Monday offered a glimpse of what the Mariners envisioned last winter when they put together their bullpen when the unit closed out 6-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
A collection of matchup relievers capable of bridging a lead to Edwin Diaz.
It worked pretty close to perfection in protecting a one-run lead over the final three innings at what is generally viewed as the toughest ballpark in which to protect a lead.
"When you can work the game to have that anchor in the ninth inning," manager Scott Servais said. "it’s so valuable. We have the pieces to do that, but you’ve got to have that guy at the back end."
Part of the problem recently is the Mariners haven’t had many leads to protect. But the larger issue for much of the season was an ineffective Diaz, who is the fulcrum of the entire process.
The Mariners’ steps to straighten out Diaz have been well-documented. In short, he was rushing through his delivery, which resulted in dragging his arm, which straightened his fastball and caused a lack of command in his slider.
On Monday, he blew threw the Rockies in the ninth inning on eight pitches despite recording two strikeouts. He now has six scoreless innings in five outings since implementing the corrections.
"I’ve been working a lot to be like this (again)," he said, "throwing my pitches down in the zone. Throwing strikes. I’m feeling pretty good right now."
With renewed confidence in Diaz, Servais didn’t hesitate to spend his other bullets in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings: James Pazos, Tony Zych, Nick Vincent, Marc Rzepczynski and Dan Altavilla combined for nine outs.
Only Pazos threw more than nine pitches
Three takeaways from Monday’s victory:
***Lineup perks up: The Mariners just might be emerging from their recent offensive funk. Monday marked the second straight game that everyone in the starting lineup reached base safely at least once.
Further, seven different players either scored a run or drove one in.
It was a welcome turnaround from scoring just nine runs over the previous eight games. So were the back-to-back victories after a 1-7 skid.
***Cruz in right is all right: The gamble to start designated hitter Nelson Cruz in right field paid off when he was required to make only one defensive play — a catch on Charlie Blackmon’s leadoff fly ball in the first inning.
Servais admitted he wrestled with the decision to play Cruz.
"It’s probably the most challenging outfield to play in," Servais said, "but we need Cruz’s bat in the lineup. We know we need to score runs here, and he’s a big part of our offense."
Cruz had an RBI ground out and a walk that led to a run in four plate appearances.
After Tuesday’s game at Coors, the Mariners have only three more interleague road games: Aug. 21-23 at Atlanta.
***Valencia surging: First baseman Danny Valencia’s average is up to .253 after he went 3-for-4 in Monday’s victory. He has hits in his last seven games and is batting .356 (16-for-45) in that span.
His hot streak is part of a larger surge since a disappointing start that saw his average plunge to .145 on April 22. Since then, Valencia is batting .323 (32-for-99) with 13 RBIs in 27 games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners