CINCINNATI — The attention Friday night centered on Cincinnati’s gruesome bullpen after it chummed up seven runs over the final three innings as the Mariners rallied for an 8-3 victory.
Less obvious were the continuing changes within the Mariners’ bullpen, which entered Saturday with a 2.76 ERA and leading the American League in limiting opponents to a .196 batting average.
Three things stood out:
***Lefty Mike Montgomery got the call to start the seventh inning after the Mariners rallied for a 5-3 lead. Manager Scott Servais confirmed Montgomery would have been summoned had the game been tied.
Servais said Montgomery had "earned" the right to pitch in that situation.
***An inning, with the Mariners leading 6-3 and Joaquin Benoit unavailable, Servais summoned Nick Vincent instead of Joel Peralta.
"(Vincent) does a nice job against righties," Servais said. "He takes the sting out of the bat. He’s got nice movement off the barrel with his cut fastball and the slider."
***When the ninth inning began, closer Steve Cishek began to heat up for an anticipated save situation. When homers by Nelson Cruz and Dae-Ho Lee expanded the lead to five runs, Cishek sat down. Peralta closed out the game.
Saturday saw more of the same. The Mariners closed out their 4-0 victory by using Vidal Nuno, Montgomery and Peralta after Felix Hernandez pitched six shutout innings.
While Servais continues to profess a mix-and-match approach for his bullpen beyond using Cishek as the closer, it seems clear he is adjusting his default preferences.
Vincent has a 1.47 ERA and is now the preferred match-up righty — they are batting .119 against him. He has also seemingly supplanted Peralta as the chief alternative to Benoit as the eighth-inning bridge to Cishek.
Peralta now appears ticketed to pitch more often in "hold-’em" situations or when, like Friday and Saturday, the Mariners have a late lead beyond save-situation territory.
Montgomery is no longer pointed primarily toward low-leverage situations. If the upcoming inning projects to have multiple left-handed batters, he’s at the front of the line.
While Servais points to Nuno’s versatility, he more often fills the role of match-up lefty. That could change when/if Charlie Furbush returns from the disabled list to reclaim that role.
"There could be situations where we stretch (Nuno) out a little bit more," Servais said. "He does have the ability to come in and get one lefty out. The versatility is really nice, knowing you can use him in a number of different roles."
The possibility that baseball will allow terms to issue intentional walks without throwing pitches — a time-saving proposal — draws no beef from Servais but, as a former catcher, he knows first-hand those four pitches aren’t always automatic.
"I’m OK either way," he said, "but it probably does make sense to just put him on like they do in high school ball. But I have seen, and been part of, games that have been lost when the guy throws the ball away.
"That happened to me once. It wasn’t in the big leagues. At the end of my career, I was down in Triple-A. I can’t remember who the pitcher was, but it was in Iowa with the Iowa Cubs.
"We signaled for an intentional walk, and I had to dive for the ball — and I missed it. A walk-off throwaway."
Servais now uses that experience as a teaching moment.
"I always tell the catchers, `don’t stand straight-legged,’" he said. "You’ve got to have flex because you have to expect a bad throw. It’s like the comebacker, the 1-2-3 double play.
"The (pitcher) never gives you a perfect feed. It’s always a little random."
TWO IN A PINCH
Dae-Ho Lee’s two-run pinch single Friday in the seventh inning broke a 3-3 tie and turned into his second game-winning pinch hit of the season. He also had a walk-off pinch homer on April 13 against Texas.
Lee also gained the distinction of becoming the first rookie in the franchise’s 40-year history to have more than one game-winning pinch hit in the same season.
Lee isn’t the only Mariner to have two game-winning pinch hits as a rookie.
Greg Dobbs had a three-run pinch double in a 6-3 victory over Oakland on Sept. 17, 2004 and a three-run pinch double in a 7-6 victory over Oakland on April 20, 2005. Both of those games were at Safeco Field.
Triple-A Tacoma lefty reliever David Rollins is making a push for promotion after lowering his ERA to 1.50 through 14 games. He has 15 strikeouts and no walks in 18 innings.
Rollins was, in fact, lined up for a one-day promotion as the 26th player if rain had forced a postponement Friday and forced the Mariners to play a double-header on Saturday or Sunday.
The Mariners acquired Rollins from Houston in December 2014 in the Rule 5 Draft, but he missed the first half of last season after failing an off-season drug test. He then compiled a 7.56 ERA in 20 big-league appearances.
Double-A Jackson right-hander Edwin Diaz has five scoreless innings over four outings since shifting to the bullpen. He has allowed just two hits while striking out eight and walking none.
Diaz, 22, is generally viewed as the organization’s most advanced pitching prospect. One club official said Diaz’s fastball is now hitting 98 mph since he became a reliever.
A promotion to Tacoma appears imminent and, if his success continues, he could be in the big leagues prior to the All-Star break.
It was 24 years ago Sunday — May 22, 1992 — that slugger Jay Buhner executed a sacrifice bunt that helped the Mariners rally for a 2-1 victory over Cleveland at the Kingdome.
The Mariners trailed 1-0 in the seventh inning but got their first two batters aboard before Buhner put down the fifth sacrifice bunt of his career. That moved the runners to second and third.
Tino Martinez followed with a two-run single. Randy Johnson took it from there and pitched into the ninth before Mike Schooler got the final two outs.
Buhner finished his 15-year career with 12 sacrifice bunts in 5,927 plate appearances. He also had 310 home runs.
While reliever Tony Zych is playing catch but hasn’t yet progressed to throwing from a mount in his recovery from tendinitis in his rotator cuff. Manager Scott Servais indicated Zych isn’t like to return to active duty before mid-June at the earliest…the Mariners entered Saturday with an all-time ERA of 3.64 in 345 interleague games. That is the lowest in the majors since interleague play began in 1997. The New York Yankees rank second at 3.79.
The Mariners and Reds conclude their three-game series at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Lefty Wade Miley (4-2 with a 4.32 ERA) will face Reds right-hander Alfredo Simon (1-4, 10.34). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
The Mariners open an eight-game homestand Monday with the first of three games against Oakland at Safeco Field. The homestand also consists of three games against Minnesota and two games against San Diego.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners