Managers are only as good as their bullpens.
Take Lou Piniella.
For all his success on the bench, Sweet Lou won just one World Series title as a manager, with the 1990 Cincinnati Reds when he had the “Nasty Boys” in the bullpen – Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers.
And even that relationship turned nasty, as Piniella and Dibble once engaged in a wrestling match in the clubhouse after an argument about how the trio was being used.
When Piniella managed the Mariners, he had the misfortune of having to rely on handing the ball in the ninth inning to the likes of Bobby Ayala, Heathcliff Slocumb and Jose Mesa. (Worst trade in franchise history: pitcher Derek Lowe and catcher Jason Varitek to the Boston Red Sox for Slocumb in 1997.)
That’ll lower your managerial IQ in a hurry.
And in the case of Piniella, drive one to drink.
In his office after an especially brutal loss, Piniella walked over to the small refrigerator in the corner of the room, opened the door, reached inside and proceeded to drop an olive into his plastic foam cup.
As Piniella sat back down, he noticed a young reporter glancing at him quizzically.
“What, you didn’t think there was coffee in here, did you?” Piniella said.
Call it the Styrofoam Martini.
And current M’s manager Scott Servais might need a couple pretty soon.
The Mariners’ offense has been potent – at least, when not at T-Mobile Park – with a major-league leading 53 home runs, and the starting rotation has been solid. M’s starters are a combined 10-4 with a 4.02 ERA and 13 quality starts, the latter tied for the third most in the majors, one behind Houston and Pittsburgh.
But the bullpen?
That’s another story.
Of the eight players on the Mariners’ injured list, six are relief pitchers with a combined 104 games missed.
Closer Hunter Strickland saved the first two games of the season against the Oakland Athletics in Japan but made just one more appearance before going on the injured list with a right lat strain.
Chasen Bradford (right shoulder inflammation) is on the 10-day IL, Anthony Swarzak and Shawn Armstrong missed the start of the season, and Gerson Bautista and Sam Tuivailala have yet to appear in a game.
None of those guys will make M’s fans forget Edwin Diaz when at full strength, much less when they’re ailing.
So far, the only relievers Servais can count on are left-hander Roenis Elias, a former starter who is 4 for 4 in save opportunities, and rookie right-hander Brandon Brennan, a Rule 5 draft pickup from Colorado in the offseason who must be kept on Seattle’s roster all season or be offered back to the Rockies for $50,000.
The lack of dependable arms has already influenced Servais’ managerial decisions.
On Thursday night, Felix Hernandez pitched six quality innings before the M’s batted around in the top of the seventh for a 10-2 lead. Making a starting pitcher sit around for a half hour while his team is at bat isn’t ideal, and you would probably have seen Servais summon a reliever when the bottom of the inning came around.
Instead, he tried to get a couple of more outs out of King Felix.
The move backfired, as the Angels scored seven runs in the inning and tied the score in the eighth before a run-scoring single by pinch-hitter Jay Bruce in the ninth salvaged an 11-10 victory.
“The seventh inning got crazy …” Servais said. “It’s part of what we are going through with some inexperienced guys down there (in the bullpen). You’ve got to finish.”
Friday night, lefty Marco Gonzales took a 3-1 lead into the eighth before an infield single and a two-run homer by Mike Trout tied the score. That prevented the former Gonzaga standout from registering his fifth victory of the season.
And it prompted perhaps the most honest quote of the season after Trout golfed a low pitch over the wall in left-center field.
“I’m not surprised,” Gonzales said. “(Trout’s) the best low-ball hitter in the game. Probably the best hitter in the game. You just have to tip your hat. We had him all night with cutters and heaters and I got a little cocky and threw him a changeup. He reached down and got it. In that situation, I didn’t want to let the go-ahead run get to the plate, so I tried to get after him and get a ground ball there. If that pitch is an inch lower, he doesn’t swing at it and you are 2-1. His ability to handle pitches on the edges of the zone is exceptional and you have to pick your spots. That was probably the best pitch from me that he got and he made it count.”
The M’s still won 5-3 on back-to-back homers by Tim Beckham and Omar Narvaez leading off the ninth.
And that’s something else Sweet Lou would drink to.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.