New dad Sewald starring in breakout season

August 19th, 2021

ARLINGTON -- As if Paul Sewald needed any more advantage in this breakout season, he gave the Mariners his first glimpse of pitching with “Dad Strength” in Tuesday’s win over Texas.

Sewald worked around a leadoff single to Adolis García and picked up his fifth save after six days in between his last outing while he was in Las Vegas to be with his wife, Molly, for the birth of their first child, Chloe. In the down time, he played catch with his brother to keep his arm loose, but nothing too taxing.

“I'm too old to not have the heat packs and the whole thing,” Sewald joked. “So, it was a lot of lobbing going on. But it was just enough to be ready.”

The 31-year-old has kept things light all season, but fatherhood has certainly added an even more grounded perspective on how he approaches things. To be sure, when Sewald is on the mound, he’s been fierce -- take his five momentum-swinging outs in New York on Aug. 8, for example -- but he recognizes that 2021 has been a blessing of a year for him on and off the mound, and he’s embracing every moment of it.

And that’s particularly true now that he’s pitching with a defined role, more confidence in his stuff and knowing that one bad outing won’t lead to a bus ride to Triple-A -- all of which were roadblocks for him in parts of four seasons with the Mets, with whom he struggled to a 5.50 ERA and 73 ERA+ (league average is 100). He and Chris Flexen, who was with the Mets at the same time, have recognized that more consistently contributing has led to far more comfort.

“Being back for two days or three days isn’t being back in the Major Leagues,” Sewald said. “And no one's ever going to turn down two or three days of service time and pay. Like, no one has ever turned that down. But when you when you get called up and you know, ‘I’m going to pitch and then I'm going to get sent down after the game,’ how are you supposed to pitch the best you can? You can say it can't bother you, but you know.”

His process, he says, has been the biggest difference this season.

“I think more than anything, I'm just using my pitches more correctly than I ever have,” Sewald said. “Obviously, the confidence level is there. Like I said, I believe that I have as good of stuff as anybody and even if [hitters] know what’s coming, but the important part has been I've been throwing the pitches that I want to when I want to in the location I want to, and I think I think it is sustainable.”

As Statcast shows, Sewald ranks at or near the top in just about every quality of contact category. And his strikeout rates are way up on both his four-seam fastball and slider.

Sewald has been scoreless in 31 of his 38 outings and hasn't allowed a hit in 21 of those, for a 2.77 ERA and 151 ERA+. He’s racked up a whopping 65 strikeouts in 39 innings for a rate of 41.7 percent rate that ranks fourth among all relievers. Missing bats at such an elite rate is why he’s emerged as Seattle’s highest-leverage reliever, and in part why general manager Jerry Dipoto had the conviction to trade Kendall Graveman.

Sewald signed with Seattle as a non-roster invite to Spring Training after strongly considering offers from the Astros and Blue Jays -- ultimately recognizing that he’d have the best chance to pitch more regularly here -- and that the Mariners evoked the most confidence in his stuff.

After, Sewald pointed out that all 30 clubs would want him now. But because he has less than three years of service time, Seattle will retain club control on the righty for the next three seasons, all of which he’ll be eligible for arbitration.

“I tried to put it in perspective that I'll worry about that in October,” Sewald said. “The first half is fantastic, but it didn't matter if I [only] had a good first half. If I had a bad second half, that’s not going to work, and the front office is going to look at my season a lot differently. So, it's just as important to finish the last six weeks as strong as I’ve been in the rest of the season to put an exclamation point on what kind of season I've had and ensure that it's like, ‘No, this is who I am. This is who I want to be next year as well.’”

Spring Training schedule revealed

Fans already thinking of an escape for late-winter sunshine can start planning to fill that fix, as Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced the Cactus League schedule.

Seattle opens against San Diego at the Peoria Sprots Complex on Saturday, Feb. 26, and finishes against the same Padres on Monday, March 28, with Opening Day for the regular season slated for that Thursday, March 31, against the Tigers at T-Mobile Park.