The revolving door that is the Seattle Mariners bullpen spun again Friday.
Right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong — on the 10-day injured list while recovering from a strained left oblique — returned after a rehab stint in Tacoma. Another right-hander, Ruben Alaniz, was also added.
Departing for Triple-A Tacoma were a pair of right-handers in Matt Festa and Erik Swanson — who made his MLB debut in Thursday’s win over Kansas City.
Entering Friday, the Mariners had sent out 12 different relievers through the first 15 games. Six different players had already recorded at least one save this season, including Hunter Strickland (two), Anthony Swarzak (two), Roenis Elias (two), Chasen Bradford (one), Nick Rumbelow (one) and Connor Sadzeck (one).
And the regular season — excluding the overseas trip — is barely two weeks old.
“Our bullpen will be in flux, like we’ve talked about, as we go forward, until some of these guys maybe settle in and grab hold of specific roles,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
Servais has reiterated several times that the Mariners will continue to mix and match relievers in whatever situation the club thinks will favor the pitcher.
Since Strickland (strained right lat) was transferred to the 60-day IL on April 1, the Mariners’ bullpen has operated without defined roles. And, while that plan isn’t feasible for the entirety of the season, the club seems to be embracing it in April.
“They’re out-getters — that’s my line,” Servais said. “They’re there to get outs. Sometimes that happens with big outs in the fifth, sixth inning. Sometimes it might be the eighth or ninth. I think it keeps it fresh down there.”
Swarzak said the relievers are helping to lift each other up, and helping each other prepare to pitch in situations they aren’t necessarily used to.
“Guys are ready for those moments,” Swarzak said. “We’re all communicating with who’s available that day, and who’s not, and there’s no secrets, so everybody’s ready.”
Swarzak, who is one of the more experienced members of Seattle’s bullpen, said he’s been in bullpens with other clubs where the situation was similar, and roles weren’t established.
“I think it makes everybody better, because nobody can relax,” he said. “Everybody is kind of on edge — when I’m I going to pitch, what’s going on? — and it’s not in a bad way. It’s a competitive way.
“It’s a place right now where there’s a lot of opportunity for everybody. It’s good. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Mariners are the first club in history to have six different pitchers record a save in the first 15 games since the save became an official statistic in 1969. Their nine saves this season entering Friday also led the majors.
“I think everyone is trusting everyone right now,” said Sadzeck, who was acquired from Texas on April 1, and notched his first career save Thursday. “Everyone is throwing the ball well.”
Sadzeck, a starter for most of his minor-league career, has the same outlook to this mix-and-match bullpen situation as many of Seattle’s other relievers.
“I’ve always looked at the bullpen like, no matter what inning I’m throwing, my job is to get us to the next inning,” he said. “So, (if) I’m starting the game as the opener, I’ve got to get to the second inning. If I’m in the eighth inning, I’ve got to get us to our closer. Obviously if I’m in the ninth, let’s close it out and move onto tomorrow.”
Armstong, who functioned as a middle reliever for Seattle last season, and didn’t allow a run in 13 of his 14 appearances after being recalled from Tacoma in late August, said pitching out of the bullpen is about taking the ball any chance you get.
“Everybody is doing an unbelievable job,” he said. “People have stepped up in multiple roles that they’ve never been in. A lot of the young guys have stepped up as well. It’s a lot of fun to watch.
“I’m excited to join these guys in whatever role I can fit in, and any way I can help this team win, I’m ready to do that.”
The Mariners rested one slugger to play another Friday night.
Daniel Vogelbach, who has homered in five of his past seven appearances in April, and lifted the Mariners to a road series sweep over Kansas City with an extra-innings dinger Thursday, was absent from Friday’s starting lineup.
Vogelbach has six long balls this season, which was tied for third in the American League entering Friday. Who did they replace him with? The team-leader in homers, who ranks second in the AL.
The Mariners slotted veteran Jay Bruce (seven homers) as the designated hitter, after having him rest a sore Achilles during Thursday’s win.
“We’ll continue to shuffle guys through,” Servais said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are swinging the bat really well.”
Seattle set the major-league record for consecutive games with a home run to begin a season (15) on Thursday, and had a majors-leading 36 team home runs entering Friday.
NO DAYS OFF
Friday night’s game marked the eighth of 17 consecutive games the Mariners will play before their next scheduled off day on April 22.
Servais said the long stretch makes it tough to keep pitchers fresh, but the position players are enjoying keeping this record-breaking offense — which has Seattle off to the best start in club history — rolling.
“It helps to come home,” Servais said, noting how much easier it makes daily routines. The Mariners play five more games this homestand before hitting the road again Thursday.
When asked about his philosophy on how to keep this hot streak going, Servais said it’s about consistency.
“I think the thing I’ve said since Day 1 when I got the job — ‘Be who you are,’ ” Servais said. “Certainly it’s easier to come in and be who you are and let your personality come out when you’re going good. Our team is certainly enjoying the run that we’re on right now.
“The nicest thing about what we’re doing right now, it’s not just one or two guys, it’s everybody contributing at a certain level every night. That’s when all of the guys feel like they’re a part of it.”