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Bullpen displays improvement after Paxton's return

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BALTIMORE -- Perhaps the biggest surprise on this year's Mariners team is a bullpen that has gone from one of the worst in the American League in 2013 to the best in baseball, and that trend continued in Saturday's 6-3 win over the Orioles.

Although starter James Paxton lasted just 4 1/3 innings in his first outing off the disabled list, five relievers came in and allowed just one run over the final 4 2/3 frames to slam the door on a potent Baltimore lineup and lower its MLB-leading ERA to 2.37.

"When you go to your bullpen in the fourth to sixth inning, it's awfully hard to win ballgames, and I think the numbers will bear me out on that," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "But when you have a bullpen as good as ours, you feel pretty confident with a lead. But you never feel real good in this ballpark with that lineup over there, because the ball flies in this park and they've got some dangerous hitters over there."

Rookie right-hander Dominic Leone, who picked up the win after throwing 1 2/3 perfect innings after replacing Paxton, said his group is just working together to do its job no matter when they're called on after Brandon Maurer, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush and Fernando Rodney all contributed.

"Maurer has been pitching strong as of late, I'm trying to get back in my groove, obviously Rodney has been doing it all year," said Leone. "Charlie, Medina, everybody, it's just what we do. We like going out there and picking each other up."

Leone, who improved to 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA, said there was a little extra emphasis in keeping the ball down when pitching in Camden Yards.

"The more you leave up, the more those guys can turn those mistakes into runs pretty quickly," Leone said. "The biggest thing for us as a staff is we've been doing really well at executing the low pitch, whether it's burying sliders or whatnot in the dirt and having these guys swing over the top. ... They're used to putting the ball in play and scoring runs via the long ball, which they're pretty good at doing."

McClendon went with his All-Star closer for the ninth inning, even with a four-run lead. Rodney gave up three hits and a run in the non-save situation, but he eventually slammed the door. And McClendon wasn't worried about using the AL saves co-leader with a four-run cushion.

"I thought he was the best guy to get us out of the ninth inning and as it turned out, I was right," McClendon said. "Three, four-run lead, I don't take anything for granted. I love for him to get his saves, but I also love for me to get my wins."

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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