SEATTLE — The Mariners’ revamped bullpen has played arguably as much of a factor in their first-place standing as any component on the team through its first 17 games. And that relief corps passed its most prominent test yet in Monday night’s 4-3 win over the Dodgers at T-Mobile Park.
Kendall Graveman recorded five electric outs, including a seven-pitch punchout to his first batter, the elite-hitting Justin Turner, and an inning-ending lineout that Dylan Moore made a remarkable snag on to prevent a game-tying hit from Will Smith. Graveman punctuated his outing with a 1-2-3 eighth, which set up the ninth for Rafael Montero, who escaped a two-runner jam and induced a 4-6-3 double play to Corey Seager to end the game.
Over their past 10 games — which have featured eight wins — the Mariners have ridden the coattails of their relievers, who have combined to put up a 0.58 ERA in that stretch.
“We talk a lot with the starters on how to pitch guys, how are we approaching guys? And it’s an ongoing conversation,” Graveman said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been successful throwing the baseball this year is how well we’ve prepared and how much conversation back and forth of, ‘What will we do to this guy?’
“And, honestly, during meetings now, the players are leading a lot of the conversation. And that was the goal going into Spring Training, that I had a conversation with [pitching coach Pete Woodworth] and [bullpen coach Trent Blank] is, if we want to get to where we want to get to, then we’ve got to start leading and not having you guys just spoon-feed us.”
Graveman has thrived since transitioning from a starting role last season due to a benign tumor near his neck that limits his workload. And if Monday was any indicator, the Mariners now view him as their highest-leverage arm.
Manager Scott Servais has shied away from labeling anyone “closer,” and his tactics have backed that assertion, given that he’d deployed Montero in the most critical moments regardless of inning to this point.
But that moment on Monday went to Graveman, who was forced to come on in a pinch after Anthony Misiewicz put Mookie Betts and Corey Seager on base with one out in the seventh. That left Turner — one of the game’s most consistent hitters, who entered the day with a 1.225 OPS — as Graveman’s first matchup.
Just about everyone in the building could sense that that one-on-one would have a direct impact on the game’s final result.
Fueled by adrenaline and three days’ rest, Graveman dialed his fastball up to 98.8 mph and commanded the lower part of the zone en route to a full count. And after two consultations with catcher Luis Torrens, Graveman got Turner to swing over one final sinker that dipped below the strike zone.
“He came out twice during that at-bat, and I told him after the game, and I’ve told him before in those moments, if we need to slow the game down and talk about it, then we do it,” Graveman said. “Because those are very important moments in the game.”
That was only half the battle, though, given that there was still one out remaining, which is what made Moore’s clutch catch all the more impressive.
The last time Moore played third base against a defending World Series champion — against the Red Sox on March 30, 2019 — he had three errors in the eighth inning that directly led to a loss. Moore is hitting just .120/.224/.240 and has been dropped all the way to No. 8 in the lineup, but just like he did on that night two years ago, he’s remained confident.
“I will never forget that night. … But he survived it. It says a lot about him and his mental toughness,” Servais said.
At the plate, Seattle jumped on Dodgers flamethrower Dustin May in the first inning, when José Marmolejos crushed a 114.1 mph homer off a 98.9 mph heater that rocketed over the right-field wall with a 17-degree launch angle in just 3.3 seconds. While that might sound like a mouthful, it was extremely notable to have that combination of metrics yielded from the same homer.
Taylor Trammell also crushed an opposite-field homer 405 feet beyond the deepest part of the park against a 99 mph heater from May.
And though Justus Sheffield’s night ended on an RBI single one out shy of reaching six innings, he was sharp over 94 pitches. The left-hander struck out six, walked three and gave up just three other hits, including a 425-foot homer on a slider that he admittedly left hanging over the upper part of the zone.
With their 11th victory, the Mariners joined the Red Sox for the most wins in the American League.