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Out of Right Field: Oh, what a relief it isn’t for Mariners

UPDATED: Sat., May 18, 2019, 11 p.m.

Give the Mariners credit. They aren’t standing pat, no matter what their chances are.

And we can all agree their 2019 chances aren’t good.

Do we have to go over it again? OK, if we must, we will.

Before the season began, general manager Jerry Dipoto admitted he was rebuilding Seattle’s roster. He even admitted the M’s were taking a step back, in hopes of becoming successful down the road.

The stars, most of them anyway, were let go or allowed to sign elsewhere. Older, cheaper folks were signed to bridge the gap until the youngsters brought in trades were ready.

So a 22-26 record going into Saturday night’s game is understandable.

But if the M’s are to become successful down the road, they have one area they really need to shore up. OK, more than one – a horrendous defense comes to mind – but we are concentrating on just one today: relief pitching.

Their bullpen may not be the American League’s worst, but it is a lot closer to the bottom than the top. In fact, just two AL teams have a worse bullpen earned-run average – Baltimore and Detroit – than the Mariners’ 5.17.

Which brings us back to our opening sentence. The M’s bullpen is in a constant state of flux.

Dipoto is mining every option, trying to find someone, anyone, who can hold the fort when the starters leave. And someone to get the final three outs.

How often is Dipoto making changes? Since May 1, the M’s have made 10 transactions related to relief pitchers. That’s more than one every two days.

If Scott Servais calls on you, and you get the job done, you live to pitch another day. If not, well, Tacoma is nice this time of year.

Why is it so important?

There are five American League teams that make the postseason. As of Saturday afternoon, those five teams are first (Houston), second (Indians), third (Rays), seventh (Yankees) and ninth (Twins) in bullpen ERA.

That’s a pretty good indicator of the importance of the pen.

Rule 5 draftee Brandon Brennan has been the most effective reliever, heading into Saturday with a tight ERA of 2.31, 26 strikeouts in 23 innings, and a WHIP of 1.114.

Left-hander Roenis Elias has seemingly found himself as an occasional closer – he leads the M’s with five saves in five chances – but five others have closed out games. They just haven’t been all that successful at it.

With Edwin Diaz plying his trade with the Mets, the M’s have blown eight saves already. Only Oakland has coughed up more in the American League.

That may not be the biggest worry Servais, has, however.

Just getting to a save situation has been a struggle recently. The starters are dealing with injuries, though Wade LeBlanc was reactivated from the injury list Saturday. (To open a spot, Matt Festa, and his seven relief appearances, were sent back to Tacoma.)

When the M’s designated for assignment Zac Rosscup earlier this week, Servais told reporters the role Rosscup is used to, as a situational lefty brought in to get an out or two, isn’t all that needed for a while.

“The thought behind that with our bullpen set up the way it is, we don’t really have a spot for him,” Servais told the media Friday. “Zac really is a left-on-left guy. That’s what he is good at. He’s got the left-handed breaking ball.

“We aren’t really built that way. We need a guy that can go out and pitch for one-plus or two-inning outings or even a two-plus inning outing.”

If Servais can get that, he mixes and matches until he can find a way to collect 27 outs.

It’s not perfect, but it’s what Servais has to deal with these days. In a season that is supposed to be a bridge between the old M’s and the new winning ones, the franchise is searching for pitchers who can build bridges in the middle and late innings.

It’s been a busy, and mainly unsuccessful, search thus far.

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