Seattle Mariners

What does 50 saves mean for Diaz? A goal achieved and a new haircut for Mariners manager

Seattle Mariners closing pitcher Edwin Diaz reacts after he struck out Houston Astros' Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning to end the baseball game, Monday, April 16, 2018, in Seattle. The Mariners won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle Mariners closing pitcher Edwin Diaz reacts after he struck out Houston Astros' Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning to end the baseball game, Monday, April 16, 2018, in Seattle. The Mariners won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This haircut doesn’t have any particular name.

“It’s just style,” Edwin Diaz said.

You can’t see it under his baseball cap, but Diaz has something like a ‘Z’ or waves shaved on the left side of his head. And Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais took notice.

So before they left Seattle for their recently completed 10-game road trip, Servais approached Diaz with a proposition.

“I was like, ‘You think you can get 50 saves?’ ” Servais recalled while speaking recently on 710-ESPN radio. “He says, ‘I got it, Papi.’

“I said, ‘OK, Eddy, if you can get 50 saves I’ll cut my hair just like yours.’”

Diaz has 11 saves after the first month of the season.

He’s on pace for 66 saves if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Francisco Rodriguez set the major-league record with 62 in 2008 with the Los Angeles Angels.

Here’s why this is an especially good sign for the Mariners:

Sixteen players in major-league history have at least 50 saves in a season, with 11 of them leading their teams to the playoffs.

The Mariners have the longest-active postseason drought in any of the four major North American sports — currently a 17-season drought.

And the only other Mariners closer with at least 11 saves in the first month of the season: Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2001. You might recall that the Mariners last reached the playoffs in 2001.

Not saying, but just saying.

“(Servais) came to me and he was like, you get 50 saves, I will get the line (in his hair), too,’” Diaz said.

“So after every game I get a save and we do the postgame handshake, I look at him like, ‘Remember the line,’ ” he laughed. “I wouldn’t mind getting 50 saves and seeing him with the line.”

But it hasn’t just been the saves. It’s how he’s compiled them.

Diaz has allowed one run and just two hits in 14 1/3 innings pitched so far. And he’s struck out 27 batters.

Diaz is averaging 17 strikeouts per nine innings. Only the Brewers’ Josh Hader and the Yankees’ Dellin Betances have a higher strikeout rate this season among those who have appeared in at least 10 games.

Except neither of them have done that while allowing just two hits. Opponents are batting .043 against Diaz.

“We like right where he’s at right now,” Servais told reporters recently.

Remember back to when Diaz was a rookie? He was about two weeks removed from being a starting pitcher in Double-A ball before he was pitching on a big-league mound as a reliever, and he went on to strikeout 88 hitters in 51 2/3 innings (15.3 per nine innings).

But teams didn’t know anything about him. They had more complete scouting reports last year in his first full big league season. It was an adjustment year for Diaz and he said he learned he couldn’t always just try to embarrass hitters like he did in 2016.

That’s something Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto recently mentioned, too. Diaz is more comfortable with the notion of locating over just trying to make the hitter look bad.

“I know I got the stuff to embarrass everybody,” Diaz said. “But it’s about making pitches. If one of those pitches I leave up in the zone, I know they can hit it. I prefer to make my pitch and get the out over just trying to embarrass them.

“Thinking back to my first year, nobody knew me. Now everybody is starting to look at me and I think they started to scout me pretty good. But this year I started making pitches. And if I keep making pitches, I can get a lot of outs.”

He seems to trust his slider more this season, using it at a higher rate than either of his previous two seasons.

Take this save against the Houston Astros.

He walked the first batter he faced – Carlos Correa – but got two outs and trailed Marwin Gonzalez 2-1 in the count.

Diaz threw five consecutive sliders and eventually got Gonzalez to strike out swinging.

“I feel my slider, every moment right now I can throw it for a strike,” Diaz said. “I can throw it in a 3-2 count, I can throw it from behind in the count. I feel great with my slider, and that’s great for me because if I can’t throw my fastball for a strike but I got my slider going – they have no chance.

“Pretty much every night I feel good with both pitches. But every time I feel they want to cheat me on the fastball, that’s when I can really go to my slider.”

He didn’t have much of a slider until he worked with former Mariners pitcher Joaquin Benoit his first year. Now he has another mentor in Juan Nicasio, who signed with the Mariners this offseason after leading the National League in appearances last year.

Nicasio has more holds (10) than any other reliever in the major so far.

“We don’t talk much about pitching, we just talk about routine,” Diaz said. “And how we prepare for the game. He tells me when I’m on the mound, don’t think about much. Just make pitches.

“He’s got me focusing more on the game. After the fifth inning, just sit down and look at the game and look at the hitters. Visualize who I could be facing. Get an idea of how I will pitch them.”

All this feels like Servais had better get ready for a new haircut.

“He’s been great, going right after guys,” Servais said. “There’s been a stretch of 8-10 pitches where the command gets away from him, but to be able to come back on the mound and get right back at guys, he’s been awesome.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
@TJCotterill
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