Seattle Mariners takeaways: Bullpen rebounds, offense stays cool

May 30, 2024, 5:14 PM

Seattle Mariners reliever Trent Thornton...

Trent Thornton of the Seattle Mariners reacts during the seventh inning of a 2024 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners took advantage of an opportunity to create separation between themselves and the Houston Astros, taking three of four games against their AL West rivals.

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The Mariners couldn’t pull off the sweep and move to a season-best six game above .500 in Thursday’s series finale, but they rebounded with the series victory after a 4-6 road trip. With the four-game set in the books, the Mariners remain in first place in the AL West at 31-27 and moved to 5 1/2 games in front of third-place Houston and three games in front of second-place Texas.

Here’s three observations from the Mariners’ series victory over the Astros.

Bullpen refinds groove

The bullpen has long been a strength for the Mariners. Over the years, Seattle has developed a knack for finding castoffs and turning them into reliable arms (see Paul Sewald, Justin Topa, Gabe Speier, etc.), but the bullpen has faced it’s share of adversity this season. Standout high-leverage arm Matt Brash was shut down in spring training, had Tommy John surgery and is out for the season, offseason addition Gregory Santos is still working his way back from injury and is yet to pitch this season, and left-hander Tayler Saucedo recently had a short stint on the IL.

Despite missing key pieces, Seattle’s bullpen was solid early on thanks in large part to the efforts of closer Andrés Muñoz and the left-handed Speier. However, Mariners relievers struggled during a 10-game road trip that included the dangerous lineups of the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. Seattle’s bullpen surrendered 20 runs – all earned – 30 hits, 13 walks and five homers over 25 2/3 innings. Their 7.01 ERA during that stretch was 27th in MLB, and it came while being called upon to throw less innings than all but one other bullpen in baseball.

But the bullpen turned it around during the series with the Astros, tossing 13 scoreless innings while playing a vital role in claiming three of four games. Mariners relievers allowed just three hits one walk and struck out 13 against Houston, a team that entered Thursday ranked in the top 10 in MLB in batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored, home runs and wRC+.

The contributions came from all over with all eight relievers making at least one appearance in the series. That includes recently acquired Mike Baumann retiring the side in order in the 10th inning of Wednesday’s game for his first win as a Mariner, and left-hander Kirby Snead providing three important innings in Thursday’s loss to keep the bullpen rested for this weekend’s series with the Los Angles Angels, which closes Seattle’s gauntlet of 28 games in 29 days.

“The bullpen has been really good here on this homestand,” Servais said. “… They’re all doing a little bit more, and it’s good to have Sauce back in the mix as well. That’s what you need. The bullpen is just like any other part of your team, they’re going to have ebbs and flows with bad stretches. So you gotta stick with them and make sure they’re in a good mental state.”

Offensive still searching for break through

The Mariners had only outscored the lowly Chicago White Sox entering the series with Houston, but the Astros inconsistent pitching offered the M’s a chance to boost their offensive numbers. That never happened as the Mariners relied on their pitching and got just enough from the offense to win three games by one run apiece. In fact, Houston outscored Seattle by one run in the series after winning 4-0 on Thursday.

The Mariners have scored more than four runs just once in their past nine games and have been held to two or fewer five times during that stretch. The offensive struggles peaked during Thursday’s series finale, with Seattle mustering just two hits and no runs over six innings off Houston rookie Spencer Arrighetti. The 24 year old had allowed two or more runs in each of his previous eight starts and had completed the sixth inning just once. He entered the matchup with a 6.93 ERA, but lowered it to 5.98 while fanning a career-best eight batters. After striking out just five times in the series opener, Mariners batters struck out 41 times in the next three games.

The one bright spot for the offense was that it continued apply pressure in high-stakes moments late. Seattle rallied for three runs in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 4-2 victory, and it loaded bases in the ninth and 10th innings of Wednesday’s 2-1 win.

“The quality of at-bats late in the game, really important and it’s allowed us to come from behind,” Servais said. “And it’s not just always getting a big hit, but you’re creating opportunities, you’re creating traffic, you’re getting the ball in play or putting pressure on the defense, and things have gone our way (in those situations). It’s not the perfect formula or the perfect recipe to win a lot of games. You need to be more consistent offensively. We know that, and hopefully it picks up.”

Garver decision could improve lineup options

Servais shook up the lineup on Wednesday by giving veteran Mitch Garver his first regular-season appearance as a Mariner at catcher. Garver, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason to be the team’s primary designated hitter, has played most of his career games behind the plate, but Seattle’s plan was to use him exclusively at DH due to past injury issues. Servais had Garver on a “pitch count” Wednesday and replaced him with Cal Raleigh in the seventh inning.

The 33-year-old Garver caught only one game in spring training, but he remained active in the team’s catchers meetings and caught bullpens through the season’s first two months. Servais said that was a decision Garver made when they spoke in spring training about how Garver would be used. He also had high praises for Garver’s efforts behind the plate Wednesday.

“I thought he was awesome. I was really impressed,” Servais said. “People don’t realize how hard it is to do. He’s not caught one game since early March.”

Servais said he’s planning to use Garver at catcher again but was non-committal to how often.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I do want to continue to give him some days catching, maybe once a week, maybe once every couple weeks.”

Garver was back in the lineup at DH on Thursday with Raleigh catching. Normal backup catcher Seby Zavala didn’t appear in the four-game series.

If Garver become a more frequent fixture behind the plate, that opens a number of different options for the Mariners’ lineup and roster construction. The Mariners could give Raleigh more rest and time at DH with the hopes Garver will provide more of an offensive spark than Zavala, and Seattle could move Zavala to the minors to get him more regular playing time. Playing Garver at catcher would also give the Mariners a way to give Mitch Haniger more games at DH and less time in right field, where he’s been amongst MLB’s worst defenders with minus-five outs above average.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Where GM Hollander sees improvement coming for first-place Mariners
• Will Mariners’ AL West rivals turn it around? Morosi weighs in
• Ranked: Mariners’ five most deserving All-Star candidates
• Mariners hitters wanted team to acquire their new reliever
• Seattle Mariners prospect earns promotion after he ‘destroyed’ Double-A

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