ST. PETERSBURG -- Willie Bloomquist prides himself on versatility. Heck, he's made a career out of it now as a 36-year-old utility player who can handle any position on the field.
But even Bloomquist acknowledges that playing first base is something of a "work in progress" as he found his name in the lineup at that position in place of a sore-legged Justin Smoak for the third time in Seattle's past four games on Sunday.
The 13-year Major League veteran had only started 11 games at first base before getting the call there Wednesday in Atlanta and all 11 of those games were in 2004 during his first tour with Seattle, when he filled in late in the year after John Olerud was released. He's now played 38 games at that spot out of his 925 career games, but 26 of those were late-inning relief stints when he'd get an inning or two after pinch-running for the starting first baseman or something of that sort.
Yet Bloomquist had a hunch he might get called on to man the position more at some point this year, and that intuition is paying off, as he's performed flawlessly in his first two games there and went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs while filling in for Smoak in Saturday's 7-4 victory over the Rays.
"I do have my own [first baseman's] glove, believe it or not," Bloomquist said with a chuckle. "I haven't even sniffed playing first the last three years. But this year, right before I left for Spring Training, I decided to throw that in the bag just in case. You never know. It's the same one I had from '04. It's got a few cobwebs on it, but it still works, that's the main thing."
Bloomquist has made it work, which is what he's done throughout his career and why managers love having him on their teams. He's the baseball version of a gym rat, a guy who loves playing the game and will do whatever is needed to help a team win. And if that means playing first base now, he'll figure that out on the fly.
"Every position I play seems to be a work in progress, but that one, I don't have a lot of games logged over there," he said. "It's what we need right now, and that's what they've asked me to do, so I'll go out and do the best I can and keep learning and doing some things that hopefully help the other guys in the infield. The more time I spend over there, the more comfortable I get."
The biggest adjustment, for a guy who has played mostly second, short, third and the outfield in his career?
"Remembering you've got to cover the bag on a ground ball," he said. "Remembering you're a cutoff man on a guy in scoring position. The bunt things, the in-between plays. Obviously, I don't have a whole lot of reps with that. That's the trickiest part.
"But I'm trying not to out-think myself and just keep it simple, catch the ball, get it to the bag and if somebody else catches it, make sure I catch it at first when they throw it to me. I'm just trying to keep it simple. I'm not expected to be a Gold Glover over there. I just go over there and get it done and do what I can. It's the same game, just a different position."
Hot-hitting Gillespie carving out spot on Seattle
ST. PETERSBURG -- There was a stretch of time a few weeks ago when it seemed inevitable that outfielder Cole Gillespie would be sent back to Triple-A Tacoma. He wasn't playing much, wasn't producing a lot when he did, and seemed like the logical player to go when a roster move was required.
But Gillespie hung around, manager Lloyd McClendon began playing him more as other players got hurt or struggled, and the 29-year-old journeyman suddenly began heating up to the point where he's now one of the Mariners' most productive bats.
Gillespie slugged his first Major League home run since 2011 with the D-backs in Saturday's 7-4 victory over the Rays, a line-drive blast that carried 417 feet to straightaway center. And he's now hit .471 (8-for-17) in his last eight games, raising his average from .217 to .325 in the process.
"Anytime you get back-to-back games and consistent at-bats, every batter is going to feel a little more positive that way," Gillespie said. "But I wasn't getting frustrated. I just waited for my opportunity and right now it's now. Hopefully, I can string together some good games and good at-bats and get some W's."
Manager Lloyd McClendon had used Gillespie almost exclusively in platoon situations against southpaws, and only three of his first 40 plate appearances came against right-handers. But with Michael Saunders sidelined by a sore shoulder, Gillespie got his first start against a right-hander on Saturday and smoked a home run off Alex Cobb.
"I mentioned to Lloyd a couple weeks ago that I can handle righties just as much," he said. "I even told him all my hits in Tacoma this year were against right-handers, and he kinda shook his head and nodded. I don't know how much he took that in, but nonetheless, it was good to get another start against a righty."
Gillespie was back in the lineup Sunday against Rays right-hander Chris Archer. For a guy who has played just 99 career games in parts of four seasons with the D-backs, Cubs, Giants and now the Mariners, any time is a good time. And after belting his fourth career home run Saturday, he showed there might be more in the tank than people realize.
"I hope so, I hope you're seeing the future there," he said with a smile. "Obviously, when the hits are falling, it's nice. I'd like to hit for some power as well, but that's not what I'm up there trying to do. I'm just trying to put a good swing on each pitch and have good at-bats. The rest will take care of itself."
Smoak, Saunders sidelined again Sunday
ST. PETERSBURG -- First baseman Justin Smoak and right fielder Michael Saunders were out of the lineup again Sunday and both remain day to day, according to manager Lloyd McClendon.
Smoak is dealing with a sore quad muscle in his left leg and hasn't started three of the Mariners' last four games, though he has pinch-hit or come in for defense in every game leading up to Sunday, and remains the only Seattle player to have appeared in every game this season.
"The problem is when [Smoak] first comes out of the box, you want to get out of the box and that's when it grabs you," McClendon said. "I'm just trying to get to the point where it quiets down and we can put it behind us. And especially for a guy who is a pretty good defensive guy, you don't want it nagging him on defense. Hopefully in the next day or two, he'll feel better."
Saunders missed his second straight game Sunday after feeling discomfort in his right shoulder while swinging the bat on Friday, when he was removed from the game in the third inning. Because it's the same shoulder in which he had labrum surgery in 2008 and then dislocated last year when he ran into the wall at Safeco Field, he had the shoulder examined by the Rays' team doctor Saturday. But no structural damage was found and Saunders believes he's close to returning.
"Right now, we're aiming for another day or so, but it's not going to be any significant length of time, and I'm already feeling a little bit better today," Saunders said.
• With his three-run double on Saturday, Dustin Ackley is now hitting .600 in his career with the bases loaded, going 18-for-30 with two doubles, two triples, one home run and 37 RBIs.
• Closer Fernando Rodney recorded his 17th save in 19 chances on Saturday, putting him in a tie for the American League lead with the Royals' Greg Holland. Since June 15, 2013, Rodney has posted a 2.03 ERA, the fourth-best ERA among any AL reliever with at least 50 appearances.