It is instructive that Mariners manager Scott Servais, after Tuesday’s disappointing 8-2 loss to Philadelphia, aimed a sizable portion of his postgame remarks at the lack of focus he perceived in closer Edwin Diaz.
The Mariners trailed 4-2 when Diaz got the call in the ninth inning. It was a "get work" summons. He hadn’t pitched since June 21 — and, boy, he wasn’t sharp.
Diaz gave up four runs and didn’t even make it through the inning. Only one was earned due to an error — but it was his error; on a throw to first after fielding a sacrifice bunt. So while three runs were unearned, they weren’t undeserved.
"A bad day.," he said. "Everybody has a bad day. Tomorrow will be a new day, and I’ll be ready tomorrow."
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Servais was having none of it.
"You’re going to have stretches when (bullpen) guys aren’t in the game for three or four days," he said. "That’s part of being a big-league reliever. You've got to try stay mentally sharp. You can’t let your edge down.
"With Eddie tonight, that was the bigger issue.
"Stuff-wise, he was fine. Command was what we’re used to seeing. But he didn’t have the mental edge. You have to have that every time you step on a big-league mound."
It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that Diaz is still just 23. Less than 14 months ago, he was pitching in Double-A. While he said, "I was mentally ready," he didn’t look like it.
Servais clearly didn’t think so, and he didn’t let the moment pass.
"He had not been out there in five days," he said. "But he’s got to realize, I’ve got to get him in the game. We’ve got to try to keep him sharp. You've got to have your edge with you."
Four days is the general maximum that a manager wants to let any reliever sit. That’s particularly true for a closer. Diaz was almost certain to pitch Tuesday against the Phillies regardless of how the game turned out.
"You can’t just out there and flip the switch," Servais said. "He’s learning. He’s still a young pitcher, but every time you walk on the big-league mound, there are guys in the batter’s box who are getting paid to hit, too."
If this amounted to a lesson, it came cheap.
The Mariners trailed by two runs going into the ninth inning and had mustered little from their lineup beyond one two-run swing from Jean Segura. They probably weren’t winning this game no matter what Diaz did.
Three takeaways from Tuesday’s loss:
***A slump in the middle: It’s probably no coincidence the Mariners’ current three-game skid coincides with a 6-for-34 slide from their middle core of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
Tuesday’s game turned in the sixth inning when, with the scored tied 2-2, the Mariners put runners at first and third with no outs. Cruz struck out, and Seager grounded into a double play.
The Mariners have enough depth in their lineup to compensate for a slump by one of their big three. They might even succeed in covering, for a short span, if two go into a funk. But all three makes it really tough.
***Paxton perks up: Lefty James Paxton lost a third straight decision, but he appeared to recapture his early-season form for long stretches in giving up just four hits in seven innings, He also struck out nine.
The problem was that three hits came in Philly’s two-run fifth inning. The other was a tie-breaking homer by Maikel Franco in the seventh.
"We didn't get the results that we wanted tonight," Paxton said, "but my process was much better. I made a lot better pitches."
***Haniger’s hangover: Right fielder Mitch Haniger hasn’t been the same player since he returned June 11 from a 42-game absence because of a strained right oblique muscle.
Haniger had a .342/.447/.608 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with four homers and 16 RBIs in 21 games prior to his injury. He has a .246/.386/.386 slash in 15 games since his return with two homers and six RBIs.
Not awful. Haniger’s ability to draw walks is keeping his on-base percentage in the plus category. But he’s just not producing the same overall impact as prior to his injury.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners