Seattle 'pen key element of Wild Card chase

September 15th, 2021

SEATTLE -- The file is color-coded and sits on Scott Servais’ desk before the Mariners’ manager arrives at the ballpark, and it’s typically the first thing he examines when preparing for that day’s game.

The bullpen report.

In the gauntlet of 162 games, measuring relievers’ health, usage, effectiveness, strengths, matchups and more are meticulously detailed in any team’s daily outlook -- but that’s particularly true for the Mariners, who’ve ridden the coattails of their relief corps all season and will unapologetically ride or die with that unit over the final two and a half weeks as they chase an American League Wild Card spot.

As such, Servais is taking more notice of that daily report, especially given that his highest-leverage relievers, Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider, have looked susceptible for the first time since the All-Star break. Sewald has surrendered homers in each of his past three outings, and Steckenrider was tagged for three runs in Tuesday’s loss, his most since his Mariners debut on April 2. The latter’s was more of a byproduct of an incredibly challenging sequence to be brought on for.

“A lot goes into it,” Servais said. “And I think the biggest thing is just building relationships with our guys and constant communication with them and our guys being honest with us, [saying], ‘Hey, I need a day,’ or, ‘You know what, I can go today even though I've been back-to-back.’ Those type of things. And they also know the state of their teammates, that a bullpen really works as a unit. And they know that if other guys had been taxed, that they have to step up and maybe take a bigger load on here for the [team] in the short term.”

To state the obvious: Innings are up for every team after the shortened 60-game season in 2020, a burden that the Mariners began preparing for at the onset of the season.

Mariners’ highest-leverage relievers: Innings usage, 2020 vs. 2021
Paul Sewald: 6 vs. 52
Drew Steckenrider: 0 vs. 59 1/3
Diego Castillo: 21 2/3 vs. 50 2/3
Anthony Misiewicz: 20 vs. 49 2/3
Casey Sadler: 19 1/3 vs. 31

“It’s something that we were very cognizant of right out of the chute in April and May,” Servais said. “Understanding you need to keep people healthy to get to where we're at today. In doing that, we've been very cautious at times, where we really don't throw guys three days in a row here hardly ever. And then tracking the number of pitches bullpen guys have thrown in a seven-day period. Once a guy goes three out of four, he's probably going to be down for a day or two after that. All those things you monitor daily.”

The Mariners rank 17th in relief innings in the second half, compared to seventh in the first. And they’ve only once used a reliever three days in a row all season; Sewald, from Aug. 17-19, just after he was away for a week to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, so there was an extra layer of rest built into that plan. Since then, he has a 4.91 ERA and opposing hitters are hitting him for an .860 OPS.

“I’m not seeing any fatigue from Paul at all. … This entire year, he's had an uncanny ability to locate those pitches, late and deep in counts,” Servais said. “You get into 3-2, 2-2 counts and he's putting that ball right on the edge, and recently, he's missed some locations.”

Sewald is hardly the only reliever to weather lumps. Misiewicz gave up the game-tying homer on Tuesday that put Steckenrider on a tightrope. And a few weeks back, Castillo gave up two critical homers in separate games to the Rangers, including a walk-off.

“As far as our guys’ ability to bounce back, it'd be one thing if we were just getting hammered and giving up all kinds of home runs and we're not,” Servais said. “We're still very competitive.”

The rotation is as critical of a component here, too, and having starters cover more innings -- with consistency and effectiveness -- will be just as vital over this final stretch if Seattle hopes to extend its season into October.

Seattle extends partnership with flagship
The Mariners on Wednesday announced that they’ve reached a multiyear extension with Bonneville Seattle Media Group to keep 710 ESPN Seattle as their flagship station.

The 2022 season will be the 32nd year that 710 AM has been the Mariners’ radio home. The club has been broadcasting on 710 ESPN Seattle since the station’s transition to an all-sports format in ’09. KIRO-AM was the team’s home from 1985-2002.