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Retooled Mariners bullpen off to strong start

March 23, 2019

SEATTLE -- You’d be forgiven if you missed the solid performances the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen put together in the team’s Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome last week. That’s what happens when the club caps a two-game sweep with the debut of Japanese import Yusei Kikuchi, a 12-inning, 5-4 victory

SEATTLE -- You’d be forgiven if you missed the solid performances the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen put together in the team’s Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome last week.

That’s what happens when the club caps a two-game sweep with the debut of Japanese import Yusei Kikuchi, a 12-inning, 5-4 victory and the retirement of future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki.

But so far, the Mariners' bullpen -- which has undergone a major turnover since the 2018 season -- has started the season in superb form.

New closer Hunter Strickland is a perfect 2-for-2 in save situations, throwing a combined two hitless, scoreless innings with three strikeouts. Matt Festa threw two shutout innings Thursday. Zac Rosscup, Brandon Brennan and Cory Gearrin have also turned in scoreless outings.

So far, so good. If this is a new group of guys -- and as Strickland noted, the whole team is a pretty much a new group of guys -- it's up to the task so far.

"I think we’ve got a good bullpen, as good as anybody out there,” said Rosscup, after a public workout Saturday at the first of two Mariners FanFest days at T-Mobile Park. “Strickland being on the back end is all we need. I think we’ve got a pretty good chance to give him the ball with the lead, and he just throws his innings.”

The biggest question so far is the role each pitcher with play, something that very much remains undecided.

“Bullpens are about roles, where do guys fit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I do think it’s plain to all of our guys, there aren’t going to be assigned roles, so to speak, other than we like Strickland to pitch the ninth inning. Other than that, it’s going to be pockets and matchups where they fit. You’re hoping that a few of our young guys really step up.”

If Strickland knows his role, he has a different issue -- trying to follow Edwin Diaz, who notched 57 saves in 2018 but was dealt to the Mets in December. Luckily, Strickland knows enough not to seek out that comparison.

"You’ve got to go day-to-day with this job,” he said. “But there’s no replacing Edwin. The guy’s unbelievable; I’m sure he’s going to do great for the Mets. But I’m just taking it one day at a time and ultimately get the outs when you’re in there."

As far as the rest of the team goes, it’s just a matter of those moments that Servais talked about.

Brennan had a moment on Thursday, inducing pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman into an inning-ending double play with the game tied 4-4 in the eighth inning -- in his Major League debut.

“It was an emotional moment for me, it was a culmination for me,” said the 27-year-old Brennan. “It’s tied, close game and my very first one in a big-league setting, so a lot of emotions kind of erupted in me.”

As far as how long it will it take those roles to define themselves, Servais is happy to wait and see.

"It’s going to take a little while,” Servais said. “We have a few guys that do have a track record, and have been very good at the Major League level. And we have some guys that don’t yet and know there will be some very good outings and some ones where they struggle with.

”It’ll take patience as much as anything.”