What you need to know about potential new Mariners closer Hunter Strickland

Jan 27, 2019, 1:04 AM | Updated: 4:19 pm
New Mariners RHP Hunter Strickland has closer experience with 14 saves in 2018. (AP)...
New Mariners RHP Hunter Strickland has closer experience with 14 saves in 2018. (AP)

The position group to take the biggest hit this offseason during the Mariners’ “re-imagining” of their roster has been the bullpen.

With so many stars gone, who are the M’s to keep an eye on?

Edwin Díaz is preparing to take the Big Apple by storm as closer for the New York Mets. Fellow one-time All-Star Alex Colomé now calls the Windy City his home. Reliable left-hander James Pazos and veteran Juan Nicasio were shipped to the Phillies in the Jean Segura trade. Nick Vincent, Zach Duke and Adam Warren are all free agents unlikely to return to Seattle.

The Mariners made official Sunday the most significant signing yet for their 2019 bullpen, however, in powerful right-hander Hunter Strickland.

Strickland joins lefty specialist Zac Rosscup and righties Cory Gearrin and Anthony Swarzak as relief additions for Seattle this offseason, and coming off a season in which he saved 14 games for San Francisco, he appears the odds-on favorite to be Mariners closer this year.

Here are few things to know about Strickland.

Playoff experience

Strickland made his MLB debut in 2014, his age-25 season, and while he appeared in only nine games in the regular season, he turned out to be one of San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s favorite names to call out of the bullpen en route to a championship.

Strickland appeared in eight postseason games that year, getting the Giants out of a bases-loaded jam with three fastballs that inched up to 100 mph in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, recording a save in Game 2 of the NLDS, and making a pair of scoreless one-inning outings against Kansas City in the World Series.

Strickland ultimately was up and down that year, as the rookie allowed five home runs over the course of those playoffs, but he was close to dominant when the Giants returned to the postseason in 2016. He pitched three times in the NLDS against the eventual World Series champion Cubs, allowing no runs on one hit and a walk with three strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings.

Takeaways: Mariners will have more fluid lineup this year

High-leverage track record

After his MLB debut, the hard-throwing Strickland quickly figured into the back-end of San Francisco’s bullpen. He had a 2.45 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and registered 20 holds over 55 appearances in his first full season of 2015, followed up with a 3.10 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 18 holds in 72 games in 2016, and finished 2017 with a 2.64 ERA and 21 holds.

In 2018, he was promoted to closer and saved 13 games before suffering a midseason injury, and when he returned after two months out of action the Giants opted to keep lefty Will Smith in the closer role. Strickland owned an impressive 2.01 ERA going into June 18, but that day he gave up three runs to blow a save against the Marlins and suffered his injury, and he added just one more save while his ERA ballooned to 3.97 as he struggled following his return from the disabled list in August.

Fiery personality

Any Mariners fans holding out the tiniest bit of hope that the team might swoop in at the last minute to try and sign superstar free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper won’t like this part: Strickland and Harper are not buddies. Not after Strickland drilled Harper in the hip in 2017, which brought to head a beef that started when Harper hit a pair of home runs off Strickland in the 2014 NLDS.

Strickland and Harper exchanged some blows and the benches cleared after the HBP in 2017, and that is neither the first time the benches cleared while Strickland was on the mound nor the only famous punch Strickland has thrown.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland and Royals catcher Salvador Perez had a yelling match that brought both teams onto the field following a home run by Omar Infante. As for his other well-known punch, the aforementioned injury he suffered after a blown save against the Marlins last June was a broken hand due to punching a door out of frustration.

Dipoto explains why 2020-21 focus gives M’s better shot at AL’s elite

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