The Mariners’ young closer struck out the side on Friday night against a powerful U.S. lineup. It’s the type of experience usually only found in the postseason.
PEORIA, Ariz. — It was always an implied goal for the Seattle Mariners. It’s usually the target for most teams in Major League Baseball. But for the Mariners, a postseason appearance has taken on an increased meaning considering they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001 — the longest drought in baseball.
But on Saturday morning in discussing the previous night’s outing by closer Edwin Diaz in the World Baseball Classic, manager Scott Servais offered a not-so-veiled reference as to where he expects his team to be at the end of the season.
“What a great experience for him, and I think it’s definitely going to benefit us once we get to October,” Servais said.
October? Servais didn’t even pause to see if anyone reacted to the sentiment. He just continued.
“That was really cool to see,” Servais said. “And in Eddie Diaz style, he kind of figures out a way to get through it.”
Diaz pitched a tumultuous ninth inning against the United States to get the save. It featured a leadoff walk to Nolan Arenado and a single to Eric Hosmer to bring drama to a 6-3 game. Diaz came back to strike out Buster Posey and Paul Goldschmidt swinging on nasty sliders. With two outs, Diaz fell behind 2-0 to Brandon Crawford and threw a fastball down the middle. Crawford hammered it into the gap in left center for a triple, though he appeared to be out at third on the tag.
With the tying run at third, Diaz, unfazed, struck out Josh Harrison swinging to end the game. Diaz screamed in joy and pounded his chest in celebration.
“That’s a real tough lineup, and he strikes out Posey and Goldschmidt and Harrison at the end, and that’s what (the postseason) is like,” Servais said.
In that way, the WBC, which isn’t a favorite for most managers in baseball, does provide some benefit. Sure, Diaz had 18 saves last season as a rookie, including some critical games in the final month with the Mariners in contention. But the global stage the WBC provides another level of the pressure that is close to the postseason.
“It’s great to see,” Servais. “Obviously he looks good. The leadoff walk, it happens. Guys that throw that hard with that kind of stuff, they’re going to walk guys once in a while. Fortunately for him, he has the strikeout pitch to equalize that.”
It was clear from the first pitch that magnitude of the moment had the emotional Diaz flowing with adrenaline and energy. The leadoff walk was a product of being a little over-amped. It happened at times last season. Diaz gets too pumped up and his mechanics break down. But Servais isn’t about to try and make him something that he’s not.
“There’s only so many Mariano Riveras who are so calm that it looked like the emotion never really changed,” Servais said. “We know it was probably inside of him. Eddie’s not wired like Mariano Rivera, obviously. I think he feeds off of that. That’s why his stuff ticks up late in the game.”
There is a line though.
“You still have to execute,” Servais said. “You’ve got to get the ball in the right spot of the plate. You can’t leave it in the middle. Hopefully experience will help him with that, in controlling it. But I kind of like when he snatches the ball. I kind of like when he stomps back up on the rubber, ready, ‘Here I am, try to hit it.’ That’s what you need.”
With the Mariners facing American League West rivals in their next handful of games, the pitchers in their projected starting rotation won’t be taking the mound. They will instead be logging their innings in minor league games. This is a common occurrence for teams in spring training.
It will start with James Paxton, whose scheduled turn was on Sunday. Instead of pitching in Surprise, he’ll stay in Peoria and pitch with Class AAA Tacoma.
“It’s probably not the best thing,” Servais said of pitching agianst Texas. “He’s in a good spot to get his work in, keep him rolling along pitch-count-wise and go from there. We’re going to see the Rangers a lot.”
Drew Smyly, who was slotted to pitch on Tueday following the off day on Monday, will pitch in a minor league game instead of facing the A’s that evening. On Wednesday, Yovani Gallardo will also pitch in a minor league game rathan tha facing the Angels in Peoria.
“We don’t need to run them out against division foes,” Servais said.
• With Venezuela eliminated from the WBC, Servais expects Felix Hernandez to return to camp in the next few days. Hernandez is scheduled to start Thursday’s game against the Giants in Scottsdale.
• After being bothered by tight and fatigued legs on Friday, Jarrod Dyson was given most of the day off on Saturday. Dyson hit in the cages and received treatment.