Whenever Will Vest, Drew Steckenrider and Kendall Graveman eventually return from their hiatus on the COVID-19 injured list at varied points in the next week, they will return to a unit that has not only survived but flourished in their absence.
Perhaps they’ve been watching from the hotel in San Diego where they’ve been quarantining since last week due to MLB COVID guidelines.
Knowing the group’s overall attitude and mindset, they would’ve been celebrating the showing by their fellow relievers Friday night at T-Mobile Park.
The pieced-together unit was handed a one-run lead in the sixth inning that never grew and four pitchers combined to cover four innings without allowing a run to secure a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers.
It was the Mariners’ fourth win in five games and 10th straight win over the Rangers at T-Mobile Park. Seattle inched a little closer to .500, improving to 25-27 on the season.
“Can’t say enough about our bullpen and the job that they did tonight,” manager Scott Servais said. “That was a bullpen ‘W’ if we ever saw one.”
When Seattle lost Graveman, its best reliever and closer, along with two key set-up men in Vest and Steckenrider to the COVID-IL, a bullpen that had been largely responsible for Seattle’s unexpected success early in the season would surely crater. But it didn’t. Instead other pitchers have taken on those roles.
“It has been phenomenal,” Servais said. “Certainly when we lost the three guys on the COVID IL you wonder how we’re going to kind of keep this together because we play a lot of close games. That’s just how we’re built. We are a young team and on some nights we struggle to score many runs. So you’re going to be in a lot of those close games.”
Indeed, the Mariners are 11-5 in one-run games this season. That .688 winning percentage is the best in baseball.
Erik Swanson capped off the bullpen’s night of work with an outstanding performance, recording the final four outs of the game to notch his first save of the season.
Working on back-to-back days for the first time this season, Keynan Middleton started to find trouble in the eighth inning, allowing a two-out double and issuing a walk to put the tying and winning run on base.
Servais called on Swanson to face hot-hitting Adolis Garcia, who tormented the Mariners for seven hits (two homers) and seven RBI in three games in Texas.
Swanson immediately fell behind 2-0, but continued to pump fastballs at 95-97 mph at Garcia, eventually striking him out swinging.
“Garcia has been their hottest hitter and one of the hottest hitters in the league,” Servais said. “Swanny has been throwing the ball great. He was up to the challenge. He fell behind early, came back and got in it and just overpowered him with that high fastball.”
Swanson let out a scream as Garcia swung through the pitch and the crowd of more than 10,000 roared in approval.
“Coming into the game in that big situation in the eighth, there was a lot of adrenaline,” he said.
But he wasn’t done. He had to get three outs in the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk which is never ideal. He came back to strike out Khris Davis and coax an easy fly ball to right from Willie Calhoun. He allowed a single to Brock Holt but then got Jason Martin to pop out in foul territory to end the game.
“I definitely emptied the tank that’s for sure,” he said. “The fans definitely helped out to get that adrenaline going again in the ninth.”
Servais believes this will only make the Mariners better.
“The thing about our bullpen is they really mesh together,” he said. “I’ve often talked about it’s kind of that team within the team. And if one guy doesn’t have it or a guy needs a night off, somebody else steps up. It’s really created awesome opportunities for these different guys to step up in different roles that maybe we didn’t anticipate they would be in. It’ll only help us down the road. Eventually we will get these guys back and we’ll have some kind of depth in that bullpen. Guys you can use in all different roles. It’s a great luxury to have.”
Justus Sheffield gave the Mariners five innings, allowing two runs on six hits with two walks and just one strikeout. After working a 1-2-3 first inning, Sheffield pitched with traffic on the basses for the next four. The Rangers had eight balls in play with exit velocities of more than 100 mph. Sheffield benefited greatly from an inning-ending double play in the third inning, and a solid throw from catcher Tom Murphy and even better tag from J.P. Crawford to get Nick Solak at second base on an attempted advance to end the fifth inning.
Seattle grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning against Rangers starter Jordan Lyles. Kyle Lewis led off with a deep double that hopped over the wall in center. Ty France followed with a crisp single to right field to score Lewis. But it would be their only run in the inning. France moved up to third on Murphy’s two-out single. The Mariners looked like they might get another run on Donnie Walton’s hard ground ball to the right side. But Rangers second baseman Solak made a nice stop and throw to first to end the threat.
The Mariners pushed the lead to 3-0 an inning later when Lewis picked up his fifth homer of the season. He sat on a 1-1 breaking ball from Lyles, driving it just over the wall in right field for a two-run homer.
Given a 3-0 lead, Sheffield gave a run back in the fourth on a sacrifice fly and another run in the fifth, allowing three straight singles to start the inning.
With Sheffield unable to avoid hard contact and the heart of the Rangers order coming to the plate in the sixth, Servais went to his bullpen despite his starter having thrown just 74 pitches.
Left-hander Anthony Misiewicz entered to face Nate Lowe, Garcia and Joey Gallo in the sixth and protect a one-run lead. He turned in one of his best appearances of the season, striking out the side – all swinging – in a dominant showing. It was a bit of redemption for Misiewicz against the Rangers. The last time he faced Texas on May 8 in Globe Life Field, he lasted just one-third of an inning, giving up three runs on three hits and taking the loss.
Right-hander J.T. Chargois pitched a scoreless seventh, getting a little help after a one-out walk with an inning-ending double play.