Even though the Mariners followed up a 90-win season in 2021 with another 90-win season in 2022, not much remained the same on the field for Seattle.
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Whereas Mitch Haniger was the primary driving force in 2021 for Seattle’s offense, Julio Rodríguez assumed that role during his Rookie of the Year-winning 2022 campaign.
In the starting rotation, offseason signing Robbie Ray had a stretch of dominance while rookie George Kirby and trade deadline acquisition Luis Castillo helped carry the Mariners down the stretch last year.
And in the bullpen, Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash made an impact in their first full seasons with Seattle as some of the standout relievers from the Mariners’ 2021 squad dealt with injuries or ineffectiveness.
One constant, however, was Paul Sewald, who put together a second straight year of success as a reliever after breaking out in 2021.
Sewald, 32, also was key as a leader behind the scenes in the bullpen for the first Mariners team to make the playoffs in 20 years, something he talked about when he joined the Mariners Hot Stove on Seattle Sports last week.
“I just think I’ve become that role because I’ve been through a lot,” Sewald told Mariners broadcasters Rick Rizzs, Gary Hill Jr. and Shannon Drayer.
Prior to joining the Mariners on a minor league deal in 2021, Sewald struggled for four seasons as a reliever with the New York Mets. Seattle’s staff helped him embrace his two best pitches, a fastball at the top of the zone and sweeping slider, which he delivers from a unique arm angle.
With those changes, Sewald responded in 2021 by posting a 3.06 ERA, 1.021 WHIP, 11 saves and 72 strikeouts to 17 walks over 62 games (64 2/3 innings). He was even better in 2022, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and 0.766 WHIP with 20 saves and 72 strikeouts to 17 walks over 65 appearances (64 innings).
“I went through a lot of really ‘bad’ in New York, and so I think I’ve learned how to handle ‘bad’ better than a lot of people,” Sewald said. “I’m thankful because I got another chance – not everyone gets another chance once they’ve learned how to handle the bad results. So I think that’s where I can help. If you’re pitching poorly, I will explain that I’ve pitched worse. Like, ‘Here’s how we can get through this and it’s gonna get better.’ Luckily for our bullpen we don’t have a lot of warts, it’s usually pretty good, and our roller coaster is pretty flat.”
Sewald went on to explain how Seattle has been able to weather the usual tumult that bullpens see from year to year, even as pitchers who succeeded for the M’s in 2021 like Drew Steckenrider, Casey Sadler and JT Chargois struggled, suffered injury or played elsewhere in 2022.
“That’s kind of the crazy thing is that in my two years that I’ve been here – and now it’ll be a third and we’ll have different guys there – you know, a third of the team is changed every single season on a major league roster,” he said. “But things change and there’s different people, and 2020 was not very good for the Mariners’ pen, (and) in 2021 we had a bunch of people that weren’t there (before)… and so we go into 2022 thinking this is our group (and) Sadler gets injured, Steck isn’t as effective as he is. Next thing you know then it’s me and Diego (Castillo), and then we get ‘Muni’ (Muñoz), who turns into the best pitcher in baseball. That’s just kind of how it works. It’s just the next man up and when it’s your turn, you have to capitalize on it.”
Sewald added that the effectiveness of Seattle’s entire staff allows the pitchers to feed off of each other.
“I think it helps motivate each other to be as good as you can be, because if you fall off at all in this bullpen, we have other guys that can replace you,” he said. “… It helps that our starters give us six innings every time and you know, we’re usually winning 2-1 or 3-2 or 5-4 at the worst, and so it kind of makes us feel like, ‘Alright, well these hitters aren’t necessarily licking their chops to get up to the batter’s box, they’ve had a tough day already.’ I think that definitely helps with the overall attitude of when we come in from the bullpen.”
You can listen to the full conversation in the podcast at this link or in the player below. You can also hear a new Mariners Hot Stove on Seattle Sports 710 AM and Mariners Radio Network affiliates from 7-9 pm every Tuesday night until spring training, which begins in late February. During spring training, you will then be able to hear a weekly edition of the Cactus League Report. You can also find podcasts of each edition at this link or by subscribing on your favorite app.
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