Where did Mariners’ lockdown bullpen come from? Breakout reliever Paul Sewald sheds some light

Jul 11, 2021, 1:55 AM | Updated: 2:03 am
Mariners RHP Paul Sewald...
Paul Sewald has been dominant for the Mariners out of the bullpen this season. (Getty)

The Mariners have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this year, and a lot of that is due to the performance of their bullpen, which has been one of MLB’s best.

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Much like with the team’s record (48-42 entering Sunday), the bullpen establishing itself as strength for the club has caught the league by surprise, and that’s because several arms have really come out of nowhere to shine for the Mariners. Perhaps the biggest surprise star of the group is Paul Sewald, who has emerged as a legit late-inning option for Seattle.

Since being called up to the Mariners’ MLB roster in mid-May from Triple-A Tacoma, Sewald has been a force, to say the least.

In 25 games, Sewald boasts a 1.40 ERA with 44 strikeouts to 12 walks, picking up two saves and seven holds along the way. Opponents are hitting just .141 off Sewald, and he hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 18 outings. For the season, Sewald has allowed only four earned runs over 25 2/3 innings, and three came in a single appearance.

On Friday, Sewald joined Bob Stelton and Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob prior to the Mariners’ win over the Los Angeles Angels, and the 31-year-old right-hander shared some insight into his season as well as the performance of the team and, more specifically, the bullpen.

When discussing his own success, Sewald didn’t hide the fact that he’s exceeding his own expectations.

“It’s definitely surprised me,” he said of his 2021 success. “I always thought I could be a fantastic major league pitcher, but to pitch as well as I have is definitely a little bit of a surprise based on my previous four seasons, of course. But I’ve made adjustments in fastballs and sliders in the way we throw them and how much we throw them. I always thought I could be a little bit better than I have been, and it’s worked out really well since I’ve gotten up (to the MLB level with the Mariners).”

Prior to joining the Mariners on a minor league deal this year, Sewald appeared in four seasons with the New York Mets and had his fair share of struggles and inconsistencies. Since joining the Mariners, though, he’s made some key adjustments that have allowed him to dominate out of the bullpen.

Everyone who’s watched Sewald pitch this season knows about his slider, which is his go-to offering. The way he’s throwing that pitch is something that he’s changed since coming to the Mariners.

Sewald said he was told that he should focus on having more “sweep” and horizontal movement with the pitch, rather than focusing on depth like he had in the past. The results speak for themselves.

“I just started worrying about sweeping it as much as I can and throwing it as hard as I can and not worrying about if it has depth or anything like that,” he said.

And with the fastball, Sewald has been better at throwing it up in the zone. During his time with the Mets, Sewald had been told he needed to throw up more, but he and the club never figured out how exactly he could go about doing that. He’s figured out that “how” during his time in Seattle.

Sewald isn’t the only bullpen arm putting up surprisingly good numbers for the Mariners, whose relievers rank second in the American League in walks per nine innings (3.17), third in WHIP (1.21), fourth in strikeouts to walk ratio (2.87), and fifth in opponent batting average (.230). Drew Steckenrider and JT Chargois are two more players the Mariners took a chance on, and they, like Sewald, have emerged as legit late-inning options for manager Scott Servais.

“I don’t want to speak for JT or Drew, but they come from a similar situation where we’ve had success in the major leagues,” Sewald said. “We haven’t had consistent success … but we have had success. So everyone knew that we could do it, but could we do it on a consistent basis?”

So far in 2021, those three have been very consistent. Sewald credits the Mariners’ front office led by general manager Jerry Dipoto and their analytics department for helping him, Steckenrider and Chargois break out in 2021.

“Jerry and the team took chances on us and then gave their best analytical information to all three of us … and we’ve just really capitalized on what do I do really, really well,” he said. “Well, let’s do that and minimize what I don’t do well. And it’s really worked out well for all three of us. It’s the best stretch any of us have had with success in the big leagues as far as consistency. It’s been really fun to watch, it’s been great for our entire bullpen.”

The bullpen having unknown names contributing to big wins matches up with how the Mariners club as a whole has operated of late. Sewald said he loves the mentality of his team.

“We may be a young team that doesn’t have a ton of big names on the national scene, but everyone grinds it out every day as hard as they can,” Sewald said. “We work hard and it’s just fun to be around this team. We don’t talk about how well we’re doing. We just go out there and have some fun.”

Listen to the full interview at this link or in the player below.

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Where did Mariners’ lockdown bullpen come from? Breakout reliever Paul Sewald sheds some light