A little tweak in his delivery. A little more work. And suddenly Mariners closer Edwin Diaz is looking a lot like last season’s rookie sensation.
"The first couple of outings," Diaz said, "I had a little trouble with my mechanics. Now I’m straight on to home plate, and my fastball is better, and my slider is better. "
That’s the tweak.
Diaz was pulling his pitches earlier in the season, which particularly affected his ability to control his slider. That allowed hitters to sit on his fastball and, even in the upper-90s, it wasn’t enough to neutralize hitters.
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"He’s trying to keep his line to the plate better," manager Scott Servais said. "He was able (Thursday) to command his fastball to the glove side. He had been losing it a lot with balls going up to the arm side."
Servais recently cited the importance for Diaz to pitch regularly — even if that work comes in non-save situations.
"You just don’t want him down too many days in a row," Servais said. "We saw the benefit (Thursday) of him pitching the day before. He was very sharp (Thursday)."
Diaz pitched in just four of 17 games before closing out Wednesday’s 8-0 victory in Detroit with a "get work" inning. He returned Thursday and protected a 2-1 victory with an 11-pitch inning that included two strikeouts.
"Eddie is getting real sharp and crisp," Servais said. "We’re going to give him consistent work. That’s really important as young as he is. When he’s right, he’s as good as it gets."
It’s more than just work, though.
"Part of it, too, is he needs to come up with a consistent routine," Servais said. "All of the good relief pitchers, certainly closers, have a routine. Something they’re doing in the fourth inning, the sixth inning and working their way to being ready."
TIGHT HAMSTRING SIDELINES CRUZ
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who leads the American League in RBIs, was scratched from Friday’s lineup because of "tightness" in his left hamstring, which surfaced Thursday while running the bases at Detroit.
Cruz said first felt the tightness while running out a double in the second inning. It reoccurred in the sixth when he reached second on an error after right fielder Jim Adduci dropped a popup after being jostled by center fielder Tyler Collins.
"It’s just tight," Cruz said. "but it’s just precautionary. I don’t want to push it…(then a smile)…My wheels don’t support that speed."
Cruz said he expects to play Saturday. His 19 RBIs, through Thursday, were one more than Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez and Los Angeles DH Albert Pujols.
Taylor Motter (who else?) replaced Cruz as the lineup’s cleanup hitter, but Servais opted to shift Dan Vogelbach from first base to DH. Motter started at first base.
CISHEK SHIFTS TO TACOMA
Reliever Steve Cishek shifted to Triple-A Tacoma to continue his rehab assignment after experiencing mechanical issues Wednesday and Thursday in making back-to-back appearances for Double-A Arkansas.
"He still didn’t feel 100 percent comfortable with how the ball was coming out," Servais said. "He’s trying to find it. It’s a mechanical thing. It’s not a physical thing The ball is just not coming out great."
Part of the reason for the switch is Arkansas began a road trip Friday, while Tacoma is home through Monday. Cishek is recovering from October surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
"I keep saying it, it’s his spring training," Servais said. "We’re going to have to be patient. It does no good to rush him in here without him being 100 percent and being in a position where he can go out and help us.
"He’s going to have at least one more outing down there and see how it goes."
Cishek began his rehab assignment on April 17. Rehab assignments can last up to 30 days for a pitcher.
Three things to note heading into Saturday’s pitching matchup between right-hander Yovani Gallardo and Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar:
***Gallardo won his only previous start against the Indians, which came in 2009. Salazar is 0-1 in two career starts against the Mariners with 12 strikeouts and seven walks in 12 1/3 innings.
***Edwin Encarnacion is the only Indian with more than three career plate appearances against Gallardo — and he’s 9-for-25 (.360) with three homers. He has also walked five times for a .467 on-base percentage.
***Jarrod Dyson is 4-for-19 (.211) in his career against Salazar. Nelson Cruz is 2-for-7. No other Mariner has more than five career at-bats, although Danny Valencia is 2-for-3, and Jean Segura is 1-for-2 with a homer.
Center fielder Leonys Martin struck out twice and walked once Thursday in three appearances for Triple-A Tacoma in his first game since being assigned to the Rainiers after clearing waivers.
"I like Leonys a lot," Servais said. "He means a lot to our team. But he only means a lot-lot when he can help you on the field. We all love the personality, but he’s got to straighten out some things offensively. Hopefully, that won’t take long."
Martin was designated for assignment April 23 after batting .111 in 15 games.
Tacoma beat Sacramento (Giants) 4-0 at Cheney Stadium in a game shortened to five innings because of rain.
***Outfielder Tyler O’Neill, ranked No. 2 in the TNT Top 10 ranking of the organization’s prospects, is off to a slow start at Tacoma. His average dropped to .203 when he went 0-for-2 with a walk in Thursday’s victory over Sacramento.
Minor-league infielder Miguel Gamboa, who batted .261 last season in the Dominican Summer League, received a 56-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance (Nandrolone).
Gamboa, 19, is currently on the Peoria roster in the Arizona Rookie League, and his suspension will take effect when Peoria begins its season in June. AZL seasons last 56 games.
Two Mariners prospects were among 20 cited by Baseball America in its weekly Prospect Hot Sheet, which seeks to identify which of the game’s top minor-league players are performing at a high level.
Lo-A Clinton third baseman Joe Rizzo was No. 18, and Hi-A Modesto outfielder Braden Bishop was No. 20. Bishop, 23, was a third-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, and Rizzo was a second-round pick in 2016.
Rizzo went 8-for-20 in five games after joining the LumberKings from extended spring training.
Baseball America reported that Rizzo "hit the ground running after getting out of extended spring training. Rizzo was expected to start the year in short-season ball, but he’s holding his own in the Midwest League."
Bishop is 11-for-29 in his last seven games.
"A premium athlete who struggled to make hard contact in 2016," the magazine reported, "Bishop has taken dramatic strides in that area. Since April 20, he has five multi-hit games and he’s also displaying outstanding strike-zone discipline."
The Mariners entered the weekend leading the American League with 109 runs…the Mariners were also the only AL club with five players who have 10 or more RBIs: Cruz (19), Mitch Haniger (16), Robinson Cano (15), Motter (13) and Kyle Seager (13)…Jarrod Dyson’s 23 career steals against the Indians, prior to Friday, rank second among active players. Houston outfielder Carlos Beltran has 26.
It was 31 years ago Saturday — April 29, 1986 — that Roger Clemens, then with Boston, set a major-league record for a nine-inning game by striking out 20 Mariners in the Red Sox’s 3-1 victory at Fenway Park.
Phil Bradley struck out four times, including Clemens’ 20th strikeout for the second out in the ninth inning. Clemens gave up just three hits. The Mariners’ only run came on Gorman Thomas’ two-out homer in the seventh inning.
Clemens’ feat has been matched on four other occasions, including one other time by himself (1996 at Detroit).
The others: Kerry Wood of the Chicago Cubs in 1998 vs. Houston; Randy Johnson, while pitching for Arizona in 2008 vs. Cincinnati; and Washington’s Max Scherzer in 2016 vs. Detroit.
The all-time record for any game is 21 strikeouts by Tom Cheney of the Washington Senators in 1962 while pitching all 16 innings in a 2-1 victory at Baltimore.
The Mariners and Indians continue their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Pacific time Saturday at Progressive Field when right-hander Yovani Gallardo (1-2 with a 4.84 ERA) opposes Cleveland righty Danny Salazar (1-2, 4.37).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).
The series and the Mariners’ 10-game road trip concludes at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday. The Mariners have an open date Monday before starting a six-game homestand against the Los Angeles Angels and Texas.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners