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Rzepczynski's new delivery pays dividends

Mariners' lefty specialist K's two in perfect inning in spring debut
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Like most veteran pitchers, Marc Rzepczynski will normally tell you that Cactus League games in the dry air of Arizona aren't much about results. This is the time to get your work in, build up arm strength and fine-tune the delivery in preparation for contests that count.

But even at 32, the oldest pitcher on the Mariners' staff, Rzepczynski figures it's never too late to change. So the lefty specialist, coming off a rough September last season, came to camp this spring intent on reworking his delivery.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Like most veteran pitchers, Marc Rzepczynski will normally tell you that Cactus League games in the dry air of Arizona aren't much about results. This is the time to get your work in, build up arm strength and fine-tune the delivery in preparation for contests that count.

But even at 32, the oldest pitcher on the Mariners' staff, Rzepczynski figures it's never too late to change. So the lefty specialist, coming off a rough September last season, came to camp this spring intent on reworking his delivery.

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And when the new approach paid off with a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts -- and more importantly an easy feeling and added life on his fastball for a first time out -- Rzepczynski emerged from Tuesday's game against the Padres with a smile and a sigh of relief.

Rzepczynski has been pitching since he was 6 years old with the same throwing motion, so transforming to a shorter leg kick with a more direct path to the plate is akin to teaching yourself to walk with a different gait at age 32.

"I was pretty nervous going out there for the first outing," Rzepczynski said. "I was changing something I'd never done, ever. Your first game, when you actually get the results with the good mechanics, you think, 'Ohhh, it works.' Now I just have to stick with it, and hopefully it continues to be a success.

"It's creating more downward angle and the effort level for me, [pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre] said I was sitting 92-94 mph, which is pretty average for me for Spring Training, but I didn't have to turn it up a notch. It was easy. The ball was down, sinking. Especially when you get the ball to move here, it's definitely a good sign with the humidity. I couldn't be happier. Now I just have to continue and keep building on it."

Rzepczynski had motivation for his makeover. After signing a two-year, $11 million free-agent contract to be Seattle's lefty specialist last season, he wound up posting a 4.02 ERA and walking a career-high 5.7 batters per nine innings.

His September skewed those final numbers, as he gave up six hits and four runs with four walks and just one strikeout in 11 outings for a 13.50 ERA that final month.

So manager Scott Servais was just as pleased as Rzepczynski regarding his initial impression with his revised delivery, knowing how important it is to have a reliable lefty in his bullpen mix.

"Really, he was one of the highlights yesterday," Servais said Wednesday. "He's made a couple mechanical adjustments to his delivery, and I thought he looked great. He was staying on line better, he finished his pitches, the breaking ball was really late and had good depth to it. Really good first outing for him."

Rzepczynski has been one of the most dependable southpaws in the game over the course of his career. His 458 appearances since 2011 are third-most in the Majors for a lefty, and he's pitched in 21 playoff games with three clubs, including four scoreless outings in the World Series for the Cardinals in 2011.

Clearly he can be a big piece of a versatile bullpen the Mariners are counting on this season, and Servais appreciates the willingness to make changes at this point in his career to bolster that effort.

"You find veteran players, the guys still want to get better," Servais said. "Zep didn't finish on a real high note last year. He got frustrated with where things are at. He came into camp, quickly got with our pitching coaches and said, 'Here's what I'm thinking about,' and they threw a couple things at him.

"That's what allows veteran players to stay at a high level for a long time. You've got to keep adding and trying to get better."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Marc Rzepczynski