Young closer Carson Smith has had two subpar outings and Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon believes his struggles are due to fatigue from a heavy workload much of the season.
In a season where his bullpen has been a mess and late innings have been unpredictable, manager Lloyd McClendon knows he needs to avoid using his best reliever for at least two days in a row.
But sitting Carson Smith down with a lead in the ninth inning and tough right-handers coming to the plate is a less-than-ideal situation when trying to win a game.
But after two straight subpar outings in which Smith struggled and took the loss, McClendon may have no choice.
The young interim closer has staved off the effects of a heavy workload for much of the season, but his last two outings have been struggles. Smith faced four batters in the 10th inning of Monday night’s loss to Arizona. The results: walk, strikeout, walk, hit by pitch, lifted from the game. He threw 17 pitches — just six for strikes.
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The problem stemmed from a breakdown in his mechanics, with his front shoulder flying open. Catcher Mike Zunino saw it early and tried to get him to correct it.
“It’s been a tough few games,” Zunino said. “We’ve had a couple of games where our starter hasn’t gone too deep and we’ve had to use a lot of our bullpen. When you aren’t feeling 100 percent, he just lost his mechanics a little bit.
“I told him to stay on me and keep the front shoulder on me and drive the ball to me. When I did that, he threw a couple of good pitches. But that one fastball got away and hit Welington (Castillo), and that was enough to get him out of there.”
McClendon believes the mechanical breakdown is due to fatigue.
“He was flying open because he didn’t have anything left,” McClendon said. “There was nothing there.”
After Monday’s game, Smith wouldn’t use fatigue as a reason for his struggles, saying he felt strong. He made a similar comment after taking the loss on Saturday, giving up two runs on two hits with two walks. Smith never got an out.
“I can’t answer that for him,” McClendon said. “I just saw he was flying open, trying to create velocity and that’s the first sign a pitcher is tired.”
So if McClendon does give Smith two days to rest, who will be his late-inning option with a lead?
“Don’t know yet,” he said.
Mark Lowe would probably be the de facto closer if Smith were not available. Joe Beimel might be used in the ninth if there were some left-handed hitters starting the inning. It’s highly unlikely that Fernando Rodney would go back to that role. Rodney did have a scoreless outing on Monday and McClendon said he looked “much better” based on the changes they want him to make to not tip pitches.
Nothing on Nuno
While Smith has hit a rough patch, lefty Vidal Nuno has pitched well of late for the Mariners. He’s allowed one earned run in his last nine appearances, totaling 92/3 innings. He’s struck out seven batters and walked just two.
With Charlie Furbush on the DL, Nuno has shown versatility, pitching multiple innings, serving as a lefty specialist in leverage situations and also getting right-handers out when needed.
“He’s been great,” McClendon said. “At some point, we have to find some rest for him also.”
Nuno has been a starter and a reliever during his career. What does McClendon see as his future?
“He’s very versatile,” McClendon said. “He can pitch long and spot-start for you. He’s not afraid. He’s a nice asset to have.
“I think he probably fits better in the ’pen, but he certainly can go out and start for you in a pinch because he throws strikes, has the ability to work in and out and get right-handers out.”
•Three Everett AquaSox players have been selected for the first-ever Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star Game, which will be held Tuesday at Spokane’s Avista Stadium.
Shortstop Drew Jackson, outfielder Logan Taylor and pitcher Luiz Gohara were chosen to represent the Northwest All-Stars.
Jackson, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Stanford, will start at shortstop. He is hitting .368, with an .872 OPS and 33 runs scored. He also leads the league with 23 steals.
Taylor, who was taken in the 12th round of the same draft out of Texas A&M, will start in left field. He’s hitting .317 with an .882 OPS, including eight doubles, two triples, three homers and 31 RBI.
Gohara is in his second stint with the AquaSox. The big hard-throwing lefty is rated the No. 8 prospect in the Mariners’ organization by Baseball America.