PEORIA, Ariz. — Playoffs? Did someone say playoffs?
Edwin Diaz’s wild ninth-inning ride Friday in closing out Puerto Rico’s 6-5 victory over the United States in the World Baseball Classic had Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais thinking big.
“What a great experience for him,” Servais said. “I think it’s definitely going to benefit us when we get to October.”
October? Servais’ comment presumably means a benefit accruing beyond the Oct. 1 regular-season finale against the Angels in Anaheim. Fans in the Pacific Northwest haven’t experienced that since 2001.
If Friday was any indication, though, buckle up.
Diaz gave up two runs in the ninth inning in nearly blowing a three-run lead but struck out the side, including Josh Harrison for the final out with the tying run on third with a nearly unhittable slider.
“It was really cool to see,” Servais said. “In Eddie Diaz style, he figures out a way to get through it. And that’s a real tough lineup. He strikes out (Buster) Posey, (Paul) Goldschmidt and Harrison.
“Obviously, he looks good. The leadoff walk…it happens. When you throw that hard with that kind of stuff, you’re going to walk guys once in a while. Fortunately for him, he has the strikeout pitch to equalize it.”
Throughout it all, Diaz didn’t hide his emotions, which Servais acknowledged comes with Diaz being Diaz.
“Eddie is not wired like Mariano Rivera,” Servais said. “I think he feeds off of that. That’s why his stuff ticks up late in the game, but you still have to execute. You have to get the ball in the right spot. You can’t leave it in the middle.
“Hopefully, experience will help him with that, but I kind of like when he snatches the ball. I kind off like when he stomps back up on the rubber and (basically says) here I am, try to hit it. That’s what you need.”
Especially in October.
Sunday marks the start of three straight games for the Mariners against American League West opponents and, this late in camp, that means shifting their starting pitchers to minor-league games.
Three pitchers expected to open the season in the Triple-A Tacoma rotation will start the Cactus League games against division opponents.
Left-hander James Paxton will face a collection of A-ball players Sunday from the Chicago White Sox rather than pitch against Texas in Surprise. Lefty Dillon Overton will start against the Rangers.
After an open date Monday, the Mariners will send right-hander Chris Heston against Oakland in a 7:10 p.m. game at Peoria Stadium. Lefty Drew Smyly will face San Diego minor-leaguers in an afternoon game.
Right-hander Yovani Gallardo will pitch against Kansas City minor-leaguers on Wednesday rather than face the Los Angeles Angels in Peoria. Right-hander Cody Martin will start against the Angels.
With Venezuela eliminated in the World Baseball Classic, the Mariners anticipate right-hander Felix Hernandez returning to camp within the next few days.
Hernandez made two starts for Venezuela but hasn’t pitched for the Mariners since March 5. He is tentatively slotted to start Thursday against San Francisco in a 6:05 p.m. game in Scottsdale.
The preseason “best tools” rankings for minor leaguers, compiled by Baseball America, cites several Mariners’ prospects.
— Outfielder Tyler O’Neill rates as the fifth-best power hitter. (These ratings came out prior to his homer Friday against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw).
— Right-handed reliever Thyago Vieira has the second-best fastball, trailing only Michael Kopech of the Chicago White Sox. Baseball America said Vieira might have a bit more octane but rated Kopech first because he’s a starter.
— Right-handed reliever Dan Altavilla has the fifth-best slider, which he used Friday in closing out a one-two-three ninth for a save against Arizona after the Mariners scored seven runs in the top of the inning.
— Center fielder Braden Bishop ranks as the fourth-best defensive outfielder.