CHICAGO -- Mariners manager Eric Wedge had said he wanted to find a "soft landing" for Stephen Pryor's Major League debut, looking for a low-stress situation to break in the 23-year-old rookie reliever.
Instead, with the Mariners' bullpen spread a little thin, Pryor got the call Saturday with two on, two outs and the Mariners trailing 7-5 in the seventh inning against the White Sox. And his first batter?
None other than veteran slugger Paul Konerko, sporting a .376 batting average and wielding one of the hottest bats in baseball over the past month.
First pitch? A sizzling 100-mph fastball that Konerko took for a strike. Three fastballs later -- at 99, 99 and 98 -- the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Pryor blew another 100-mph heater past Konerko for strike three.
"It was real cool, I guess, throwing to him for my first guy," Pryor said. "He's an MLB All-Star, but I was just able to really not focus on the name as much as it just being another player, and try to pound the strike zone and challenge him and get ahead with the fastball."
Pryor struck out Alex Rios to start off the next inning, as well, and got A.J. Pierzynzski on a grounder to first on a nice defensive play by Justin Smoak before giving up his first hit -- a long home run by Dayan Viciedo.
Viciedo, a 23-year-old Cuban who has been mashing for the White Sox, blasted a 2-2 slider into the right-field seats. Pryor then threw five straight fastballs to Alexei Ramirez, including another 100-mph offering, before inducing him into an inning-ending groundout.
Pryor said he'd never run into Viciedo coming up through the Minors, but knew the 5-11, 240-pounder had power and 11 home runs already this season.
"I threw a lot of sliders trying to stay away from him," said Pryor. "I got one up and he got hold of it, so that was a good learning experience for me, as well. I just take my knocks and learn from them and try to get better for the next one."
All-in-all, it was quite a debut for Pryor, whose family flew in from Tennessee for the three-game series. Pryor's wife brought their two children in from Seattle, as well. Despite the home run by Viciedo, it was a pretty impressive debut.
"He was fantastic in that type of situation and that type of game," said Wedge. "He really stepped up. For that to be his first outing in that type of setting in this atmosphere says a lot about the young man."
Felix's next start in doubt with back issue
CHICAGO -- Mariners ace Felix Hernandez was still having problems with his back on Sunday and his status for his next start Wednesday in Anaheim may be becoming less certain as the club waits to see how he recovers in the next day or two.
Hernandez went just five innings and 85 pitches in his last outing on Friday against the White Sox after "tweaking" his back during the third inning. The issue seemed minor at the time, but manager Eric Wedge took him out when his fastball started getting up in the fifth and he gave up a pair of home runs.
Hernandez's back was tight on Saturday and Sunday and he continued getting treatment.
"He's still feeling it today," Wedge said before Sunday's series finale with the White Sox. "Tomorrow will be a big day to see how he's feeling. He's limited with his activity right now, but we're hopeful he feels better tomorrow."
The Mariners have an off-day Thursday, but with Hernandez scheduled to throw Wednesday, that doesn't affect his status. Rookie Erasmo Ramirez is a potential fill-in candidate in Triple-A Tacoma, but he started on Saturday and threw 103 pitches in a six-inning victory and would be on just three days rest if he threw Wednesday.
Long reliever Hisashi Iwakuma is another spot-starting candidate and has thrown well in relief in two of Seattle's last three games, getting the save in two of them.
Noesi not finishing off batters in good counts
CHICAGO -- Right-hander Hector Noesi lasted just 4 2/3 innings in Saturday's 12-inning victory over the White Sox, and his continued struggles putting hitters away in good pitching counts continues to be a problem.
Manager Eric Wedge lifted Noesi after he surrendered his third home run, with second baseman Gordon Beckham driving an 0-2 pitch over the left-field fence. It was the third home run Noesi has allowed on an 0-2 pitch in his last two outings.
Wedge wants to see the youngster learn to put hitters away when he's ahead in the count. Noesi, acquired from the Yankees over the offseason, is 2-6 with a 5.51 ERA in his first year as a starter.
"I think that's the issue," Wedge said on Sunday. "I felt he was getting better with it and he was, which I think presented his success over his last three to four starts. But that was the flip side of it yesterday. When you work so hard to get ahead of big league hitters, you've got to be able to finish them off.
"What I saw was him trying to make pitches instead of being aggressive and making pitches with two strikes. If you try to place it there, you just leave yourself more room for error," said Wedge. "But if you're aggressive with it, you leave less chance for error and I think that's what we need to see him get to. And he was doing a pretty good job until he got away from it yesterday, and he paid for it."
• Franklin Gutierrez went 0-for-2 with two walks in his first rehab start at designated hitter for Triple-A Tacoma on Saturday. Gutierrez will play center field on Sunday, as he continues working his way back from a heel problem that followed his partially torn pectoral muscle.
• Erasmo Ramirez, the young Mariners reliever sent down to Tacoma to work as a starter, went six innings with one run allowed on six hits in the same game for the Rainiers, as he improved to 3-1 with a 3.34 ERA. Steve Delabar earned the save with a perfect ninth in his first appearance for Tacoma.
• John Jaso has a team-leading five game-winning RBIs after knocking in the go-ahead run with a 12th-inning double on Saturday.
• Ichiro Suzuki had one home run in 223 plate appearances while batting third this season for Seattle, then hit two in his second game back at leadoff on Saturday. "Ironic," said Wedge. "That's all I'll say. Ironic."