During the first two months of the season, the Seattle Mariners have made a dizzying amount of transactions to try to steady their wavering bullpen.
Monday morning, they acquired two more relievers from the Braves, and have another arm in their bullpen in right-hander David McKay who has yet to make his MLB debut.
Entering the day, the Mariners had thrown 21 different pitchers — including two position players — in relief, the second-most in all of baseball. Only the Baltimore Orioles (23 relief pitchers) had thrown more. The league averages for relief pitchers used to this point is about 14-15.
Yet, with all of the bullpen inconsistencies the Mariners have muddled through early on, a few relievers could prove key pieces as Seattle moves forward.
Roenis Elias, who has a team-high five saves, is one of them. His most recent save — an uncommon seven-out save in last Tuesday’s win over Oakland — reaffirmed how valued he is in Seattle’s bullpen setup this season.
“Certainly those guys that can go multiple innings, and get through different pockets of a lineup, they are valuable,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Elias has had a good season, really from spring training on.
“We sat down with him early and tried to simplify some things with him, and flat-out told him, ‘Hey, you’re on the team, just go pitch.’ … He’s taken it, and got a lot of confidence and continues to grow. He’s a nice guy to have down there.”
Elias has worked more than one inning in six of his 19 appearances this season, and has finished 10 games — including converting all five save opportunities he’s had — for the Mariners.
He is 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA across 23 2/3 innings, allowing 11 runs (eight earned) on 18 hits, while striking out 26 and walking 10. The Mariners are 13-6 in games Elias has pitched in.
“Once Scott talked to me and told me that I was going to be on the team no matter what, it didn’t matter the role, I was just concentrated on working, and I relaxed and didn’t have to worry about anything else,” Elias said through interpreter Manny Acta last week.
“I’ve been working for a lot of years, and I had a very good offseason, and I think that’s the reason why things are working out right now.”
The 30-year-old left-hander spent the first two seasons of his MLB career with Seattle in 2014-15 primarily as a starter before being traded to Boston ahead of the 2016 season. He spent parts of two seasons with the Red Sox before he was dealt back to the Mariners last spring.
He split 2018 between the Mariners and Triple-A Tacoma, and started 11 games between the majors and minors, but primarily appeared as a reliever. He finished 13 games for the Mariners, compiling a 3-1 record and 2.65 ERA in 23 games, including four starts.
“At the beginning it was a little bit tough, but now I’ve gotten used to it,” Elias said of the transition. “I just go to the bullpen and get ready to go from inning one, because I don’t know when I’m going to come into the game, and so far so good.”
Mariners designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who has played stretches with Elias both in Tacoma and Seattle, said Elias has been fiery no matter his role and “flips a switch when he gets on the mound.”
“He’s such a competitor,” Vogelbach said. “That’s a guy you want to give the ball in big situations. He wants the ball. You can just see it in his emotion and see it in his attitude when he takes the mound. He’s not scared of anybody, he goes right after everybody, and that’s contagious.”
Right-handers Brandon Brennan (2-2, 2.13 ERA) and Connor Sadzeck (0-1, 2.41) have also had positive stretches this season, and are the only two relievers in the bullpen with an ERA below 3.00.
Brennan, acquired in the Rule 5 Draft in December, has a team-high 29 strikeouts across 25 1/3 innings in 20 games. Sadzeck has fanned 20 across 18 2/3 innings in 15 games after the Mariners picked him up from Texas in early April.
Right-hander Cory Gearrin (0-1, 3.93) has rebounded well from a shaky start, and has 21 strikeouts across 18 1/3 innings in 22 games.
“We will look up at the end of the year, and we will find three or four guys in our bullpen that are guys we will go forward with,” Servais said. “Maybe more than that. I hope it’s more than that. But, the only way we’re going to find out is you have to run them out there.”
BACK TO SLUGGING
Last week, Vogelbach spoke about trying to slow his swing to about 40-50 percent, and it paid dividends during the most recent homestand.
Entering Monday night’s game in Texas, he leads the American League with a 9.54 at-bats-per-home-run ratio, with 13 homers in 124 at-bats. He’s also among AL leaders in homers (tied third) and slugging percentage (third, .629).
Vogelbach hit home runs in four of the five games he played during the homestand, and hit safely in each game, finishing 6-for-18 with the four homers and had nine RBIs.
“He continues to swing the bat well,” Servais said.
The Mariners lead the majors with 90 home runs, and have scored 137 of their 258 runs this season via the long ball. Seattle is 9-3 in games Vogelbach has homered in.
MURPHY MAKES HISTORY
Backup catcher Tom Murphy made his second relief appearance for the Mariners in an 18-4 blowout loss to the Twins on Saturday night, and recorded a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
He struck out the first two batters of his MLB career, becoming the first position player to record two strikeouts in three batters faced in one innings since Philadelphia’s Granny Hamner accomplished the same in 1956.
He struck out both Miguel Sano — on a 90 mph fastball — and Jason Castro.
“I kept looking at the radar for sure,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who also played in left field during the game, said he pitched in high school, but has rarely played outfield anytime during his baseball career.
“It kinds of puts things in a little different perspective when you’re out there not just grinding away behind the plate,” Murphy said.
TUESDAY STARTER NAMED
Servais confirmed to reporters in Arlington that 32-year-old left-hander Tommy Milone will start for the Mariners in Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers.
Milone has compiled a 4-2 record with a 3.83 ERA with the Rainiers this season in nine games, including eight starts. He’s struck out 43 and walked 12 in 49 1/3 innings.
“He’s throwing the ball pretty well,” Servais said. “We’ll give him the ball (Tuesday) and see what we get.”
The Mariners optioned rookie right-hander Erik Swanson (1-5, 8.04 ERA) to Tacoma last week after he served up a career-high four home runs to the Twins in his shortest start of the season.
He allowed five or more runs in four of his six starts — including a combined 15 earned runs in his last two before being sent to Triple-A.