CLEVELAND — It hasn’t been totally smooth sailing for the Mariners’ revamped bullpen through the first 14 games, but it’s hard not to view the early returns as a significant improvement over last year.
The relief corps carried a 2.76 ERA into Wednesday’s game against the Indians after getting 4 1/3 scoreless innings from Mike Montgomery and Tony Zych in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss.
"They’ve been great," manager Scott Servais said. "About as good as we could have imagined."
The bullpen added three more scoreless innings in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory at Progressive Field when Joel Peralta, Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek protected a one-run lead.
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That ERA is down to 2.58.
The bullpen, prior to the game, was limiting opponents to a .167 batting average, which led all American League clubs. That mark is also heading down. The unit has allowed just two runs in its last 22 1/3 innings.
Contrast that with a year ago, when the Mariners saw their bullpen break down repeatedly while compiling a 4.15 ERA that ranked 12th among the 15 AL clubs. It ranked 13th with an opponent’s batting average of .258.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto responded by overhauling the unit. None of the seven current relievers began last year with the club. Four were acquired since the end of last season.
"I spent my entire major-league career pitching 400 pitched games in the bullpen," Dipoto said. "Never did anything else. If you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t. The bullpen is about as unpredictable as it gets."
So far, it’s mostly been good — although were a few early slips.
Cishek gave up a tie-breaking homer to Oakland’s Chris Coghlan in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss on April 8. Peralta surrendered one-run leads in the eighth inning on April 10 and April 13.
Two points to note.
***Coghlan’s homer is the only run allowed by Cishek in seven innings over six appearances.
***Peralta was filling in for Joaquin Benoit, another newcomer, as the primary set-up reliever. Benoit missed time because of tightness in his back and shoulder but returned Saturday with a scoreless eighth inning in a 3-2 victory at New York.
Benoit has allowed only one hit in four scoreless outings.
"Peralta has been phenomenal since he gave up that last homer," Cishek said. "I’ve tried to keep the ball down since I gave up the homer to Cogs. And Benoit is healthy.
"Beyond that, (Mike) Montgomery looks phenomenal. He kept us in the ballgame (on Tuesday). (Tony) Zych has lightning stuff. (Nick) Vincent has a nasty cutter.
And (Vidal) Nuno in New York, my goodness. He pitched back-to-back days and got us out of huge jams."
The Mariners are 2-5 in one-run games even after Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over the Indians. The problem is a punchless attack.
All five one-run losses came in games when the Mariners scored fewer than four runs. They are 4-0 when scoring at least four runs but just 2-8 when they score three runs or fewer.
"We have a number of guys who are 100 points under their on-base percentage for their career," Servais said. "One hundred. Not 10 percent(age points). One hundred beneath what they’ve done for their career."
There were five such players prior to Wednesday: Nori Aoki, Robinson Cabo, Steve Clevenger, Adam Lind and Ketel Marte. The only players with an OBP higher than their career average were Chris Iannetta and Seth Smith.
A year ago, the Mariners were 28-29 in one-run games. They were 53-26 when scoring four runs or more and 23-60 when they scored fewer than four runs.
Second baseman Chris Mariscal keyed a remarkable late rally Tuesday that carried Lo-A Clinton to a 10-7 victory at Peoria (Cardinals) in 10 innings.
The LumberKings scored four two-out runs in the ninth inning and three two-out runs in the 10th. Mariscal contributed two-run doubles to both rallies. Left fielder Ricky Eusebio tied the game with a two-run single in the ninth.
The Mariners selected Mariscal, 22, in the 14th round of the 2014 draft, and he batted .236 last season in 105 games at Clinton during a disastrous 46-93 season. The LumberKings are currently 8-5, and Mariscal is batting .353 (12-for-34).
***Double-A Jackson staged its own comeback Wednesday afternoon by getting four straight two-out singles in the ninth inning for a 4-3 walk-off victory over Birmingham (White Sox).
Singles by Guillermo Heredia and Tim Lopes put runners at first and third. Tyler O’Neill tied the game with a bloop single to left before Leon Landry capped the rally with an RBI single to center.
It was four years ago Thursday — April 21, 2012 — that Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox pitched a perfect game against the Mariners in a 4-0 victory at Safeco Field.
Humber threw 96 pitches and struck out nine, including Brendan Ryan on a check-swing to end the game. It was the 21st perfect game in major-league history, but just the first of three in 2012.
San Francisco’s Matt Cain did it on June 13 in a 10-0 victory over visiting Houston, and Mariners ace Felix Hernandez did it on Aug. 15 in a 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay at Safeco Field.
Hernandez’s gem marked the first time there have been three perfect games in a season and the first time that two took place in the same season in the same stadium. No pitcher has thrown a perfect game since Hernandez.
The Mariners and Indians conclude their three-game series — weather permitting — at 9:10 a.m. Pacific time Thursday at Progressive Field.
Right-hander Nathan Karns (1-1 with a 4.50 ERA) will face Cleveland right-hander Cody Anderson (0-1, 5.91). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
The weather forecast, however, is grim. It calls for a 70-percent chance of rain with showers early in the day before turning into a steady rain. This is the Mariners’ only scheduled visit of the season to Cleveland.
The Mariners conclude their three-city road trip with three weekend games at Anaheim before returning home Monday for a tough six-game homestand: three-game series against Houston and Kansas City.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
AMERICAN LEAGUE BULLPENS
New York 2.29
Tampa Bay 2.48
Kansas City 3.16
Los Angeles 4.20
Opponents batting average
Tampa Bay .192
New York .218
Los Angeles .223
Kansas City .235