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O’Neil: Mariners’ 9th-inning collapse was a product of flawed strategy

Mariners reliever Steve Cishek is much more effective against right-handed batters than lefties, which made it puzzling that he remained in a one-run game to face the left-handed hitting Matt Joyce in the ninth inning on Tuesday.

That decision went from curious to infuriating when Marc Rzepczynski – a left-handed specialist – was still warming up in the bullpen while Joyce hit the go-ahead home run.

Rzepczynski gave up a three-run home run later in the inning to a right-handed batter, which only underscored the disaster that the ninth inning has become for Seattle’s bullpen. But as bad as the results were in the Mariners’ 9-6 loss to Oakland on Tuesday, the decision-making is what was really troubling.

The Mariners entered the game knowing there was a crisis of sorts in their bullpen. Closer Edwin Diaz hadn’t just lost his command, he had no control on Monday night, walking four batters while getting only one out and having to be pulled so Tony Zych could close out the game. Manager Scott Servais indicated before the game that Seattle would use a committee to close out games, and the ninth inning made it evident that the Mariners were making it up as they went along.

Here were Seattle’s options:

• The Mariners could have used Nick Vincent as their closer. He has statistically been their most consistently effective reliever over the past 200 regular-season games.

• Or they could have used Rzepczynski, who had yet to allow a run in 2017.

• Or they could have used Cishek, a former closer who has the troubling caveat that he was coming off hip surgery and had thrown all of four major-league pitches this season.

• Or the Mariners could have gone with the tandem of Cishek against righties and Rzepczynski against lefties, which is certainly what it seemed Seattle was thinking when the inning began.

Instead, the Mariners went with a mish-mashed approach in which Cishek started the inning against the right-handed hitting Rajai Davis, stayed in the game against the leftie Joyce with the specious statistical trend that Joyce – in 18 at-bats against lefties this season – was hitting southpaws better than right-handers. That statistical trend has not held up through his career, though.

By the time Rzepczynski was summoned, Seattle’s lead was gone and there was a runner on first base. That he ultimately surrendered a three-run homer to the right-handed hitting Mark Canha wasn’t just the final nail in the coffin so much as a fitting result for a flawed decision-making process.