SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners ‘starting to get there’ in building a bullpen for the future

Sep 16, 2019, 5:22 PM
Mariners RHP Sam Tuivailala...
Mariners reliever Sam Tuivailala has a 1.96 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 19 games this season. (AP)
(AP)

It has been a long and often painful road watching the Mariners’ relievers this year. To be clear, this was expected as the bullpen was not an area of focus in year one of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s rebuild plan, but there appears to be at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for the bullpen going forward.

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Of the 33 pitchers who have thrown innings in relief this year – position players and one Justus Sheffield “headlining” outing excluded – a good number have emerged as possible bullpen pieces going forward. This will provide a different look next year for the Mariners in spring training.

While before under Dipoto the bulk of the Mariners’ bullpen arms brought into camp were attached to names most were not familiar with (usually relievers from other organizations signed to minor league contracts), most of the relievers in Peoria next spring should have the ability to hit the ground running as the Mariners will already have history with them.

“It’s huge,” said manager Scott Servais. “It’s not just getting the guy from waivers from another organization – you get ’em in here, introduce them to coaches, our process, here’s what we value, our catchers. It takes a while as a catcher to get to know this guy can actually execute these pitches in this spot or he can’t. Knowing our guys, having our group together in spring training, it’s really going to change what we have been doing the last few years and I am really excited about that. The continuity, the familiarly the guys have with themselves, it really helps.”

Dipoto’s philosophy with the bullpen this year was to go with numbers and see what shook out. Relievers that he thought could benefit from Mariners coaching – which included diving into the biomechanics of the pitcher and an analytical breakdown to maximize pitch usage – were claimed off waivers at an almost frenetic pace. Some saw improvement, some did not, but in the end the Mariners are left with an interesting group that has the potential to be at least the base of a more permanent bullpen with bigger pieces to be added later.

Servais listed Matt Magill, Anthony Bass, Sam Tuivailala, Dan Altavilla, Taylor Guilbeau and Erik Swanson as relievers who have at the very least at times been pitchers he has liked what he has seen from. With all of them there is more to be learned as none have spent a full year on the Mariners’ roster, and the potential for further development should exist.

Adams brings the second-best strikeouts per nine innings rate in baseball for relievers who have thrown 29 innings or more. What does he look at 55 innings?

There is no question Altavilla has good stuff – very good stuff. Command has always been the question. Have recent changes with his delivery helped?

Guilbeau, a left-hander, was thought by many to be a left-on-left guy only, but in his first 12 innings in the big leagues his splits have been pretty close to neutral.

Matt Wisler shines as an opener, fades in true relief. What value does he bring?

It appears the determination that Swanson is a reliever and not a starter has been made, so what adjustments can he make in his new role?

Brandon Brennan will have survived his Rule 5 year and along with Swanson will be able to be optioned to the minors next year, perhaps giving the Mariners more flexibility than they had in 2019.

On its own, the Mariners’ crop of relievers is not a group you would look to take into a season in which you expect to compete for the playoffs, but that will not be the Mariners goal next season. A solid pen, however – one with more known quantities – could help push them closer as well as help with development, giving a young offense and most likely two young starters a better chance at winning games by holding up their end of bargain.

It is still a work in progress, but the semblance of a bullpen as opposed to a season-long open tryout has the potential to come into focus.

“We are starting to get there,” said Servais. “We’ve also got some really interesting guys coming that aren’t here yet. I think we will have a very, very competitive spring training for a lot of those spots.”

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