KANSAS CITY -- Mariners closer Edwin Diaz has been a strikeout machine in his first five appearances this season, whiffing 12 of the 18 batters he's faced while yet to give up a hit in five innings.Diaz notched his fourth save in Wednesday's 4-2 win, overcoming a leadoff error by
KANSAS CITY -- Mariners closer Edwin Diaz has been a strikeout machine in his first five appearances this season, whiffing 12 of the 18 batters he's faced while yet to give up a hit in five innings.
Diaz notched his fourth save in Wednesday's 4-2 win, overcoming a leadoff error by shortstop Jean Segura to remain perfect on the season and finishing things off by striking out Jonathan Jay on a 98-mph heater.
Diaz obviously won't be able to maintain his rate of 21.6 strikeouts per nine innings, but history shows the hard-throwing 24-year-old is one of the best in the business in missing bats. Since the start of his debut season in 2016, Diaz has the fourth-highest strikeout ratio in the Majors at 13.9 per nine innings and he's in heady company there.
In that span, only Dellin Betances of the Yankees (15.3), Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox (15.2) and Andrew Miller of the Indians (14.3) have higher strikeout rates.
"I feel pretty good," Diaz said. "If I make my pitches, I'll be fine. Last year was my first year as a closer and I was thinking too much on the mound. This year I came with the mentality to make pitches and not think about much. Just focus on the hitter and catcher and make my pitch."
Diaz looks sharper than ever this season and struck out the side in the ninth inning in Tuesday's 8-3 win over the Royals on 13 pitches as he was used in his first non-save situation after not pitching for six days.
"Eddie is fresh," manager Scott Servais said. "Last year early in the season I think he was a little fatigued, coming off the [World Baseball Classic] and emotional high that he had there. He had the hiccup early in the year last year. He looks really good right now.
Diaz has also put on about 15 pounds from his listed 6-foot-3, 165 pounds.
"He looks a little different," Servais said. "He's starting to grow into his man muscles, so to speak. He's still a very young player, but he's starting to mature. And I think having Juan Nicasio has been a very positive influence on him, just routine-wise and talking about the game.
"Juan has been through it. He struggled a little early in his career, but has figured out his niche now and is passing some of the knowledge along to Eddie and Eddie is taking it."
• Left fielder Ben Gamel went 2-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs in his first rehab game for Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday after playing six games for Class A Advanced Modesto as he returns from a strained right oblique.
Gamel could rejoin the Mariners on Friday, so he'll be given a break on Wednesday.
"Ben has played a lot and traveled around a lot, so we're probably going to give him the day off," Servais said. "He didn't have Spring Training, where you play a couple days and then get a day off to regroup. We want to make sure he's in a good spot going forward."
• Designated hitter Nelson Cruz had no problems hitting in the cage on Tuesday and will test his sprained right ankle with some running drills on Wednesday. Servais said he remains hopeful that the slugger can rejoin the Mariners sometime this weekend.
• Catcher Mike Zunino (sprained right oblique) also continues to do baseball activities, and Servais said reports on him are positive as well.
"The exact date on any of these guys returning, I don't know," said Servais. "We'll know more when we get home and find out more from our training staff [on Thursday] and see where the best fit is for them and for us."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB