Nuno proving to be vital cog in bullpen

Nuno proving to be vital cog in bullpen

SEATTLE -- In a bullpen searching for solutions in recent weeks, Mariners left-hander Vidal Nuno is becoming a name to remember.

The 28-year-old Californian, acquired from the D-backs along with Mark Trumbo on June 3, has begun taking on an increasingly important role. With veteran southpaw Charlie Furbush on the disabled list and the overworked bullpen taking on water on various fronts, Nuno has stepped up with nine straight scoreless innings with five hits, two walks and six strikeouts over his last seven outings.

A starter with the Yankees and D-backs his first two years in the Majors in 2013-14, Nuno has the ability to pitch multiple innings and step into the rotation if needed. With Seattle, he's now pitched 17 games in relief with a 1.80 ERA and 0.950 WHIP over 20 innings.

"He's been great, absolutely great," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. "He's very versatile. Obviously he can pitch long or spot start for you. In a pinch, he can get a big out in a big inning. He's not afraid. He's been very versatile and a very nice asset to have, no question about it."

The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder hasn't given up on being a starter again, despite a 3-13 record and 4.08 ERA in 31 starts his first two years. Nuno was 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Reno this year with the D-backs before getting traded.

Nuno understands the situation in Seattle, and his 3.24 ERA in 25 career relief outings backs up McClendon's belief that he's best suited for that role.

"I hope one day to get another shot at being a starter," Nuno said, "but right now, I'm in the bullpen and I'm not complaining. I'm just doing my work and having fun with this team.

"I was starting in Reno and then, sure enough, I come here and there's more starting pitchers here. So whatever role I can get is fine with me."

The Mariners sent Nuno down to Tacoma in early July and he made one start, giving up four runs in six innings at Fresno. But he says there was no intention there of stretching him back out as a starter. Instead, he was asked to make the one spot start before veteran Chien-Ming Wang was signed as a free agent to fill out the Rainiers' rotation.

Nuno was then recalled four days later when Furbush went on the DL with biceps tendinitis, and Nuno has taken full advantage.

"I'm just blessed to be here and able to pitch and get the opportunity to show the front office and coaching staff I can do this every day," Nuno said. "It's coming along great right now. I hope there are no bumpy roads. If there is a bump, I know what I need to do. I've been playing for six years now. I know my arm slot and stuff like that. There'll be a bad game at some point. I hope not, but it's baseball.

"But this is a new opportunity. A showcase and everything else. I just want to show I'm available, I'm healthy and I'm ready every day."

Worth noting
• Rookie closer Carson Smith has given up three runs on two hits with four walks and a hit batter while recording just one out over his last two outings, taking losses against both the Blue Jays on Saturday and D-backs on Monday. Smith appeared in five games over a seven-day stretch, and McClendon said he needs to give the youngster time to recover.

McClendon wouldn't say prior to Tuesday's game how he would handle the ninth inning for the next few days, but he indicated Smith would likely get at least two days off.

J.A. Happ threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning in relief in Monday's 4-3, 10-inning loss as McClendon went to the veteran lefty after he'd thrown just 1 2/3 innings in his previous start on Saturday. Monday would have been Happ's normal bullpen throw day and he remains on schedule to make his next start Thursday in Minnesota.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.