GM Jerry Dipoto ‘can’t say enough’ about Mariners bullpen

Apr 21, 2016, 5:19 PM | Updated: Apr 22, 2016, 9:26 am
Steve Cishek has landed on the DL for the first time in his career with left hip labrum tear. (AP)...
Steve Cishek has landed on the DL for the first time in his career with left hip labrum tear. (AP)

The Mariners wrapped up a series win in Cleveland on Thursday, and though it was a home run given up by the bullpen that caused the game to go extra innings, it was also the bullpen that kept Seattle in it long enough for Robinson Cano to hit the eventual game-winning homer.

Even though the relievers have had a bit of a long-ball problem – they’ve given up five in 14 games – that isn’t enough to overshadow the group’s surprising success early on this season. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, the architect of the group and a former major-league reliever himself, certainly seemed pleased with the pen’s performance while talking to “Danny, Dave and Moore” Thursday on 710 ESPN Seattle.

“I can’t say enough about what the pen has done,” he said. “Overall the group has just been phenomenal. Every single guy down there has contributed positively and they’ve done it fairly regularly.”

They’ve needed to, as well, as Seattle’s starting pitchers have struggled to make it late into games.

“We haven’t gotten a lot of length out of our starting rotation to this point. We’ve stumbled and started with our starters for the most part, and the one thing that’s been very consistent from opening day forward has been our bullpen. Sometimes you go through streaks like that,” Dipoto said.

The Mariners have a 2.70 bullpen ERA through Thursday, and only one member of the group has an individual ERA over 4.00. Despite nearly the whole pen being new to Seattle this season, the relievers have meshed well and are fitting into their roles.

“The group down there, they’ve been through it. There’s some veteran guys; they understand how to pitch in their roles. And the young guys, (Mike) Montgomery and (Tony) Zych, have really stood out. If nothing else, the physical stuff really stands up. So far, so good … Couldn’t be happier with what that group’s done, and they’ve earned our trust.”

Everything going according to plan with Zunino

Mike Zunino has been the talk of the Pacific Coast League, earning the Triple-A circuit’s player of the week award after torching opposing pitchers in the early going of the Tacoma Rainiers’ season. While it may seem his gaudy numbers – .413 average, 1.298 OPS, six homers and 18 RBIs in 11 games – are enough to make the Mariners consider bringing the 25-year-old catcher back up the bigs, Dipoto echoed the sentiments of manager Scott Servais earlier this week by maintaining that the team is quite content in letting him continue his work in the minors.

“Actually, what it does is it confirms our plan was the right one,” Dipoto said. “This was the plan the whole time, to give him the opportunity just to kind of reset and put himself in the position to get back to the things that he’s done well.”

The most eye-opening stats for Zunino are the power numbers, which really isn’t anything new. He hit 22 home runs in his first full season with the Mariners in 2014, and he has 38 for his career in 295 MLB games. The good news is that he currently also has a strong average going along with those numbers, which is more in line with how he hit as a college star with the Florida Gators from 2010-12.

“What we’ve seen from Mike is very encouraging. He’s powdered some balls, he’s had a really good 10-day stretch, and the power game has been unbelievable – and we’ve seen that before historically from Mike Zunino,” Dipoto said. “This was an opportunity for him to go back and just remember who he is.”

It sounds like Zunino will get the chance to torture Triple-A pitching for quite a while longer, too.

“There is no firm time that we’ve determined when we will add him back to the team, and some of that’s gonna be contingent on what the guys here do, some of it’s gonna be contingent on health,” Dipoto said.

“At the big-league level, I think we’re getting really solid production (at catcher) out of Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger. Obviously having Mike in Triple-A gives us a great luxury. … We’re in no rush, and Mike knew that when we were leaving spring training. This was an opportunity for everybody to settle in, and he’s taking advantage of this opportunity.”

No starting pitcher.

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