Is the shaky start for Mariners bullpen a cause for concern?

Apr 6, 2018, 1:38 PM
Mariners reliever Juan Nicasio has struggled in two of his three outings thus far. (AP)...
Mariners reliever Juan Nicasio has struggled in two of his three outings thus far. (AP)

The bullpen was expected to be a strength for the Mariners in 2018, but through the first week of the year, that hasn’t really come to fruition.

On the one hand, closer Edwin Diaz has been lights out, as eight of his nine outs recorded have been strikeouts and the only base runners he has allowed have been on hit batsmen.

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The rest of the bullpen has been inconsistent out of the gate, though. Take Diaz’s three scoreless innings out of the equation and Seattle’s relievers have a 4.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, and their four home runs given up are tied for second-most in the majors.

It’s obviously early in the season and too early to make any declarations regarding the Mariners, but the bullpen’s shaky start is worth keeping an eye on.

“Of all the things that I’m worried about with this team right now, the bullpen is front and center,” said 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk on Friday, a day after the bullpen gave up two runs in a 4-2 loss to Minnesota. “To see (Juan) Nicasio have a second tough outing (Tuesday), and yesterday you get a couple of guys, (Nick) Vincent and (Dan) Altavilla, giving up big runs – of all the things that I’m worried about, the bullpen is No. 1.”

The Mariners have put some extra thought into building up their bullpen, a trend seen more and more in the majors in recent years, but it has Tom Wassell scratching his head.

“Bullpens traditionally have been the toughest thing to build – they’re certainly the most unpredictable element of your team year to year,” Wassell said while serving as Salk’s guest co-host on Brock and Salk. “(The Mariners have) this offense, you’ve got this rotation, and yet it seems like the goal is to turn it over to a bunch of guys we’re really not sure about.”

And that’s the sticking point for Wassell, who isn’t sold on Altavilla, Nicasio and others getting so much action in high-leverage situations.

The Mariners were counting on having another solid veteran arm in the bullpen this season: David Phelps. But the right-hander had to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery after an injury towards the end of spring training, and a core of strong set-up and middle relief pitchers was suddenly down one very big piece that as of yet really hasn’t been replaced by general manager Jerry Dipoto.

“I think they were trying to build (a strong bullpen), and I think that David Phelps injury, that comes back to bite you quite a bit,” Salk said. “… I just don’t know that the Mariners have enough guys in the bullpen that (manager) Scott Servais can really trust on a day-to-day basis.”

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Is the shaky start for Mariners bullpen a cause for concern?