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After latest meltdown, Edwin Diaz out as Mariners closer for now

Seattle Mariners closing pitcher Edwin Diaz throws against the Texas Rangers in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Friday, May 5, 2017, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners closing pitcher Edwin Diaz throws against the Texas Rangers in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Friday, May 5, 2017, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Christian Caple Tacoma News Tribune

After he walked four consecutive batters in the ninth inning of Monday’s 6-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics, Edwin Diaz will no longer serve as the Seattle Mariners closer, manager Scott Servais said.

Instead, Diaz will focus on fixing his mechanics with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., and will pitch in lower-leverage situations earlier in games as he figures things out.

The problem, Servais said, is that Diaz, a 23-year-old right-hander, “doesn’t know where to go” when, uh, “the BS hits the fan.”

In 16 appearances this season, Diaz has a 1-2 record with a 5.28 ERA in 15 1/3 innings. He has converted 7 of 9 save opportunities, but his last two outings were rough: on Sunday, he allowed a walk-off home run in a tie game against Toronto. On Monday, he entered with a three-run lead before walking four consecutive batters, forcing the Mariners to turn to Tony Zych to close the game out.

“We’ve got to get Edwin right. He’s got a great arm,” Servais said. “We know what he can do when he is right. We’re going to need him. But right now, it’s probably not going to be the ninth inning.”

Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. began working on Diaz’s mechanics prior to Seattle’s Tuesday night game against Oakland. He said he showed him video of Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, whose delivery he says is similar to Diaz, and emphasized body awareness and body control.

“With Eddie, it’s hips ahead of arms,” Stottlemyre said. “So we went out and I’m just trying to teach him how to use his body down the slope so his arm can go with it and he can hopefully repeat pitches down the slope and the other end of the plate, something he’s never really had a handle on.

“(I’m) kind of taking him through some basic stuff – and trying to keep it simple without confusing him – that he can grab onto and take into a game if he gets sideways again.”

Stottlemyre said he’s trying to get Diaz’s knee lift to occur when his body is still over the rubber, rather than as he is already moving toward home plate – a flaw that causes his arm to come through too late.

“So we’re trying to hold the hips back and let the knee get to the top,” Stottlemyre said, “so the timing of the arm down to foot-strike is in good position to make a pitch.”

For now, Servais said, Diaz will likely pitch in the sixth or seventh innings, and possibly for more than one inning at a time, until his mechanics improve. The closer role could be filled by a number of different relievers.

Servais named Mark Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent, former closer Steve Cishek and Tony Zych as possibilities to pitch the ninth.

Diaz, who saved 18 games as a rookie last season while striking out 88 batters in 51 2/3 innings, said he has never had as much trouble throwing strikes as he did on Monday night. But he seemed encouraged by the changes Stottlemyre wants him to make – and it doesn’t hurt that he is using video of Pedro Martinez as a teaching tool.

“We just tried to fix the things that he does – stay back on the rubber like him,” Diaz said. “Everything will be fine after that.”

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