The Mariners haven’t been setting MLB records just with their hitting in starting 13-2, their best record through 15 games in their 43-year history.
When Connor Sadzeck got the save Thursday in a 7-6 victory at Kansas City, he also helped the Mariners’ bullpen achieve a little major-league history by becoming the first team since the save was declared an official stat in 1969 to get saves from six different pitchers in the first 15 games of the season.
It’s a stat that not only speaks to some solid pitching by the bullpen, but also of the pitchers themselves to navigate being part of a bullpen that for the moment has few defined roles.
Some pitchers chafe at such uncertainty, and the general preference of any team is to have roles that are clearly spelled out.
But the trade in the offseason of closer Edwin Diaz and then the early season injury to heir apparent Hunter Strickland have meant the Mariners are in a quintessential “by committee’’ situation.
It’s one that might not be changing anytime soon with Strickland out for at least two months or so and a lot of other new faces still finding their way.
“Our bullpen will be in flux until some of these guys maybe settle in and grab hold of specific roles,’’ Seattle manager Scott Servais said Friday.
He said that after announcing the team has done some further shuffling to the bullpen by reinstating right-hander Shawn Armstrong from the 10-day injured list and recalling righty Ruben Alaniz from Class AAA Tacoma while optioning right-handers Matt Festa and Erik Swanson to Tacoma.
Swanson was one of five pitchers the Mariners used to get through 10 innings Thursday against the Royals, making his major-league debut.
But while the team thought he pitched better than his numbers indicate — he gave up three hits and two runs in two innings — he has been a starter, so he wouldn’t have been available for a few days and the team needed to add another arm, with Armstrong now healthy enough to help out. Swanson, meanwhile, will return to being a starter for Tacoma.
Festa has been inconsistent and the team wants to see what it might have in Alaniz, a 27-year-old who the team signed as a free agent in November and placed on the 40-man roster.
“He was a guy that we went out and were aggressive in signing,’’ Servais said of Alaniz, who has yet to pitch in a MLB game. “He throws really hard. Throws 95, 96. Got a good slider.’’
But exactly where they will fit is anyone’s guess, as is the case almost every night right now for the bullpen, which has gotten what is a major league-high nine saves with no one getting more than two. Earning saves so far for Seattle have been Roenis Elias, Strickland and Anthony Swarzak with two each, and Sadzeck, Chasen Bradford and Nick Rumbelow with one each.
Sadzeck had no idea his chance to get what turned out to be his first MLB save would come Thursday. He got the call only after the Mariners tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and then took the lead on Daniel Vogelbach’s homer in the 10th.
“It was awesome,’’ said the 27-year-old Sadzeck, a 6-foot-7, 240-pounder who didn’t make his MLB debut until last September with Texas. “No matter what inning I’m throwing, my job is to get us to the next inning.’’
Or in the case of Thursday, to get the Mariners off the field and on the plane home, which he did with a strikeout of Whit Merrifield to end the game as well as Merrifield’s 31-game hitting streak. Sadzeck, called with a smile by Servais as “a big dude that throws pretty hard’’ was handed the ball later and said “that will go on the shelf at home.’’
“I knew obviously the situation (with Merrifield’s hitting streak),” Sadzeck said. “He is a great hitter. He’s one of the best in the game right now. And that’s what you want — you want to be in those situations. That’s why we are all here. It was amazing to have that opportunity and to come out on top.’’
As the Mariners prepared for the game Friday against the Astros, though, all in the bullpen knew someone else could get the call next time.
“They are out-getters,’’ Servais said of everyone in the bullpen essentially being on call at all times. “That’s my line. They are there to get outs and sometimes that happens and the big outs are in the fifth, sixth innings and sometimes that’s in the eighth or ninth. I think it keeps it fresh down there and the guys, they never know — today could be their day to get the last three outs of the game.’’
Seattle’s lineup Friday night did not include Vogelbach, despite his incredibly hot bat of late — 10 for 23 on the seven-game road trip with five home runs.
But that was because Jay Bruce, who has been dealing with a sore Achilles, was back in the lineup as the designated hitter with Edwin Encarnacion at first, part of the team’s three-headed DH/first base tandem.
As Servais noted, Bruce is merely second in the AL in home runs with seven, so the Mariners are hardly losing anything there.
“Oh I know, it’s a killer,’’ Servais laughed when asked about the absence of Vogelbach. “We are rotating guys through. … but there is a good chance Vogey will end up in this game at some point, a good matchup or whatever. We will try to get him in there. But we will continue to shuffle guys through. There are a lot of guys right now who are swinging the bats really well.’’
Servais said the recent reports are good on reliever Sam Tuivailala, who is making his way back from Achilles’ surgery last year.
Servais said Tuivailala is close to being able to throw live batting practice and then getting a rehab assignment or two.
“It’s all positive in how he is progressing,’’ Servais said. “He’d be another great arm to get in our bullpen. Don’t have a timeline for that. Could be mid-May to late-May is what I’ve got my fingers crossed for. We will wait and see.’’