HOUSTON -- It's the nature of the job, but Mariners closer Edwin Diaz has been targeted at times this season as a big part of the team's early struggles after several difficult late-inning losses and blown saves for a bullpen that had one of the highest ERAs in the league
HOUSTON -- It's the nature of the job, but Mariners closer Edwin Diaz has been targeted at times this season as a big part of the team's early struggles after several difficult late-inning losses and blown saves for a bullpen that had one of the highest ERAs in the league in April.
But things have changed over the past two months, and those not paying attention would likely be surprised to know the Mariners' bullpen has the lowest ERA in the Majors over the past 49 games (2.65) after holding the Astros to two runs in the final 4 1/3 innings in Monday's 9-7, 10-inning win.
Diaz has been a huge part of that success.
The 23-year-old right-hander has recorded four straight saves to open the second half and has a 1.85 ERA with an impressive 37 strikeouts and seven walks over 24 1/3 innings in his last 23 outings.
Manager Scott Servais called on Diaz as well as setup man Nick Vincent to pitch in their fourth straight games on Monday, and although Vincent gave up a game-tying run in the eighth, Diaz slammed the door in the 10th with a 1-2-3 finish with a pair of strikeouts.
"He sucked it up," Servais said. "I don't know what the heck we're going to do tomorrow, but we'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow. This was a big win tonight, and the guys should enjoy this one."
Diaz said that pitching with regularity has helped smooth things out after a couple of early hiccups this season that resulted in three blown saves as well as several other ninth-inning losses.
"That's helped me a lot," Diaz said. "I've started throwing a lot better the last couple weeks, the last month. I feel pretty good. They've given me the opportunity to throw in every close game, and I try to do my job. I feel really good right now."
Diaz struck out the side in Sunday's series-clinching 7-6, 10-inning win over the White Sox for his 16th save of the season, as his fastball was clicking at 99 mph despite pitching for a third straight day.
Servais agrees that Diaz seems to fare better when he's busy.
"I think he calms down, as much as anything," Servais said prior to Monday's series opener with the Astros. "When he's had four or five days where he hasn't pitched, he goes out there and things get a little quick for him and he feels too good, sometimes.
"I thought yesterday was probably the best he's looked at any point all year, and he was very under control, he was locating the fastball, and the slider was outstanding. It didn't look like it was any more effort, and the ball was still coming out at 98, 99 mph. Sometimes he thinks, 'I've got to throw 100 mph.' But what's the difference between 99 and 101? They're both pretty hard. I'd rather have the 98 or 99 going in the right spots instead of spraying the fastball around."
Servais is comfortable using Diaz up to four days in a row, as he did once earlier this season. It's been an adjustment for a youngster who was a starting pitcher up until a month into last season, when he was moved to the bullpen at Double-A and then made a quick promotion.
"I learned last year a lot," Diaz said. "When I got here, I asked a lot of questions. They taught me how to treat my arm. When we go play catch outside, I try to keep it simple. Don't play a lot of catch, just get my arm ready for the game. I feel good right now. I don't feel my arm is tired at all. I will be ready when they need me."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [