The 2017 season is off to a tough start for the Seattle Mariners. They are 8-12 through 20 games, which has them sitting in the AL West cellar. The season is still very young though. Plenty of time to right the ship.
One problem with their slow start, however, is a lack of save chances for closer Edwin Diaz. He's had only three save chances -- Diaz has pitched in only six games total -- in the club's first 20 starts of the season. That's not much action for Seattle's top reliever.
Because Diaz isn't getting much work, manager Scott Servais may begin using him earlier in the game while leaning on someone else to get the last three outs. Here's what Servais told Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune:
"He needs to pitch," Servais said. "I don't just want to stick him down there and wait because he's the closer. He is so young. It may depend on where we are in the game. He hasn't pitched much lately at all.
"He might go five outs. He might go six outs. In a road game, don't be shocked if he comes in there in the eighth inning of a tie game. I know it's not the traditional closer role, but that kind of how I see using him."
"I'm just trying to manage the game," Servais said. "If it's a tie game or whatever, just put your best guys out there and extend the game as long as you can. Hopefully, your offense scores, and we have someone to get us the last three outs.
"That may not be Eddie Diaz because we've already used him. I want to do that instead of just leaving him down there. You don't want to not get the game to the 10th inning because you kept your closer is fresh by having him just sit there."
Servais plans to use Diaz as his Andrew Miller, essentially. Indians manager Terry Francona uses Miller as his "moment of truth" reliever and brings him into the game in whatever he considers the most important situation. Sixth inning, seventh inning, eighth inning, ninth inning, whatever. Miller does not have a set inning.
So far this season Diaz has allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings, though three of those four runs came in one outing. He pitched Saturday with the Mariners trailing by a run because he hadn't pitched in five days and needed the work. That's a problem. Not only does it not help the Mariners win games, but this is a 23-year-old pitcher who needs innings to continue his development.
Last season Diaz burst onto the scene and struck out 88 batters in 51 2/3 innings after being called up at midseason. He also saved 18 games. Perhaps Servais will continue to use Diaz as his "moment of truth" reliever going forward rather than shackle him to the ninth inning. More and more teams seem to be using their top reliever in such a way. Diaz could be next.