A season of new experiences for Mariners relief pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith contained yet another first. Rowland-Smith has come into some...

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — A season of new experiences for Mariners relief pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith contained yet another first.

Rowland-Smith has come into some tight jams before. But never quite what he experienced Sunday with the game on the line, the bases loaded, two out, veteran Los Angeles Angels slugger Garret Anderson at the plate and a hostile, Rally Monkey-waving crowd going absolutely crazy.

But after running the count full, including two checked-swings that were not ruled strikes, the easygoing left-hander from Australia took a deep breath and fired a slow-moving slider that froze Anderson to end the game.

“I love it, it’s great,” Rowland-Smith said afterward in a much-relieved visitors’ clubhouse. “At this point in my career and in our season, I want to get these opportunities to pitch. I’ve had a chance to show that I can come into a game and get the job done.”

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Perhaps no Mariners reliever has seen his stock rise more than Rowland-Smith during the nearly three weeks that closer J.J. Putz has spent on the disabled list. With Putz looking more and more likely to come off the DL on Tuesday, it’s doubtful Rowland-Smith will have to earn too many more heart-stopping saves like this one.

But he has let his team know, by his performance on the mound, that he is capable of doing more than they might have thought previously.

“It’s been tough,” Rowland-Smith said of losing Putz. “We haven’t really talked about it too much. I think it’s been a positive thing after all. Well, it’s never a positive thing losing him for a couple of weeks. But after that couple of weeks it’s been a positive thing because everyone’s had to step up and pitch in situations they wouldn’t normally pitch in.”

Rowland-Smith was the team’s second lefty to start the season. But now, with the demotion of Eric O’Flaherty to the minors, he has become the primary southpaw while Arthur Rhodes works his way back into major-league action.

Mariners manager John McLaren, while not confirming Putz will return Tuesday, sounded like a man who expected him to be back.

“When we see the big boy coming in from left field, we’ll be feeling real good to be honest with you,” McLaren said. “But I’d like to say the committee did a nice job while he was gone. They held together pretty good. That’s a tough thing to ask young guys to toe the rubber with the game on the line in the ninth inning.”

McLaren was especially impressed with Rowland-Smith, particularly with how he handled Anderson in the final at-bat and the very last pitch.

“He threw some really nice pitches to Anderson,” McLaren said. “I don’t know if ‘froze’ was the right word but it was a nasty pitch because Garret is one of the most respected hitters on their ballclub, if not the league. He’s not an easy out by any means.”

Balentien appears OK

The Mariners were breathing sighs of relief Sunday when early word was that outfield prospect Wladimir Balentien wasn’t seriously hurt when slamming his left knee into some concrete Saturday night while attempting a sliding catch. Balentien injured the knee in the top of the sixth inning in a Class AAA game between Tacoma and Colorado Springs.

Early reports stated that Balentien did not suffer any broken bones or torn ligaments, though he had to be helped off the field by teammates — his injured leg not touching the ground. Balentien was to be re-evaluated again Sunday.

Field conditions were somewhat sloppy because of the cold, wet weather in Tacoma in recent days. Balentien was said to have slid a further distance than usual before colliding with the concrete at the base of the outfield wall.


• Mariners GM Bill Bavasi declined to comment when asked whether his team would have an interest in slugger Frank Thomas, released by the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. Thomas was in a 4-for-35 slump and was batting just .167 with three home runs and 11 runs batted in over 60 at-bats this season.

The release came one day after Thomas reacted angrily to being benched and told his playing time would be reduced. Thomas suggested the move came because he had a $10 million option for 2009 that would be automatically triggered if he reached 376 plate appearances this season. Teams can express interest in Thomas over the next 48 hours and talk financial considerations with him after that. The Blue Jays are on the hook for the remainder of his two-year, $18 million contract through this season, but Thomas would likely want financial guarantees for next year as well. The Mariners are likely to at least take a look at Thomas.

• Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt got the day off Sunday, entering late as a pinch-runner. Betancourt was replaced in the lineup by Willie Bloomquist, who singled ahead of an Ichiro triple in the fifth inning and scored Seattle’s third run of the game.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

For the record

10-10 .500


Home: 5-3

Road: 5-7

vs. AL West: 7-4

vs. L.A.: 3-3

vs. Oakland: 2-0

vs. Texas: 2-1

vs. AL East: 2-5

vs. AL Central: 1-1

vs. NL: 0-0

vs. LHP: 2-3

vs. RHP: 8-7

Day: 4-4

Night: 6-6

One-run: 1-4

Extra innings: 0-0

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