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Mel Stottlemyre Jr pulls Mariners’ bullpen aside after rough week

Mariners reliever Juan Nicasio was part of a bullpen implosion on Friday. (AP)

BALTIMORE – The Mariners’ run through the gauntlet part of their schedule has come to an end with the team going 6-7 in games against Anaheim, Boston and New York.

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The stretch got off to an encouraging start with the sweep of the Angels and split series against the Red Sox at home. Away from Safeco, however, the Mariners stumbled, managing just one win in six games against the Yankees and Red Sox. The good news – or bad news, depending on how you choose to look at it – is in New York and Boston the team did not play its best ball. Far from it, in fact.

Game 1 in Boston and Game 2 in New York were missed opportunities as bullpen meltdowns turned five-run leads into losses. The Mariners showed they could put up runs on the road, just not prevent them. The good news here is that the 10.13 ERA we saw from the bullpen last week was not representative of what we have seen for the majority of the season. Still, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. went to work Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park, gathering the entire pitching staff on the field for a talking to, and then some work. In his eyes it wasn’t a matter of just a few guys being a little off. They had to do things differently.

“The back of the bullpen, they for the most part are built around their fastball,” Stottlemyre pointed out. “We ran into a bit of a buzzsaw against some ball clubs that hit the fastball very well so they need their secondary pitches. It seems like they all have lost the feel for them at the same time.”

Very few pitchers can survive on just a fastball alone, and the trouble with the Mariners relievers the last two weeks was that their tendency had been to get away from their secondary pitches if they didn’t feel quite right. Stottlemyre is looking for more in those situations.

“Sometimes you have got to be creative against these clubs that are having tough at-bats and fouling off fastballs. You have got to do something different,” he said. “Whether it is buzz some guy’s tower and get them off your good fastball away. The other thing we haven’t done a real good job with is when we do throw a breaking ball and we miss, it seems like we come right back into our comfort zone and throwing a fastball again. There needs to be some doubling up and that is something I am going to address with Z (catcher Mike Zunino) about. There has to be some mix. We can’t live and die with just fastballs.”

Stottlemyre also went to work on the mental side of things with his staff. After holding down one-run lead after one-run lead, he saw something different from the group when they gave up big leads.

“I reminded them this is a club that we want to face,” he said. “This is a club that, if we do what we need to do over the course of the rest of the season, we are going to expect to face. We need to get that edge back. We need to let them know who we are and get back to where we have a little bit of a mean streak in us and not back down from it. We need to do the things that we were so good at coming into this road trip. I am hoping that I see some guys with a little bit of edge and a little bit of attitude we need to get back. You have to get back up, you have to battle.”

After the meeting with his players behind third base at Fenway on Saturday, Stottlemyre took a number of them out to the bullpen to work on specific things. Starters can afford to have a work day between starts where they can go all-out or do extra. With relievers, it is different. It is always a tough balance as they need to remain available to pitch that night. Still, extra work was put in with Juan Nicasio on his slider and a few others.

With Mike Leake’s performance Saturday, the relievers all got the night off except for closer Edwin Díaz. On Sunday, Chasen Bradford, who had struggled with the home run ball the previous week, and Nick Vincent, who had a bumpy first outing back from the DL, each threw scoreless innings.

Despite going just 6-7 over the last two weeks, because of the cushion they built up earlier in the month, the Mariners still have a chance to put up their best winning percentage for a month so far this season at 13-9 with six games remaining. The schedule turns favorable once again and they will get back Jean Segura, who has missed the last four games.

While the past week has been disappointing, there are bigger games remaining on the schedule with 13 to play against Houston and 13 against Anaheim in the next three months. If the last two weeks were a test, thankfully, they were midterms and not finals.

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