Both pitchers have been solid for a Mariners' bullpen in need of some stability

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OAKLAND — There were times this spring when it seemed unlikely that neither Marc Rzepczynski  nor Nick Vincent could make an outing without allowing at least a run or two. Both were expected to fill key roles in the Mariners bullpen with Rzepczynski serving as the late-inning lefty specialist and Vincent as a middle-innings reliever, used against pockets of right-handed hitters.

But it didn’t matter who they were facing this spring, they were giving up hits and runs. Rzepczynski made 10 appearances, pitching 7 2/3 innings, giving up nine runs (eight earned) on 14 hits with three homers. Vincent was worse. In  nine outings and eight innings pitched, he was rocked for 10 runs (eight earned), on 12 hits, including five home runs. Neither inspired confidence amongst the fanbase.

At the time, Mariners manager Scott Servais seemed unshaken, reminding reporters that spring training numbers were meaningless and the thin air of Arizona made it miserable for pitchers like Vincent and Rzepczynski. All  would be fine in the regular season.

Thus far, Servais has been mostly right. Both Rzepczynski and Vincent have pitched much better than their spring training outings would have indicated. And with the Mariners’ bullpen still trying to gain traction and find roles while battling injuries, they’ve been needed.

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Rzepzcynski has allowed just one hit over seven relief appearances — a total of 4 1/3 scoreless innings pitched. Dating back to Aug. 5, 2016, he hasn’t allowed an earned run in 28 of his 29 relief appearances. Left-handed batters are hitting just .116 against him. It hasn’t been completely dominant. Rzepzcynski has allowed some hard contact in his outings, but he has stranded all eight of the runners he’s inherited.

“He’s been really good,” Servais said. “And it’s his veteran presence as much as anything. We have a really young bullpen. We’ve got guys down there that are young literally and also don’t have much experience in this league on top of it. The presence down there of how to go about your business, how to prepare, it’s been really good. And when he takes the mound, he’s been attacking them. He’s going right after them. He certainly trusts his stuff and he’s had good results. I feel good when we put him in there.”

After the awful spring and a shaky start to the season, Vincent has found his rhythm and command on the mound. Vincent hasn’t allowed a hit in his last four appearances, pitching 4 1/3 shutout innings. Of the 13 batters he’s faced in that span, he struck out eight of them.

“Nick is throwing the ball really well,” Servais said. “He’s probably our most reliable guy down there right now just based on how he’s doing. That’s kind of what we saw last year for a lot of long stretches.”

Even after seeing him do this last season, Servais is still amazed by Vincent’s strikeout numbers despite having a fastball that tops out around 91 mph.

“He’s making pitches and expanding the strikezone,” Servais said. “I don’t know how he does it. There’s some deception in there and the late movement and the cutter has been really effective for him. Early in the year, he struggled a little bit with the lefties like last year. But he’s made some adjustments and he’s getting through those guys pretty well. He lives on the edges of the plate and the strike zone and he can expand it when he needs to.”

 

Also …

Jean Segura traveled to Little Rock on Thursday to join Class AA Arkansas for his rehab stint. He’s scheduled to be at designated hitter on Friday night. He will play shortstop on Saturday. Segura could also play Sunday if needed and join the team in Detroit on the Monday offday.

Segura is actually familiar with Little Rock having played there in 2012 as a minor leaguer in the Angels’ organization.

 

Reliever Steve Cishek has been transferred to Class AAA Tacoma for his rehab stint. He will pitch on Friday for the Rainiers in El Paso. Cishek is expected to work back-to-back games for Tacoma. The hope is that he will be ready to return to the bullpen on this road trip.

 

Starting pitcher vs. hitters matchups 

A’s numbers vs. James Paxton

The last time Cesar Valdez pitched in the big leagues was in 2010 with the Diamondbacks. So no players on the Mariners have faced him at the big league level.

 

On this day in Mariners’ history …

1990 – Brian Holman throws 8.2 perfect innings in front of a sell-out crowd in Oakland. Ken Phelps pinch-hits with two outs in the 9th, and ruins Holman’s bid for perfection with a first-pitch, home run to right field. Holman strikes out Rickey Henderson to finish with a one-hitter. Holman struck out seven facing just 28 men as the Mariners win, 6-1.

1992 – Randy Johnson throws his second consecutive four-hit shutout on this date vs. Minnesota (also April 11 vs. KC). Johnson strikes out 21 in the two games (11 & 10 K’s respectively).

1998 – Alex Rodriguez sets a Mariners record with eight long hits in four consecutive games (four doubles, two triples, two homers).

2001 – Anaheim pitching has a tough time quieting Mariners bats as Seattle sends 29 batters to the plate with no strikeouts for the first time since May 28, 1998 vs. Tampa Bay.

2013 – The Mariners were shut out 5-0 for the second straight game (7-0 on 4/19), becoming the first opposing team to be held to zero runs in consecutive games at Rangers Ballpark (opened in 1994).

2015 – Mariners hit season-high 5 doubles including 2 from Robinson Canó, but fall 7-5 to Houston.

2015 – Nelson Cruz named AL Player of the Week.

 

Game notes