Seattle’s bullpen (13 K’s, 2 R) outduels Bieber

May 17th, 2021

SEATTLE -- and weren’t on the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, had a limited innings leash heading into Sunday’s game against Cleveland and were faced with the tall task of collectively filling in for Marco Gonzales.

Oh, and they were facing off against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, to boot.

Yet that tandem outdueled the Triple Crown winner with five shutout innings, while the Mariners’ bats chased Bieber in his shortest start of the season, just 4 2/3 innings, which culminated in a well-played 3-2 victory at T-Mobile Park that clinched a four-game series win.

Here were the critical moments that pieced together one of the Mariners’ stronger victories, which put them one game above .500 (21-20), at the quarter mark of the season:

Stingy bats vs. Bieber
For all of his accolades, the Mariners’ mentality against Bieber was to wait him out for a few mistakes, and they were able to capitalize in those critical moments.

The most clutch of them all was a two-out, bases-loaded single from that plated Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager in the third inning. Bieber worked Seattle’s shortstop into a 2-2 count, but then left a slider up over the middle of the plate that Crawford was able to pummel up the middle.

“His offspeed [is] probably one of the best I've seen this year so far,” Crawford said. “We're just trying to grind and look for something out over the plate and try to put the ball in play, and we put together good ABs today, drew some walks and came up with some big hits.”

Haniger also roped a first-inning double on a fastball away and then came around to score on a two-out single by Kyle Lewis on a slider that was middle-away.

Seattle drew four walks against Bieber, which tied a career high for the ace, and snapped his streak of 20 straight starts with at least eight strikeouts, the longest run in MLB history.

“With any great pitcher, they’ll give you an opportunity to hit something. ... I knew we would have some opportunities to get a hit in certain situations,” Lewis said. “And it was cool to see the guys go up there swinging with confidence.”

The Mariners were also able to get this type of production on an 0-for-5 day from leadoff hitter Jarred Kelenic. And it was the first time the Mariners defeated a reigning Cy Young Award winner since Opening Day in 2018, against Cleveland’s Corey Kluber.

Dugger, Sewald blank Tribe in first five
Dugger is a former starter and though he was up first on Sunday, make no mistake, he was filling a relief role. How did he answer? Ten batters, no hits and just one walk, thanks to a revised, breaking-ball-driven approach driven by Seattle’s analytics department that has helped transform him into a new pitcher -- one that boasts a 1.64 ERA and a 29.2 percent strikeout rate, including four on Sunday, after five outings.

“Exactly, and that's what I told those guys in Spring Training, who were telling me to use my break more,” Dugger said. “Because last year and the year before, it was all about my fastball, which had some decent ride on it. But now, it's breaking balls and it's obviously working, and I definitely wish I would have known sooner.”

Sewald was also sharp and overcame a runner reaching second base in each of his two innings. The tandem combined to tally more strikeouts than Bieber (eight to seven), allowed just four baserunners compared to Bieber’s nine and collectively pitched deeper into the game (five innings to Bieber’s 4 2/3).

To be sure, the Mariners would like to avoid throwing bullpen games for Marco Gonzales’ turn through the rotation, and that ambition seems close to fruition, with Seattle’s No. 1 starter slated to throw a bullpen on Monday. But the club will certainly take outings like Sunday’s in the interim.

Vest, Misiewicz, Graveman lock it down
The Mariners’ highest-leverage relievers escaped some critical jams, and with just one run of cushion to work with.

After Rafael Montero surrendered two runs in the sixth inning, Will Vest came on with two outs and runners on second and third, and proceeded to punch out Austin Hedges on three pitches to halt the threat.

Then in the seventh, Anthony Misiewicz gave up two singles to lead off the inning before a sacrifice bunt by Eddie Rosario pushed the runners to second and third. But instead of pitching to Cleveland's best hitter, José Ramírez, Seattle intentionally walked him to load the bases for cleanup man Franmil Reyes, who Misiewicz retired with a broken-bat, 5-4-3, inning-ending double play.

Lastly, Kendall Graveman overcame a two-out single in the ninth to lock down his fifth save. The hard-throwing righty has faced 58 batters over 16 2/3 innings this season and has given up just six hits and no runs.

“Any time you go into a bullpen game, you're going to need some guys to step up,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And we had a ton of them today.”