Seattle's save chances were dominated in the first half by Steve Cishek. However, after Cishek landed on the disabled list, Edwin Diaz, once a top starting pitching prospect, took the reins and never looked back. He dazzled in the bullpen over the final two-plus months, going 18-for-21 in save chances. Diaz ranked sixth in second-half K/9 (14.3) among arms with 20-plus appearances, behind Ken Giles, Kenley Jansen, Dellin Betances, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. On the season, he finished fourth among relievers with an 18.5 swinging-strike percentage. While his his walk rate was a sparkling 2.6 BB/9, he has bouts of inefficiency and must aim to get ahead in more at-bats. Still, the right-hander, who turns 23 in March, boasts outstanding peripherals (33.6 K-BB%) and electric stuff. Even with some correction perhaps coming, Diaz could deliver numbers befitting a top-five fantasy closer at a discount relative to bigger names.
Diaz earned the win in Team Puerto Rico's 4-3 victory Monday over Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic by giving up just one walk over two scoreless innings and striking out three. Diaz entered the game in the top of 10th and was tasked with preserving a 3-3 tie for Team Puerto Rico. He promptly struck out the side, which included getting both Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop swinging. He then induced Curt Smith into an inning-ending double play to wrap up his second and final frame in the 11th. Diaz earned his first victory in WBC play in the bottom half of the inning when Eddie Rosario's sacrifice fly drove in Carlos Correa.
Diaz, the Mariners' projected closer, earned a save by firing 1.1 innings of scoreless ball in Team Puerto Rico's 3-1 World Baseball Classic victory over defending champion Team Dominican Republic on Tuesday. Diaz came on with two out and a man on in the eighth and got out of the inning when Nelson Cruz was gunned down trying to steal second. His work in the ninth was considerably impressive, considering he got Adrian Beltre swinging and Welington Castillo on an infield pop-up before nailing down the save by getting new Mariners teammate Jean Segura looking. Diaz is expected to have ample opportunity to rack up saves after successfully converting 18 of 21 such opportunities as a rookie in 2016.
Diaz will pitch for Team Puerto Rico in this year's World Baseball Classic, Greg Johns of MLB.com reports. The 22-year-old right-hander heads into the 2017 campaign as the Mariners closer after tallying 18 saves in 21 chances last season, along with an 88:15 K:BB and 2.79 ERA over 49 appearances. Diaz will join a Team Puerto Rico pitching staff that includes Twins hurlers Hector Santiago and Jose Berrios and the Mets' Seth Lugo.
Mariners manager Scott Servais hinted that he's unlikely to vary the role of Diaz in 2017 to mimic the way the Indians utilized Andrew Miller in the 2016 postseason, the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Servais cited days off in the postseason schedule as part of the reason that tactic is more effective during that playoffs than it would be during the regular season. Diaz will open the 2017 season as the Mariners' closer, with the potential to emerge as one of the best ninth-inning options in the game after he ripped off 18 saves in 21 chances as a rookie last season with an impressive 88:15 K:BB (51.2 innings).
Diaz gave up two runs on four hits to blow his third save Monday against Houston. Diaz was 17-for-19 in save opportunities with a 2.82 ERA in his first 22.1 innings as closer with an eye-popping 32 strikeouts. This marks the first time all season Diaz has allowed more than three hits in an inning, and given his blazing fastball, it's not something we should get accustomed to. Expect Diaz to continue as Seattle's closer throughout the regular season and into the playoffs should the Mariners qualify.