Seattle's bullpen; staff plans for new rules

June 16th, 2021

Flash back to Spring Training: Who had Jake Fraley, Taylor Trammell and Jake Bauers comprising the Mariners’ outfield and coming up with key production in a big win in June?

Perhaps less prominent, but just as notable: What about JT Chargois, Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider pitching the highest-leverage moments in that tight Monday night tussle against the Twins?

Indeed, the Mariners’ bullpen -- who went statistically from one of the best to the worst from April to May and June -- is riding the hot hand. Right now, that’s Chargois, Sewald and Steckenrider, all non-roster invitees in Spring Training who are gaining more and more trust. That trio has a combined 2.76 ERA in 16 1/3 innings in June.

“Everybody is pretty versatile here,” Steckenrider said. “And we have guys with experience, which, of course, helps, too.”

Steckenrider registered his first save since 2018 on Monday, as he was called on for the ninth with Kendall Graveman unavailable after pitching back-to-back games for the first time this season. With Rafael Montero seemingly available -- but in the not-so-distant wake of his three-run spiral in Saturday’s heartbreaker -- manager Scott Servais’ decision to turn to those three suggests where the Mariners currently view their leverage.

Seattle was knotted up with Minnesota when Chargois entered in the sixth and kept the game tied until the eighth, when Bauers lifted a go-ahead, solo homer. Chargois gave Servais two innings for just the second time this season; Sewald and Steckenrider have each gone two innings three times. It’s not practice, but circumstance that dictates such length.

The Mariners built their bullpen for such sequences, knowing that they needed arms that could go multiple innings, and if they needed length from one arm that would then be down the next day, they’d have reinforcements. A lot of this predicates on their starters giving them length.

“It just gives you extra time the following day to recover, get your work in, get in the training room,” Steckenrider said. “So, if you go two innings, it’s probably, ‘Hey, I’ve got a day to [recover].’ And we saved somebody today, so somebody will fill in that role tomorrow.”

Anthony Misiewicz, Will Vest and Keynan Middleton, Seattle's top setup men from April, are struggling, with Middleton demoted to Triple-A Tacoma on Friday. But he’ll be back sooner than later, perhaps when the Mariners next need a fresh arm.

This fluctuation is the boat that any bullpen finds itself in over a six-month season. The Mariners are just trying to ride wave.

Servais dishes on sticky stuff

The Mariners began preparing for the new rules regarding foreign substances from Major League Baseball as recently as two weeks ago, when word leaked that such changes were coming. On Tuesday, the league announced the new measures and the disciplinary sanctions for those who violate them, after which the Mariners’ pitching staff held a meeting to discuss the new rules, which will go into effect on Monday.

“I met with our players today and made sure I explained everything to them,” Servais said. “What is going to be checked, what is legal, what is not legal and also the ramifications.

“I do think it's probably a pivotal time in Major League Baseball to address the issue. It's an issue. I think you can talk about what's going on in our game as far as offense, and it's spiraling downward. It's really hard to hit. The pitching has just dominated the game here recently, with the velocity and the breaking balls and whatnot.

“So, I personally thought it was something that would probably happen going into the next season, knowing that MLB was going to do this in-depth study and take a look at what's going on in our game. But certainly, they want to act a little bit quicker, so we have to adjust.”