Mariners unlikely to keep long reliever in the bullpen
PEORIA, Ariz. – While a few question marks remain with the final spots in the Mariners bullpen, there are fewer questions about how those spots will be used.
There will, of course, be a closer, a situational lefty and guys who can pitch in the setup roles, but don’t look for a designated long reliever. While bullpens throughout baseball have often had a long- or swing-man assigned, the Mariners don’t believe it’s necessary.
“The percentage of outings out of the ‘pen that are five outs or longer is only about 3-4 percent,” said manager Scott Servais, citing the percentage from the Mariners analytics department. “It was a pretty alarming number. Sometimes you put too much priority on the bad game. There are going to be games where something happens. We had a game last year where the guy didn’t even throw a pitch, but I think if you are carrying the extra guy early, then also the fact that you have multiple guys that have (minor-league) options, if you run through a guy you can go get someone the next day.”
With the current roster and depth that should be available in Triple-A, the Mariners can indeed go get help when needed. One thing those players will not be used for: to take it easy on the regulars. Some previous M’s managers mapped out and constantly monitored relievers’ innings throughout the season – looking to avoid eclipsing a total they thought reasonable for each individual. Those managers might take usage into account when making decisions about who was available on any given night. Servais operates differently.
“I don’t put a number on them,” Servais said. “I did when I was a minor-league director. This is the big leagues, it’s about winning. And understand that the win in April is just as important as the win in September.”
The last statement is something that has been emphasized with the players from Day 1 this season. For those on last year’s team, which came up just short of the playoffs, the philosophy doesn’t need much reinforcing. When asked what they learned from that experience, each has answered that it’s the importance of each and every game. This holds true for the manager as well. Don’t look for Servais to sacrifice one game for a future game.
“You have seen me, I like to ride the hot hand, the guys who will take the ball and are producing,” he said. “It’s about production at this level.”
Part of playing the hot hand, or the player who is producing, is knowing how that player is physically on any given day. Rather than mulling over innings charts, Servais will check in personally with his relievers. We saw last year that he went well beyond taking a daily availability report from his pitching coach. Instead, Servais would make his way through the outfield each day during batting practice, chatting with his relievers, looking them in the eye when asking if they were good to go.
Ideally, the Mariners starters will more often than not get into the sixth inning and overuse of the bullpen will not be a concern. A good bullpen starts with a good starting rotation, and this staff has been built on not riding two or three-star pitchers, rather the stability of the entire rotation. However, if the need arises, help should not be far away.