, too. I think it's just a matter of feeling good in the cage and BP, and then when you get up there, just see the ball and hit it and that's it."
Even a double-play ball in his first at-bat on Tuesday didn't dim his confidence as he knew he'd stung the ball hard, but just right at first baseman James Loney.
"That could have been a situation where I'd get down on myself for whatever reason, but I took a positive out of that," Ackley said. "I barreled it and I took that into my next three at-bats and it paid off."
Acting manager Robby Thompson wants to see more of Ackley in center field in the closing weeks of the season, but is equally pleased with his rising plate production.
"He's being a little more aggressive early in the count," Thompson said. "He's fouling off some pitches and not leaving that third strike up to the umpire like he did earlier and even last year. It looks like he's turned a corner, he's gaining some confidence and he's swinging the bat real well right now."
Miller times first four career homers in pairs
ST. PETERSBURG -- Shortstop Brad Miller isn't a big power hitter, but the Mariners rookie apparently produces in bunches as he had a pair of two-homer games in his first 39 starts with Seattle.
The 23-year-old cracked a pair of solo blasts in Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Rays. His only other home runs this season came in a two-shot day on July 19 at Houston.
Miller became just the third Major Leaguer since 1969 to record his first four career home runs with a pair of multi-homer games, joining J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays (2010-11) and Carlos May of the White Sox (1969).
"I know it sounds simple, but I've just really been working on seeing the ball," Miller said. "Just really making that a focus point out there instead of just going up there swinging. Really zoning in on where the ball is coming out, his release point and just trying to let it fly, if I see it. I was happy, it was a couple different kinds of pitches I was able to hit hard and drive a little bit. Both of them felt pretty good."
It felt doubly good to have a big day in front of a large group of family and friends who made the 75-mile trek from Orlando, Fla., where he grew up.
"They had a whole section, maybe 40, 50, 60 people," Miller said. "It was awesome. I just wanted to talk to them and tell them thanks. I'm overwhelmed. Having that many people come was pretty sweet."
Are they invited to the rest of the series?
"They're coming to Seattle now," Miller said with a laugh.
• The Mariners had belted 143 home runs going into Wednesday's game, tied with the Braves for third in the Majors behind the Orioles (160) and Blue Jays (146). Seattle hit 149 home runs in all of 2012 and just 101 and 109 in 2010 and '11.
• After hitting 24 home runs in his first 71 games this season, Raul Ibanez entered Wednesday having gone 21 starts without a long ball. His last homer came on July 12, when he hit a pair against the Angels. Ibanez also had just two RBIs in his previous 19 games.
• The Mariners have added a third fireworks show this year. The Sept. 27 game against the A's on a Friday night will now have a postgame show as part of Fan Appreciation Night.