Scott Servais’ questionable bullpen management is costing the Mariners
By Ty Gonzalez
The Mariners have two of the MLB’s best relievers in Alex Colome and Edwin Diaz. Yet, Scott Servais refuses to use them outside of their unnecessary “roles.”
The idea of a setup man and a closer should only signify the top dogs of a team’s bullpen and nothing more. However, Servais takes these titles way too literally – if there is no save to set up, or one to obtain, we won’t see Diaz and often won’t see Colome.
If the game is tied in the ninth, we have rarely seen Diaz. This includes home games, in which a save opportunity is no longer a possibility. If the Mariners trail by a run or two heading into the eighth, it’s not Colome taking the bump; instead, it’s Adam Warren, Nick Vincent, or Zach Duke.
In situations such as yesterday’s 10-7 loss to the Astros, one of the aforementioned pitchers have often failed to maintain the score they inherit. This happened to Warren yesterday, entering a 9-7 game despite Colome being available, and consequently allowing a solo home run to Tyler White to seal the deal.
With the faith the Mariners have shown in the likes of Vincent and Warren to keep things close, why do they not trust them to save or hold a lead in the event Diaz and/or Colome have to go earlier than expected?
My theory is this: the Mariners have played it very safe with their pitchers this year, after their disastrous, injury-plagued 2017. The Mariners don’t want to use their key arms unless they absolutely have to.
This attempt to avoid the risk of injury is discouraging. The playoff aspirations the organization claims to share with its fans have begun to feel fabricated; their lack of aggressiveness brings to question if that is truly their goal.
I get that this may seem like a huge overreaction, but the facts are simple: good teams don’t play – or in this case, coach – scared.
Prior to the season, the Mariners consistently mentioned the 2014 and 2016 seasons, in which they barely missed the playoffs. When they said this, it felt that they recognized the importance of every single game.
When Servais fails to put in Diaz outside of the ninth, or in non-save situations, he’s ignoring the power of one game. In June, the Mariners faced the Red Sox and Yankees back-to-back on a brutal east coast trip; they went 1-5, and Edwin Diaz saw the mound once – with a 7-0 lead.
That stretch included a blown 5-0 lead and a 14-10 loss, and Diaz saw zero action.
But it wasn’t just that week. No, this has been a season-long dilemma. Of the 62 games Diaz has appeared in this season, only 10 of them have occurred in non-save situations. That’s not a great look for someone considered to be a prime Cy Young candidate.
Sure, you could say that if Diaz or Colome entered yesterday’s game, the results still would have been the same because the offense didn’t score again. That’s fair, but it’s missing the point.
The point is, putting Diaz or Colome in those situations gives you the best chance to win the game, and saves you from the “what ifs.” Consider this: after Warren gives up the solo shot to White, the Mariners put together a rally and score two runs. However, they fall short and lose 10-9 all because of Warren’s mistake.
Of course, it’s not an automatic that White doesn’t have the same result against Diaz or Colome, but the chances are lower.
But let’s stop speaking in hypotheticals before this becomes Ryan Divish’s comments section.
Let us instead address the elephant in the room: Edwin Diaz’s three losses. For the majority of the backlash Scott Servais has publicly received for his bullpen management, it’s for actually using Diaz in non-save opportunities.
Words cannot describe how irritatingly stupid this narrative is, considering that all three occurrences were home games in which – again – a save opportunity was no longer possible.
If you’re one of the people that indulge in this narrative, Michael Jordan would like to have a word with you:
That video also applies to the large group who believe in bullpen roles and think saves and reliever ERA are important stats.
Bullpen roles are meaningless. The closer and setup man are fictitious positions that bear no fruit.
The Mariners are at a very delicate point of the season where every game and every decision they make is very important. This is worst possible time to play things safe. If you’re in a close game late, whether you’re losing or tied, you need to give your team the best opportunity to win.
Edwin Diaz and Alex Colome provide that.
They’re good. Use them.