OAKLAND -- The Mariners shuffled veteran catchers on Friday, signing free agent Henry Blanco to a Major League contract and designating Kelly Shoppach for assignment.
Blanco met the Mariners in Oakland and is available for Friday's series opener against the A's. The 41-year-old, in his 16th Major League season, appeared in 15 games for the Blue Jays this year before being released on Monday. A career .226 hitter, including .184 (7-for-38) in 2013, Blanco is known as a defensive specialist, with a 40.7 percent caught-stealing rate.
"We had him targeted over the winter and weren't able to get it done, so when he became available we were immediately interested," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "His character is impeccable, he's experienced everything in the game. We felt like if there's someone to work alongside [Mariners rookie catcher Mike] Zunino there's nobody better at that position."
The Mariners had signed the 33-year-old Shoppach this past offseason, and he hit .196 with three home runs, nine RBIs and a .638 on-base plus slugging percentage in 35 games, including 32 starts. After a strong start to the year, Shoppach was 8-for-60 (.133) with two homers and 28 strikeouts since May 7. Seattle now has 10 days to trade, release or outright Shoppach.
"It's more about Blanco and him being available and us jumping on that opportunity," Wedge said of the switch. "He has just so much more experience, the leadership skills, the mentor skills. … Where he is in his life on and off the field, it's pretty impressive."
Signing Blanco suggests a greater commitment to Zunino by the Mariners, who've struggled in their search for answers behind the plate all season. The club demoted starter Jesus Montero to Triple-A Tacoma last month and on Tuesday called up Zunino, Seattle's first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and its No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com. Zunino went 1-for-4 in his big league debut on Wednesday.
"The first thing is making him comfortable," Blanco said of Zunino and his responsibilities with the team. "You have to understand your role. I'm going to play a big role on the bench, and that's the way it's going to be.
"He belongs here, getting to work with the pitching staff and learning as much as he can. Whatever he needs, I'll be here for him."
Morse, Morales return to add punch to lineup
OAKLAND -- Among the changes to the Mariners' ever-fluctuating roster are the additions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse to Seattle's lineup after the pair sat out of Wednesday's 6-1 loss to the Astros.
Morales, who has missed Seattle's last two games, hit cleanup as the Mariner's designated hitter after experiencing stiffness in his lower-back.
Morse returned as the Mariners' first baseman after resting a strained right quad that has been lingering for the past couple of weeks and was slotted fifth in manager Eric Wedge's lineup.
"Neither of them are 100 percent, but they're back out there, which is better than them sitting with me," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Morales has hit in 29 of his last 36 games since April 30 with a .327 batting average and five home runs, while Morse is second on the team with 11 home runs.
Mariners moving Wilhelmsen out of closer's role
OAKLAND -- Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen's four blown saves since May 20 have earned the Mariner's right-hander a demotion from the closer's role.
"We're going to pull him back a bit and use him with every intention of getting him back to the closer's role," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said Friday, "but we're going to give him a break here."
Wedge said he'll opt for a closer by committee approach in Wilhelmsen's absence, inserting pitchers based on matchups while Wilhelmsen looks to play out of his funk through outings in earlier innings and looks at multiple-inning opportunities as a possibility.
"We'll do the best we can with everybody down there," Wedge said of his bullpen. "I'm not going to put it on one guy. Nobody's ready for that.
"One of the tough things about doing it this way is that you got to have potentially multiple guys ready for you in the ninth inning so you can't use one or all of them earlier. It's going to be a little tougher bridging that gap."
The Mariners hope Wilhelmson's new role is only temporary and he'll return to being the dominant pitcher he was for the first seven weeks of the season, when he converted 11 consecutive saves with a 0.41 ERA.
Wilhelmsen said that while his fastball has maintained its velocity, his ability to locate his pitches and throw his curveball has declined -- not the best formula for a pitcher with just two pitches in his repertoire.
"You can't stay up here and throw one pitch for a strike," Wilhelmsen said. "So if you want to stay up here then it makes it pretty important to throw another one for a strike."
Wilhelmsen said he's spotted a few mechanical areas he'll look to improve upon, including shortening his stride and following through more on his pitches.
"You try to go back and see what you're doing wrong," Wilhelmsen said. "Maybe it's the extension, maybe you're rushing it. There are a number of things, and I'm not going to know until I find it."
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.