PHOENIX — With just 26 games remaining in the season, and the Mariners fighting to make the postseason by catching the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox and grabbing that second wild-card spot, they welcomed back two key relievers to a bullpen that has been vital to their success.
Before Saturday’s game, right-hander Diego Castillo and left-hander Anthony Misiewicz were activated from the 10-day injured list. To make room, right-hander Wyatt Milles and infielder Kevin Padlo were optioned to Tacoma.
Castillo, who has appeared in 10 games for the Mariners since being acquired on July 29, has a 0-1 record with a save and a 3.86 ERA. He was placed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation on Aug. 21 and pitched one inning on a rehab stint for the Arizona League Mariners on Thursday. In 47 appearances between the Mariners and Rays this season, Castillo has a 2-5 record with 15 saves and 2.96 ERA. He has 57 strikeouts and 15 walks in 45 2/3 innings.
Misiewicz, 26, went on the injured list on Aug. 28 with left forearm tightness. In 54 appearances this season, Misiewicz has a 4-4 record with a 4.08 ERA. He has 47 strikeouts and 11 walks in 46 1/3 innings. He had two other brief stints on the COVID injury list due to contact tracing.
Both pitchers are experienced in high-leverage situations. With their return, and the addition of left-hander Justus Sheffield, who was added with roster expansion on Sept. 1, the Mariners bullpen is healthier than it has been since before the trade deadline.
It gives manager Scott Servais plenty of options and provides some help for highly used relievers such as Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and Casey Sadler.
“It’s really valuable,” Servais said. “With the bullpen guys that have been pitching well, we’ve been riding them very hard. It’s been a lot that we’ve asked of those guys, and they’ve done a nice job.”
With the shortened season in 2020 and pitchers — starters and relievers — not having typical innings progression, depth is critical. For the Mariners, who have been outstanding in one-run games (29-16 record) and extra-innings games (13-4), their bullpen has been integral to that success.
Recent contributions from Sheffield, who has been a starter his whole career and was in the rotation to start the season before getting injured, and right-hander Yohan Ramirez, who was the Mariners’ Rule 5 pick last season and has power stuff, have been bonuses.
“We need all we can get,” Servais said. “I do know at this time of year, the teams that stay in playoff races and really push towards the end, you really lean on your bullpen so heavily. When you get in these last 25-30 games and when you do somehow grab a lead in the game, you just want to hang on to it in the worst way and you’ve got to lean on your bullpen guys.”
Padlo’s stint with the Mariners was brief, but he did get one plate appearance in his MLB debut, striking out. He is the 62nd player used by the Mariners this season, which is tied for second most in MLB with the Mets. The Cubs have used 63 players.
In the quest to try and retake the lead in the eighth inning of Friday night’s extra-innings win, Servais used four pinch hitters — Jake Bauers, Cal Raleigh, José Marmolejos and Luis Torrens. Marmolejos went into pinch hit and when the Diamondbacks changed pitchers to a lefty, Servais swapped him with Torrens before Marmolejos stepped to the plate.
It was the first time the Mariners used four or more pinch hitters in the same inning since Sept. 4, 2007 at Yankee Stadium. In that game, thanks to the old September call-up rules, the Mariners used six different pinch hitters in the eighth inning of a game they were trailing 11-1. The pinch hitters were: Jeremy Reed, Jeff Clement, Adam Jones, Charlton Jimerson, Wladimir Balentien and Nick Green.
Servais was asked about his parade of pinch hitters, leaving him one player on the bench — Padlo, who pinch hit an inning later.
“That’s right, I certainly did,” he said with a laugh. “I got the matchup we wanted. It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, but everybody’s always like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to hold your players for this and that.’ For me, you try to win the game in nine innings and do everything you can to get to that point.”
After Padlo pinch hit, Servais looked to his starting pitchers to be the next man up for playing in the field or taking an at-bat.
“When we run out of players like we did last night, I always have one of our starters go put their spikes on,” Servais said. “Last night it was Chris Flexen. He had his spikes on and was ready to roll. Why Flexen? You watch these guys pregame, some guys take the shagging (fly balls) seriously in batting practice.”
Flexen takes everything on the field seriously. But it’s noticeable pregame. He hustles and sprints on fly balls, using it as part of his conditioning.
“Flex can catch a fly ball,” Servais said. “If you had to put him in a game, you could work a way around that and get him out in the outfield. Tyler Anderson is pretty good athlete. Of course, Marco (Gonzales) was a two-way guy in college. You probably would not see Logan Gilbert out there. There’s a very good chance you might not see Yusei Kikuchi out there; they can handle it if we had to use them.”