As the season winds down, the Mariners are already providing a glimpse of their bullpen plans for next season. Right-handers Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner are getting the call consistently with the game on the line.
Scribner was summoned Monday in the seventh inning with the Mariners looking to protect a one-run lead against Houston — and responded with a scoreless inning. He has not allowed a run since returning from the disabled list.
After rookie closer Edwin Diaz blew a save in the ninth inning, manager Scott Servais kept Vincent in reserve until another opportunity presented itself. That came in the 11th inning after Robinson Cano’s tie-breaking homer.
Vincent closed out the victory.
"Something that goes under-appreciated (in Vincent) is he’s deceptive," Servais said. "Hitters do not pick up the ball well against him — the way the ball comes out of his hand, and the way it cuts.
"He pitches up in the zone, which works to his advantage as well."
Vincent has a 3.55 ERA in 57 appearances, but much of that damage came during seven appearances in late June when he attempted to pitch through a strained back muscle. Remove those outings, and his ERA dips to 2.90.
"At the beginning of the year," he said, "I was doing good until I came up with that back issue. That thing started acting up. But I’m just back to attacking the zone and staying aggressive."
But he’s also made some other adjustments, which helps his explain his 2.16 ERA over his last 16 appearances.
"I’m not trying to throw my cutter down and away," Vincent said. "If it goes for a ball, then I’m down 2-0 and in a hitter’s count. For me, it’s important to get strike one.
"If they make an out with the first pitch, like they’ve been doing, thank you. It makes baseball a little bit easier. It’s just attacking the zone and trusting the guys in the field."
Scribner spent most of the season on the disabled list after again tearing a back muscle in spring training. He made eight minor-league rehab appearances in August before joining the Mariners on Sept. 1 when rosters expanded.
"We knew when we acquired him (last December from Oakland)," Servais said, "that he was a strike-thrower. He only walked (four) hitters last year. Great numbers as far as throwing strikes.
"I think what we’re seeing now is he has the freshest arm. It’s been a big boost for bullpen to be able to go to him and not ride Vincent."
Scribner and Vincent are eligible for arbitration but neither figures to make more than $1 million, which makes them affordable commodities in putting together next year’s bullpen.
The unit is certain to include Diaz and veteran Steve Cishek, which probably leaves room for only one more right-hander.
AT 35 AND COUNTING
Robinson Cano admits he takes extra pride in hitting a career-high 35 homers this season (and counting) because of the extra work required last winter after undergoing surgery in October to repair a double sports hernia.
"t means a lot," he said, "because I didn’t get any rest. I had surgery a week (after the season), and I had to do exercise every single day to get stronger. I’m able to use my hip again."
Cano’s previous career high was 33 homers in 2012 while playing for the New York Yankees. His 35 homers this season matched the combined total of his first two seasons with the Mariners.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma triggered a final $500,000 performance bonus Monday when he pitched six innings against Houston. The outing pushed his season’s workload to 195 1/3 innings.
Iwakuma received an additional $500,000 to his $12 million salary for each of five milestones: 150 innings, 160, 170, 180 and 190. He previously triggered a $14 million vesting option for next season by reaching 162 innings, which can only be voided if he ends the season with a shoulder injury.
With six games remaining, the status of all option and performance-bonus clauses appear set.
***Outfielder Nori Aoki seems certain to become a free agent. He needs 30 plate appearances over the final five games to trigger a $5 million player option for next season.
Aoki has attained three $100,000 performance bonuses by reaching 400, 425 and 450 plate appearances.
***Catcher Chris Iannetta has started 86 games, which means he can’t reach the 100 starts necessary to turn his $4.25 million club option into a guaranteed deal.
***Reliever Steve Cishek previously triggered $1 million in performance bonuses by finishing 39 games. If he finishes one more, he gets another $500,000. His base salary is $4 million.
***Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has triggered $1 million in performance bonuses for his 273 plate appearances. He needs 27 more plate appearances to achieve another $500,000 bonus. His base salary is $1.5 million.
***First baseman Dae-Ho Lee triggered various bonuses connected to roster time and plate appearances, which should boost his $1 million base salary to about $2.5 million.
A YEAR ON THE JOB
Wednesday marks Jerry Dipoto’s one-year anniversary as the Mariners general manager. It’s been a busy year. Just a few numbers:
***The Mariners’ current 40-man expanded roster (including players on the 60-day disabled lists and suspended lists) has 24 players acquired under Dipoto.
***The Mariners have a new manager and five new coaches in their seven-man on-field staff.
***The Mariners have a new director of player development, a new director of amateur scouting and a new director of professional scouting. They also have two new special assistants to the general manager and a new vice president of player personnel.
***The Mariners have two new minor-league affiliates.
FAREWELL TO TAL’S HILL
Unless the Astros reach postseason, today’s series finale will mark the final game at Minute Maid Park for Tal’s Hill, the distinctive 30-degree incline beyond the warning track in center field.
The Astros plan to raze the hill after the season to add new amenities. The distance to the center-field wall will be shortened from 436 feet to 409 feet.
Tal’s Hill was named for Tal Smith, who was the club’s head of baseball operations when the stadium was built in 1997.
The Astros wanted some distinctive features, and Smith suggested a beam similar to the one in the outfield at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
The hill, which is 90 feet wide at its base, has long terrorized center fielders.
"It’s different, man," Leonys Martin said. "You hit the warning track, and you think, `Oh, no!’"
COUNTING IT DOWN
Toronto opened its three-game showdown with Baltimore on Tuesday with a 5-1 victory at the Rogers Centre and now has a two-game lead over the Orioles in the race for the American League’s two wild-card spots.
Detroit beat Cleveland and closed to within one game of Baltimore for the final wild-card berth.
The Mariners, by losing, missed a chance to climb to within one game of the Orioles. They remained two games behind Baltimore and now trail Detroit by one game. Houston pulled to within one-half game of the Mariners.
Here are the remaining schedules, starting with Wednesday, for the primary five teams battling for the AL’s two wild-card berths:
Toronto (87-70): Wednesday and Thursday vs. Baltimore; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Boston.
Baltimore (85-72): Wednesday and Thursday at Toronto; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at New York Yankees.
Detroit (84-73): Wednesday and Thursday vs. Cleveland; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Atlanta.
Mariners (83-74): Wednesday at Houston; Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday vs. Oakland.
Houston (83-75): Wednesday vs. Mariners; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Los Angels Angels.
It was 13 years ago Wednesday — Sept. 28, 2003 — that the Mariners set three major-league fielding records in closing out the season with a 9-3 victory over Oakland at Safeco Field.
***They finished the season with 65 errors. The previous record was 68 by the 1999 New York Mets.
***They finished the season with a .98886 fielding percentage. The previous record was .98875 by the 1999 New York Mets.
***They permitted only 35 unearned runs.
Robinson Cano has eight homers this season against the Astros, which is tied for the third-highest, single-season total in franchise history against a single opponent. The record is 10, set this year by Nelson Cruz against the Angels. Jay Buhner hit nine against Minnesota in 1995, while Ken Griffey Jr. hit eight against Texas in 1994…the Mariners’ rotation entered Tuesday with 12 quality starts over the previous 18 games. The unit was a combined 10- 5 with a 2.77 ERA in that span…the Mariners, by winning Monday, clinched a winning road record. They are 41-39 with one game remaining.
The Mariners and Astros conclude their three-game series at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Wednesday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Left-hander James Paxton (5-7 with a 5.72 ERA) will face Houston right-hander Doug Fister (12-12, 4.42). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
The Mariners then conclude the regular season with a four-game series against Oakland, which begins Thursday at Safeco Field.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners