Dipoto talks Mariners’ ‘pooped’ bullpen, lessons Woo is learning

Sep 7, 2023, 1:31 PM | Updated: 1:40 pm

Seattle Mariners Bryan Woo...

Bryan Woo of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Nationals on June 27, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The unquestioned strength of the Seattle Mariners this season has been the team’s pitching staff, but that’s been a bit of a struggle of late.

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Whether it’s the rotation or the bullpen, getting outs and preventing runs has been harder over this recent roadtrip, and the team’s next off day isn’t until next Thursday. Until then, the M’s have four games against the Tampa Bay Rays, who currently hold the top American League wild card spot, and then three games at home against the Los Angeles Angels.

During this week’s Jerry Dipoto Show on Seattle Sports, the president of baseball operations for the Mariners discussed the team’s bullpen as well as one young starting pitcher.

Starting with the ‘pen, which has been used a lot and has not been nearly as effective over the last week, Dipoto put it bluntly.

“I think they’re pooped, honestly, for lack of a better way to put it,” he said. ” … We have asked them to throw a lot of innings in the last seven to 10 days.”

Dipoto said the bullpen’s usage really began to tick up last homestand when George Kirby was scratched from his start against the Oakland A’s due to illness. The Mariners had to use a bullpen day with Luke Weaver starting the game on short notice, and since then, the team’s had just two starters pitch at least six innings.

“There were a number of short starts of the three- to five-inning variety — some by design and some not necessarily by design,” Dipoto said. “And that’s put a lot of stress on that bullpen. I’m loath to judge performance when I know we’re asking a ton of them. It’s been a real grind, because every one of these games has been close, and they’ve been out there for every one of them.”

So how can the Mariners help their bullpen?

Dipoto said there’s not much the team can do from a roster move perspective, but that two simple things will help the bullpen the most.

“The answer to the question is score a bunch of runs, guys, and hope our starting pitcher pitches deep tonight,” he said.

Also on the pitching side, rookie Bryan Woo had a rough start on Monday, allowing five runs in four innings. Woo’s command was off as he hit three of the first eight batters he faced, and he also walked three and didn’t record any strikeouts.

Woo’s workload and usage has been a key story with the 2023 Mariners as the team has had four starting pitchers suffer season-ending injuries in Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Emerson Hancock and Easton McGee. That’s led not only to Woo being in the rotation, but being in a five-man turn when the M’s were hoping to utilize a six-man rotation for the final month-plus of the season.

Woo hasn’t pitched much since entering college due to Tommy John, and he’d pitched just 101 minor league innings before debuting in June. Now, he’s made 14 starts and pitched 70 innings at the MLB level.

“I think he’s learning great lessons,” Dipoto said. “And that’s the point with trying to manage these young pitchers through the long season. We could have managed this in a way — and this goes back to even 2021 with Logan Gilbert — we could have managed this to a specific mark, inning mark, where we just shut them down and they reach that spot. But it’s not conducive to stretching that pitcher out and teaching them how to get through the long season. And right now, Bryan’s learning those lessons.

“And he’s learning those lessons, frankly, without ever really having gone through that in the minor leagues. He’s doing something on many levels that he’s not done before. He’s kind of unique in that way. And I think he’s done an awesome job with it.”

The Mariners have not yet announced their Saturday or Sunday starting pitchers, but Saturday is Woo’s scheduled start day after he pitched on Monday.

“We’re trying to be very careful in how we manage it, and we’ll try to get creative this week in how we manage his next start,” Dipoto said. “And like I’ve said throughout (the season), the biggest thing for us was managing what I would say is a traditional five-day rotation, so when the starting pitcher is pitching on the fifth day after four days of rest, we want to minimize the number of times that’s happening with some of our young pitchers, and Bryan is certainly at the top of that list.”

Listen to this week’s Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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Drayer’s Mariners Notebook: Tough September, Muñoz and more
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• Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, Andrés Muñoz win AL awards for August
• Mariners Check-In: How Seattle’s trade deadline looks a month later
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Dipoto talks Mariners’ ‘pooped’ bullpen, lessons Woo is learning