With two left-handed hitters due up Friday in the eighth inning after Felix Hernandez gave up a one-out single, Mariners manager Scott Servais played the matchup game and summoned lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski.
The odds played out. Rzepczynski protected a one-run lead by inducing two ground outs. Edwin Diaz then got the call in the ninth inning and closed out a 2-1 victory over Texas.
Two night earlier, the Mariners held a one-run lead in the seventh inning against Houston as the Astros’ lineup turned over to set up a string of potent right-handed hitters.
Servais again played the odds in summoning right-hander Dan Altavilla, who had only allowed one run in 20 previous career appearances. That didn’t work out. Houston stung Altavilla for three runs and four hits and went on to a 10-5 victory.
The point is this: Good or bad — and it’s often been bad through the first two weeks — the Mariners are going to opt for matchup odds over set roles in lining up their bullpen over the closing innings.
“Everybody wants to say, ‘This is your seventh-inning guy,’ ” Servais said. “ ‘This is your eighth-inning guy.’ We’re probably not going to go that route. We do have a ninth-inning guy. It’s pretty clear that Eddie will get the ball there.
“But leading up to that point, it’s matchups and where you’re at in their lineup — and who (pitching coach) Mel (Stottlemyre Jr.) and I feel match up best in our pen against those guys.”
Servais is a former catcher who watched plenty of games from the bullpen in his 11-year career. He knows relievers prefer set roles because it establishes a level of comfort in contrast to the is-it-me anxiety when the bullpen phone rings.
“Every one of them would,” he acknowledged, “but I don’t think (Cleveland’s) Andrew Miller had a problem with it last year. He’s a pretty accomplished guy who got his team into a really good spot. I think our guys will be OK with it.”
That means Altavilla or Nick Vincent, Evan Scribner, Tony Zych, James Pazos and others might get the call one night for a key out or two in the fifth inning but, one night later, be summoned in the eighth inning as the final bridge to Diaz.
“I do communicate with our relievers a lot,” Servais said. “You see me walk through the outfield every day. I give them a heads-up on where it might be headed in this series, based on left-right and how (an opponent’s) lineup fits together.
“I try to do the best I can to be very transparent and give them an idea on when they’re going to pitch, but things change as the game goes along.”
MORE ON THE BULLPEN
The move Friday to clear space for Zych’s return from the disabled list by optioning lefty Dillon Overton to Triple-A Tacoma points to another component in the Mariners’ philosophy in constructing a bullpen.
With few exceptions, club officials see no need for a long reliever.
General manager Jerry Dipoto points to stats that show nearly 94 percent of all relief appearances last season covered five outs or less. He also cited the realities of modern travel as another argument against carrying a long reliever.
“If something happens where you need help,” Dipoto said, “and that will happen during the year, you can have somebody here the next day. It’s not like (years ago) when you had to put someone on a train and wait a few days.”
When the Mariners and Tacoma are both at home, any needed replacement(s) can be summoned in roughly an hour (or three or four hours, depending on I-5).
Even when one or both clubs are on the road, it’s rare that a pitcher can’t be in place before the next game starts. The Mariners learned that a year ago when they made 43 pitching moves between the big-league club and Tacoma.
The Mariners opted to start the season with a long reliever (starting pitchers Chase De Jong and then Overton) because the schedule called for games on 10 straight days without a break — an unusual occurrence in early April.
“We weren’t quite sure where our starters were at coming out of spring training,” Servais said. “We wanted to make sure we had enough length in there. Guys (in the rotation) have thrown the ball pretty well.”
So it’s no surprise that, after the season’s first open date, the Mariners dumped their long reliever by returning Overton to Tacoma, where he’ll step into the rotation.
All on-field personnel wore No. 42 on Saturday in memory Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color line on April 15, 1947 by appearing in a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves.
Before MLB retired Robinson’s number in 1999, 12 different Mariners wore it:
Tom Brown (1978), Dave Henderson (1981-86), John Christensen (1987), Omar Vizquel (1989), Vance Lovelace (1990), Kerry Woodson (1992), Roger Salkeld (1993), Ted Power (1993), Jeff Darwin (1994), Jim Mecir (1995), Michael Jackson (1996) and Butch Huskey (1999).
Three things to note heading into Sunday’s pitching matchup between right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and was Texas lefty Cole Hamels:
▪ Iwakuma is 9-6 with a 3.68 ERA in 19 career games against the Rangers. Hamels is 5-3 with a 5.09 ERA in 10 starts against the Mariners, including 2-3 with a 4.00 ERA in five starts at Safeco Field.
▪ Robinson Cano is just 8-for-31 (.258) in his career against Hamels, but three of the hits are home runs. Kyle Seager is 7-for-24 (.292), while Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia are each 4-for-15 (.267).
Lo-A Clinton second baseman Bryson Brigman, a third-round pick in 2016, went 1-for-3 with two RBIs in Friday’s 4-3 walk-off loss at Burlington (Angels).
Brigman, 23, has reached base safely at least once in all nine of the LumberKings’ games and is batting .360 (9-for-25) with six walks for a .455 on-base percentage.
Jarrod Dyson entered Saturday with a streak of 15 straight successful stolen-base attempts, which boosted his career success rate of 85.6 percent (179-for-209). Dyson has the second-best percentage in history among players with at least 200 career attempts. Houston DH Carlos Beltran, who doesn’t run much anymore, ranks first at 86.4 percent (312-for-361). … The Mariners, through Friday, had a 3.09 ERA from their rotation, which ranked third among American League clubs, behind Detroit (3.02) and Houston (3.03)…the Mariners, prior to Saturday, had been out-homered 14-8. Last year, they were plus-10 at 223-213.