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Paul Sewald sticks with ‘simple’ approach to anchor Mariners bullpen

Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez celebrates with relief pitcher Paul Sewald after a victory over the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on Friday, June 3, 2022.   (Tribune News Service)
Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Two years ago, Paul Sewald was still just a mere curiosity in Seattle.

Released by the Mets after the 2020 season, Sewald signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners in January 2021 and opened that season at Triple-A Tacoma.

The Mariners called him up on May 13, 2021, and you’d be forgiven if you overlooked him that day — the same day that top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert were promoted with much fanfare.

Here he is two years later, and Sewald is again the steady anchor of one of the best bullpens in the majors. On Thursday night, he made his 150th appearance for the Mariners, converting his 11th save (in 11 opportunities) of the season to complete a four-game sweep of Oakland.

“We did a 180 here … and I really haven’t looked back,” Sewald said Friday, his 33rd birthday.

There’s little mystery about Sewald now, and no mystery about what he’ll do on the mound. Sewald continues to lean on the same two pitches that revitalized his career two years ago — a 92-mph fastball and a sweeping slider.

“Paul makes it very simple,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And I think that’s what the best relievers do. They don’t get caught up in who’s in the box. They just know if they execute their pitches, they’ll get good results.”

Since joining the Mariners in 2021, Sewald is holding batters to a .166 batting average (89 hits in 536 at-bats), third best among all MLB relievers who have thrown 100 innings since then.

Sewald’s sweeper slider breaks, on average, 11.4 inches from right to left, and it’s his most entertaining pitch — the one with which he can really make hitters look silly.

But it’s his fastball — and, specifically, his pinpoint command with it at the top of the strike zone — that Sewald credits for his success.

“The sweeper moves more, and then with my arm slot it looks cooler,” he said. “And that’s how you get really bad swings with that.

“But my fastball is what changed my life, honestly. I’m able to get that up in the zone, with carry, instead of trying to make it go down and end up right in the middle of the zone.”

Sewald has a 3.18 ERA with 30 strikeouts and just five walks in 22.2 innings. His expected ERA (xERA) of 1.13, according to Statcast, puts him in the top 1% of MLB.

“Paul is in a really good stretch right now,” Servais said. “He’s locating the fastball at the top part of the strike zone as well as he ever has. He had a run when we first got him (in 2021) where he was just dominant — and he’s starting to get back in that spot again.”