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Mariners RHP Yoshihisa Hirano
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Mariners notebook: New plan for bullpen, late-innings guy identified

Mariners manager Scott Servais said Yoshihisa Hirano will be leaned on in the late innings. (Getty)

With Major League Baseball’s new rules requiring pitchers to face three batters or pitch to the end of an inning and pitching staffs limited to 13, so comes adjustments for teams and players. For the Mariners, the situational lefty in the bullpen was not a part of the roster plan this season, but more versatility will be required from the relievers who make the 26-man roster, according to manager Scott Servais.

Wednesday’s M’s notebook: Kikuchi’s changes evident at start of spring

“Guys are going to have to have more weapons, certainly it will affect the left-handed pitchers,” he said. “It will change a little bit how we prepare our guys this spring.”

In addition to the new rule, the makeup of the Mariners’ rotation will necessitate leaning a bit more on the bullpen. With the likelihood of two pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery in the rotation – Kendall Graveman and the newly-signed Taijuan Walker – plus Justus Sheffield’s limited experience and Yusei Kikuchi averaging just five innings per start last year, multiple innings will most likely be needed from multiple relievers. To that end, their usage in spring training will look different.

“I am probably going to make a few more in-inning pitching changes,” said Servais. “I want to get guys out of the ‘I’m getting three outs’ or ‘I am going one inning’ mentality, because I think how our pitching staff is built this year we will need guys who can get four outs, five outs, we will need guys who can get eight outs. We are going to start training that way here.”

The Mariners have a number of relievers or swing-type pitchers including Manny Bañuelos, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wei-Yin Chen in camp that can be leaned on from the get-go for multiple innings but will look to build up even more.

Who will the Mariners turn to in late innings?

Servais confirmed that newly acquired veteran reliever Yoshihisa Hirano will get the ball at the end of ballgames or in late-innings leverage situations to start the year. He also indicated that more help could be on the way.

“The addition of Hirano is very important for us,” he said. “I think it is really valuable in this position if you have a couple of veteran guys in your bullpen that have a routine. There’s not going to be any situation or game that is too big for them. I thought it was a great pickup for us and we might pick up a couple more guys who can help on the back end. We don’t want to take opportunities away from our young players but understanding the games we have leads, early in the season let’s give it to the veteran guy, let’s try to hang on and win those games. I think Hirano is an important pickup for us.”

Ideally at some point in the season the late innings can be handed over to the young relievers. In a rebuilding year with a young club, however, wins are precious. Giving up too many of them late can have a negative effect on a team. Good to see there is an appreciation of this.

Bishop’s health status

I spoke with outfielder Braden Bishop on Thursday morning and greeted him with a line he said he’s heard hundreds of times this winter.

“How’s the spleen?”

The spleen is doing just fine, thank you very much, but Bishop is going to take some extra precautions with it this year going back to some gear he wore as a high school football player. Bishop will be wearing a padded shirt under his jersey to give his rib and spine area a bit more protection.

“I mean it just makes sense, right,” he asked?

Well, yes.

Bishop, who suffered his spleen injury and underwent surgery to repair it last June, said he didn’t start feeling physically normal until November. Mentally, that took some time. An injury to an internal organ is a serious thing and he is taking no chances.

Notes

• Ichiro is in camp, as expected, but for the first time it is as a staff member and not a player. He will work with the outfielders and base runners and possibly throw some batting practice.

• The Mariners’ May 14 game against the A’s has been switched to a 12:40 p.m. start. It was originally set for 7:10.

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