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Leone proving versatile out of bullpen

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Without an established long reliever in his bullpen mix, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon went to rookie right-hander Dominic Leone for a career-long 2 1/3 innings Wednesday after Brandon Maurer got in early trouble in a 2-0 loss to the Rays.

Leone responded with five strikeouts and just one hit in a scoreless outing and ranks second among all rookie relievers in the American League in strikeouts (21) and third in ERA (1.56). His 2 1/3 innings and five strikeouts were both season highs for any Seattle reliever.

McClendon certainly hasn't labeled Leone as a long man, having frequently used him in shorter and later-inning situations as well, but he recognizes the versatility and value of the 22-year-old from Clemson.

"He's proven that he can do that, if necessary," McClendon said of the longer role. "I don't have a problem using him in those situations. He pitched so well on the front end of that bullpen right now, bridging things for us, I would say low-impact type situations. He's a youngster and we have to be careful with him. But I've been very pleased with the way he's throwing the ball."

As a 16th-round selection in 2012, Leone is one of just two players selected in the 10th round or later from that Draft who has appeared in a Major League game, joined by Angels reliever Mike Morin (13th round).

Leone said he isn't concerned about not having a specific role, but just watches how games develop and starts getting geared up mentally and then stretching out when the situation dictates. He was a starter in college and understands the concept of conserving energy in longer outings, something that can come in handy if called early as he was when Maurer lasted just 3 2/3 innings Wednesday.

"When you get thrown in there in the fourth or fifth inning, you want to save the guys behind you and also be out there [as long as you can], especially if you're feeling good," he said. "That was the case the other day when I got out there in the fourth inning and I wanted to help bridge the gap to the later-inning guys so they can sit in their roles and not change what they're doing for that day. So it just depends on the situation."

Leone had one rough outing in Houston on May 4 when he gave up a Jonathan Villar home run as well as a single and walk to the three batters he faced, without recording an out, but has since thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings with three hits, two walks and eight strikeouts in four outings.

"This is the big leagues," he said of the Houston hiccup. "I don't know many guys who are perfect throughout the entire season. That was a learning experience. They have a short porch out in left and a guy struck a ball and put it in that little corner of the seats and everything kind of unfolded after that. But it's a learning curve. You're going to have those ups and downs. It's how you come back from those downs that really determines who you are as a pitcher."

And Leone is rapidly proving to be an important one for the Mariners as he becomes more settled in his first season in the Majors.

"A little bit," he said of his increased comfort level. "I feel like I'm part of that bullpen and I obviously don't want to go anywhere. I want to cement my name in that 'pen and I'm constantly out there trying to prove that."

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

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