Nicasio, Diaz a formidable duo at end of games

April 27th, 2018

CLEVELAND -- The Mariners have racked up close victories at an impressive rate in the first month of the season, and two big reasons are veteran setup man and closer .
Heading into Friday's second game of a four-game series with the Indians, the Mariners were 10-3 in games decided by two runs or fewer, tied with the Mets and Brewers for the most wins in that situation.
Not coincidentally, Diaz leads the Majors with 11 saves, and Nicasio has the most holds of any reliever with 10. A hold is awarded to a pitcher who enters a game with his team in the lead in a save situation and turns that lead over to another reliever without the score having been tied in the interim.
Diaz has been lights out all season, having allowed just one run and two hits over 13 1/3 innings while striking out 25. Nicasio, the Mariners' primary offseason free-agent addition, started off the year a little shaky, but has allowed just one hit in five scoreless innings in his last five outings while striking out five.
"It's good for us," Diaz said of his teammate's emergence. "Juan comes in there and does his job. He comes in ready to go. I think we're a good duo. We have to stay ready."
Staying ready isn't easy with such a heavy workload. Both Nicasio and Diaz pitched three straight games from Tuesday through Thursday, and manager Scott Servais wanted to avoid using the 31-year-old Nicasio in Friday's game since he had some tightness in his throwing shoulder at the start of the road trip before being dominant after taking three days off.

"He's thrown the ball great the last few times, but I do want to be smart and probably a little more cautious with him," Servais said.
Diaz pitched in four straight games twice last season. The first time, from June 18-21, he gave up two hits -- including a home run -- but held on for a 7-5 win over the Tigers in his fourth game. The second time, from July 14-17, Diaz was nearly flawless in all four outings, allowing just one hit in the second game of the stretch.
"If I feel great, I can pitch," said the 24-year-old. "And I feel great today. I played catch, felt fine and told them I'm ready to go."
Diaz and Nicasio have already become the first two relievers in franchise history to reach 10 saves and 10 holds by the end of April. Diaz's 11 saves are second to Kazuhiro Sasaki's 13 for most in March/April, while Nicasio has already passed Arthur Rhodes' team record of eight holds in that span.
Sasaki is tied for the MLB record for most saves in March/April with of the Brewers (2014), with Baltimore's Lee Smith third with 12 in 1994. Diaz is tied for fourth all-time on that list with three games still remaining this month.
Clearly there's not much more the Mariners could ask from their young closer.
"We like him right where he's at right now," Servais said with a smile. "He's been great, going after guys. There's been a stretch of 8-10 pitches where the command will kind of get away from him, but being able to regroup and get back on the mound and come back at guys, he's been awesome. Really, really valuable."
And as the close wins have piled up -- with Seattle 6-2 in one-run games -- teammates have come to appreciate the security blanket Diaz has provided.
"Our pitching has been pretty good, and the bullpen has been lights out," third baseman said. "That is certainly led by Diaz. He's been unbelievable so far. He's waving that anchor back there where you feel comfortable in these close games."
Iwakuma progressing
was scheduled to throw his second live batting practice session on Friday at extended spring training in Peoria, Ariz., as he works back from September shoulder surgery.
The plan is for the 37-year-old right-hander to throw three live BP outings before beginning a Minor League rehab stint. Iwakuma made just six starts last season before being shut down. He re-signed with the Mariners on a Minor League deal.