PEORIA, Ariz. -- New Mariners manager Scott Servais smiles when he says it, but there is truth to his words."When you're a rookie manager -- and I'm in that category right now -- the thing that makes you look good is a really good bullpen," Servais said. "Those guys are
PEORIA, Ariz. -- New Mariners manager Scott Servais smiles when he says it, but there is truth to his words.
"When you're a rookie manager -- and I'm in that category right now -- the thing that makes you look good is a really good bullpen," Servais said. "Those guys are going to be key for us."
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Servais knows that nothing gets second-guessed more than bullpen decisions. And nothing hits a team harder than blown leads late in games.
The Mariners suffered 24 blown saves a year ago, double the number they had in 2014, when they fell just one win shy of a Wild Card berth. The difference might have cost former Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon his job, given the 76-86 record that led to a complete turnover in Seattle's front office and coaching staff.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto has almost entirely revamped the relief crew this offseason, but the question remains: Have the Mariners solidified their bullpen with the addition of numerous "bounceback" candidates such as Steve Cishek, Ryan Cook, Justin De Fratus, Evan Scribner and Joel Peralta -- trading away promising young right-hander Carson Smith and former closers Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar?
For a team that wants to lean heavily on pitching and defense at Safeco Field, that answer figures to weigh heavily on how Servais fares in his first go-round.
The Royals have proven in recent years the value of a shutdown bullpen. And the Mariners have been prime examples of the power of a 'pen the past two years as they exceeded expectations in 2014 with a relief crew that posted the lowest ERA in the Majors at 2.59, then dipped last year when that same group finished 25th in MLB at 4.15.
Dipoto bolstered the back end of the bullpen by signing Cishek to be his closer and trading for veteran setup man Joaquin Benoit. He's counting on Charlie Furbush to come back healthy and fill the left-handed setup spot, while Vidal Nuno appears to have the early lead as the second lefty. And from there, it'll be an interesting spring as the final three bullpen spots sort themselves out.
Cook, De Fratus, Scribner and Peralta are all veteran right-handers with established track records, even though each had some issues last year. Tony Zych opened eyes as a September callup last year and appears strongly in the mix, while new acquisition Jonathan Aro and returnee Mayckol Guaipe will get good looks this spring as well.
"With Joel Peralta and Ryan Cook and Justin De Fratus and I can go on with that group, there are a lot of guys competing for one or two spots in the bullpen," Dipoto said. "Some have more experience than others. Guys like Jonathan Aro and Mayckol Guaipe, they have less experience but more physical upside.
"Right now we're in a position where, what will we choose? Will we choose the veteran or give innings to the younger guy? We'll see as the spring goes along, but what we didn't do is bring 35 pitchers to camp and not provide the innings for them to show us which is which."
Dipoto doesn't appear concerned that most of the veterans -- De Fratus with the Phillies, Cook with the A's and Red Sox, Scribner with the A's, Peralta with the Dodgers and even Cishek with the Marlins and Cardinals -- didn't have good seasons last year for various reasons.
"We did pack it with a little bit of volume so that in the event that one of the guys that we hope bounces back doesn't, there are other options," he said. "I think it's important to make sure that you've built enough depth to absorb the likely outcome, which is they're all not going to bounce back and have good seasons.
"But I say that ... if you think you've got it figured out, you don't. The bullpen is about as unpredictable as it gets."
The only thing certain about this year's relief crew is that it will include new names and faces. None of the five returning relievers -- Furbush, Guaipe, Nuno, Zych and David Rollins -- threw more than 27 innings for Seattle in 2015. Since midseason of last year, Smith, Wilhelmsen, Farquhar, Joe Beimel, Dominic Leone, Logan Kensing, Mark Lowe, Lucas Luetge, Yoervis Medina, Edgar Olmos, Tyler Olson, Jose Ramieerz, JC Ramirez, Rob Rasmussen and Fernando Rodney have all been traded or released.
So, yes, this year's Spring Training has a "first day at the new school'' feel to it as a host of newcomers go about introducing themselves.
"It's fun," said Furbush, one of the few holdovers. "There are definitely new questions to be asked every day. Everybody is talking and trying to figure out how each person ticks, where they're from, what they're about. I'm just trying to learn a lot about my new teammates, and hopefully they're learning a little about me."
And ultimately, the Mariners will learn if the new pieces all fit together well enough to help Servais shine in his first season as skipper.