SEATTLE -- With three of their leverage relievers quarantined in San Diego on the COVID-19 IL, a battered Mariners bullpen took the reins on Friday, and the gritty efforts of Anthony Misiewicz, J.T. Chargois and Erik Swanson proved to be the difference in a 3-2 win over the Rangers at T-Mobile Park.
Misiewicz struck out the heart of the Rangers order in the sixth, sitting down Nat Lowe, Adolis García and Joey Gallo in order.
Chargois worked around a walk and got out of a jam with an inning-ending double play twirled by J.P. Crawford, the Mariners’ MLB-leading 54th of the season.
And biggest of all, Swanson escaped a pair of two-on, two-out jams -- one in the eighth when he relieved Keynan Middleton, and another in the ninth when he was nearly out of gas. But he put a bow on an impressive four-out save to further cement his role moving forward.
That’s all significant, given that Kendall Graveman, Will Vest and Drew Steckenrider -- who would’ve been leaned on for such outs -- have been shelved since last weekend in San Diego.
“Coming in and in that big a situation in the eighth, there's a lot of adrenaline, obviously,” Swanson said. “It's a big situation, and then going back in the dugout and trying to keep that same mindset and then coming back out, that was a new one for me, for sure.”
Swanson wasn’t on the Opening Day roster, despite pitching well in Spring Training. That was more a byproduct of him holding Minor League options than his rocky first two seasons in Seattle, when he struggled so mightily as a starter in 2019 that the club moved him to the 'pen by the end of that year. He then compiled a 12.91 ERA in relief in ’20.
Yet here he is now, scoreless in all seven of his relief outings. He allowed one run in one of his two starts and his ERA sits at 0.69, while he quickly gains more trust.
So, what’s behind Swanson’s transformation? His velocity climbing from an average of 92.5 mph as a starter all the way up to 96.2 mph on Friday certainly has something to do with it. But it has more to do with the fortification of his secondary pitches, most notably a gnarly splitter, that has helped him become more of a situational weapon. Between the split and his slider, he’s given up just one hit all season.
“I definitely took my lumps that year, and my biggest focus coming off of '19 going into '20 was to refine those offspeed pitches,” Swanson said. “I scrapped the changeup and went to a splitter. That was a tough pitch for me to learn and really be able to trust it and throw it in the zone. And last year, after such a short sample size, coming into spring this year, my biggest challenge to myself was just throwing both of those offspeed pitches in the zone for strikes. And the results have really helped me kind of build that confidence and being able to do that.”
Though he was the standout from Friday’s win -- the Mariners’ fourth in their past five games after snapping a season-long six-game losing streak -- the defense behind him deserves a ton of credit, too. The play of the game, in Servais’ estimation, was one that resulted in one Rangers run, but also prevented a floodgate.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa roped an RBI single to right field with no outs, then as Charlie Culberson crossed home plate, Ty France made a heads-up cutoff play with Jose Trevino halfway to third, at which point France twirled the ball to Kyle Seager, who caught the Texas catcher in a rundown for the first out.
Then, Crawford took over by igniting a force play for the second out, and he put a bow on the inning by making a remarkable slap tag from one knee on Nick Solak, who was attempting to steal second base after starter Justus Sheffield spiked a slider. Crawford also had the inning-ending double play in the seventh to get Chargois out of his jam.
“Super impressed,” center fielder Kyle Lewis said. “Super impressed with the energy everybody brings, the communication and the way the guys are picking us up, especially the infield. Really happy with the way they turn double plays, pick us up and get us out of tough innings.”
Speaking of Lewis, he crushed his fifth homer of the season, and his third in May, in the third inning. Lewis also had a ground-rule double in the second, raising his slash line for the month to .276/.382/.402 after hitting .161/.212/.387 in April, when he missed the first 17 games with a bone bruise in his knee.
Lewis is looking much more like the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, particularly after a strong road trip over the past week-plus.
“I think the process, I'm checking the boxes,” Lewis said. “And the results will continue to come over time and I believe in that, and hopefully come in bunches. But as far as my process personally, when I go home at night, I think I'm checking those boxes pretty well.”