Leone in the pink in Mariners' bullpen

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comApril 25, 2014 

After a sterling spring training, Mariners relief pitcher Dominic Leone has carried it over into his first big-league season. In 102/3 innings, the 16th-round pick out of Clemson has a 1.69 earned-run average with 10 strikeouts.


The pink backpack tucked into a corner of Dominic Leone’s locker is more symbolic than functional.

It works for Leone, a hard-throwing right-handed rookie, because he is in charge of drinks in the bullpen.

The pink backpacks lugged to the bullpen by Seattle Mariners rookies change from season to season. In the past, Hello Kitty bags were the choice. Leone’s is straight up pink, with “Bullpen rookie goodie bag” embroidered into it. He fills it with Gatorade and water bottles.

His locker is right next to the entrance of the Mariners’ clubhouse. Lots of changeover occurs at this locker, often used by the moving pieces in Seattle’s bullpen when players are called up or sent out. Leone’s 1.69 ERA and 10 strikeouts in his first 102/3 big-league innings is a good start toward keeping the spot his for some time.

“A very dominating young man,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think he’s got a very bright future. I think he’s going to be a late-inning guy very, very soon.”

Leone was assigned to Tacoma despite a strong effort in spring training. He was hardly unpacked when Mariners director of player development Chris Gywnn called him. Seattle had seen enough from Hector Noesi and designated him for assignment April 4. Leone, a 16th-round pick in 2012 out of Clemson who had thrown just 18 innings at the Double-A level, was coming up to

replace Noesi.

He called his dad. Once the announcement was official, he began to hear from and contact others. He couldn’t be happier to walk in every day removed from the dusty bus rides of the minor leagues and see that pink backpack.

“I was shocked, I was pumped, I was excited,” Leone said. “It was unreal to get that call and realize, ‘This is it. This is your opportunity to go up and do what you have been working for your whole life.’ ”

As a nonroster invitee to spring training this season, Leone, 22, figured anything was possible. His ERA was 1.80, and he held opponents to a .171 batting average.

That, at least, earned him a spot with Tacoma, well above where he was last season. He played with three teams last season: the Single-A Everett AquaSox, the Advanced-A High Desert Mavericks and the Double-A Jackson Generals.

Two days after being called up, he was on the mound against the Oakland A’s. He allowed a double to his first hitter, which brought a mound visit from pitching coach Rick Waits. With the next batter, his lively fastball and dashing slider combination had earned him his first career strikeout. Coco Crisp went down looking.

Since then, Leone has allowed two earned runs, including the first home run of his major league career on Tuesday. Houston’s right-handed Matt Dominguez hit a homer to right-center field. It caught McClendon’s attention.

“Shocked the hell out of me,” McClendon said with a laugh. “I guess he’s human after all.”

Important to Leone was the ability to dispatch the home run and the single that followed it with only one out. A fly ball to center and ground out to second ended the inning.

“I feel like I’ve learned, even in the short amount of time I’ve been up here,” Leone said. “Just learned kind of how to get in a routine and be effective. I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable. I never want to feel comfortable up here.

“(Though) I feel like I do belong.”

So far, it looks that way.


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