A year ago, the Mariners entered spring training with few answers in a bullpen that lacked proven lefty options and possessed little in the way of power arms. Things have certainly changed.
The unit is now anchored by a soon-to-be 23-year-old in Edwin Diaz, whose velocity touches triple figures and who a year ago averaged 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings over 49 appearances.
“When Eddie Diaz came in and we slid him to the back in the ninth inning, it really stabilized (the bullpen),” manager Scott Servais said. “You can manage the game to get the ball to Eddie and feel good about it.”
You can manage the game to get the ball to Eddie (Diaz) and feel good about it.
M’s manager Scott Servais
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The club also filled it need for a match-up lefty reliever by signing veteran free-agent Marc Rzepczynski to a two-year deal. Known as Scrabble, he has limited left-handed hitters to a .222/.291/.298 slash over eight seasons.
A series of trades involving the rotation pushes lefty Ariel Miranda into a bullpen role. He’s a power arm with multi-inning capability who compiled a 3.54 ERA primarily as a starter last season after arriving in a July 31 trade from Baltimore.
“Knowing that Rzepczynski slides in as our left-on-left or situational set-up guy,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “we feel like Ariel fits very well in that second role.”
There’s also more right-handed power.
Dan Altavilla provided the relief corps with a power right-handed arm in 15 appearances last season after a late August promotion from Double-A Jackson. He’ll likely battle Shae Simmons for one of five right-handed bullpen jobs.
The Mariners obtained Simmons, who rebounded last year from elbow surgery to flash 100-mph velocity, in a trade from Atlanta.
The returning group includes three reliable right-handed arms: erstwhile closer Steve Cishek, Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner. The latter two are out of options, which means they are all but certain to make the big-league club.
Cishek is still recovering from offseason hip surgery, and his status is in doubt. Even so, the worst-case scenario, at present, calls from him to return by mid-April.
Injuries plagued the bullpen a year ago, which is why the Mariners spent much of the offseason building their organization depth. Additions with major league experience include Casey Fien, Nick Hagadone, Dean Kiekhefer and Jean Machi.
Two lefty trade additions with limited big-league time, James Pazos and Zac Curtis, are in line for a look. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte is still around. Tony Zych, a power righty, is recovering from shoulder surgery but could emerge as a factor.
“We feel like the combination of veterans with experience and young upside in the bullpen is particularly intriguing,” Dipoto said. “There are a lot of hard throwers and a lot of bat-missers.”
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How healthy is Steve Cishek? He underwent hip surgery in October and is still recovering. He’s expected back no later than mid-April but even a temporary absence would open a job in the bullpen.
2. If Cishek is healthy and assuming no other bullpen injuries — an unlikely occurrence — the only real competition is for the final right-handed spot. The Mariners will likely want a power arm in that spot, which probably means a battle between Dan Altavilla and Shae Simmons.
3. The Mariners have a number of veteran relievers looking to reset their career. Most will struggle, but it’s likely that one or two will show promise. Those guys are probably headed for Triple-A Tacoma as insurance to await the call.