While the Mariners’ rotation remains in flux as they open a three-game weekend series Friday against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, their bullpen shows signs of stabilizing.
Edwin Diaz reclaimed the closer’s job Thursday by pitching the ninth inning in a 4-2 victory at Washington for his first save since May 9. He pitched three scoreless innings in two non-save situations after making some changes in his delivery.
"We wanted to work the game to Eddie if we had the lead," manager Scott Servais said. "We like him in that spot. He’s got great stuff. It’s just about his consistency in locating it. Getting the ball in the strike zone.
"He doesn’t always have to live on the edges. Just live in the strike zone. Because his stuff is pretty electric."
Diaz has been shaky for much of the season and had a 5.28 ERA when he lost the closer’s duty after nearly letting a three-run lead get away in the ninth inning May 15 against Oakland before Tony Zych secured the victory.
What followed for Diaz were some bullpen workouts with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. that emphasized staying back over the rubber and not rushing through his delivery.
Slowing Diaz down permitted his arm to work in tandem with his body, rather than pulling it through in a catch-up motion. The flaw had resulted in a loss of command in his slider and a fastball that lost movement and straightened out.
The effect of the change quickly became apparent in his two non-save situations.
"I feel good," Diaz said. "They gave me the opportunity to pitch the ninth (on Thursday), and I got the save. I did my job. I’m really confident right now."
With Diaz again anchored at the back of the bullpen, the other roles fall more naturally in place.
Marc Rzepczynski can resume pitching in key left-on-left situations earlier in the game. Right-handers Nick Vincent, Steve Cishek and Zych can rotate through the seventh and eighth innings along with lefty James Pazos.
That’s roughly what the Mariners envisioned this spring in putting together their bullpen.
***The pitching matchup Friday is right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2-4 with a 5.84 ERA) against Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (3-1 and 3.10). The game starts at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time and can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.
***Gallardo is 2-2 with a 5.28 ERA in six career starts against the Red Sox, including 1-2 with a 6.41 ERA in four starts at Fenway Park. Rodriguez has only faced the Mariners once in his career. He got a no-decision last year at Safeco Field after giving up just one run and three hits in 6 1/3 innings.
***Dustin Pedroia is 7-for-18 in his career against Gallardo, while Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are each 4-for-12. Hanley Ramirez is 4-for-15, but Chris Young is just 3-for-24 with seven strikeouts.
***Robinson Cano is 2-for-3 in his career against Rodriguez, but Danny Valencia is 0-for-6.
***Neither club has yet announced a starting pitcher for Saturday’s game, which starts at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time. The Mariners are expected to start right-hander Rob Whalen, whom they recalled earlier this week from Triple-A Tacoma.
Boston plans to start left-hander Brian Johnson (1-0, 7.20).
***Left-hander James Paxton is scheduled to test his recovery from a strained forearm muscle by throwing 60-65 pitches over four innings Friday in a rehab start for Double-A Arkansas against Frisco (Rangers) in Little Rock.
If all goes well, Paxton should be return next week from the disabled list.
***Cano has a .342 career average in 88 games at Fenway Park with 37 doubles, 14 homers and 69 RBIs. Nelson Cruz has a .353 average in 34 games with 14 doubles, eight homers and 27 RBIs.
***Pedroia has a .236 career average against the Mariners in 66 games with six homers and 18 RBIs. But Jackie Bradley Jr. (.328 in 18 games), Hanley Ramirez (.324 in nine) and Betts (.324 in 17) have done far more damage.
It was 22 years ago Friday — May 26, 1995 — that Ken Griffey Jr. made a spectacular catch on a drive by Baltimore’s Kevin Bass at the Kingdome.
Griffey held the ball after crashing into the wall but suffered two broken bones in his left wrist. He underwent surgery the next day and didn’t return to action until Aug. 15.
The Mariners won the game 8-3.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners