Mariners closer Edwin Diaz smiles on the mound during a game against the Indians on April 1, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Mariners closer Edwin Diaz smiles on the mound during a game against the Indians on April 1, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

M’s closer Diaz learning to harness emotions better at home

The 24-year-old was much more effective away from Safeco Field last season.

It’s the balance Edwin Diaz knows he must harness — mustering every bit of his competitiveness while pitching with controlled confidence.

The Seattle Mariners closer allowed the former to best him at times last season, especially at Safeco Field in front of all the home fans he knew he had to prove himself to.

“I feel nervous almost every time out there,” Diaz said recently. “But I know that’s no problem for me. If I feel that then I’m happy because I’m into the game. If you play with your heart then you have to feel a little bit nervous.”

But he had to learn to play controlled.

The Mariners don’t fully know how to explain Diaz’s eye-popping contrast between his play in Seattle compared to other venues last season — Diaz’s first full major league season — other than to chalk it up to youth.

There was a different kind of pressure at home compared to the prove-it mentality the 24-year-old had on the road. Diaz had a 5.76 ERA at Safeco Field; 1.24 away from it.

Diaz threw 29 2/3 innings at home and allowed eight home runs, walked eight, struck out 35 and opponents hit .265 against him. On the road? He threw 36 1/3 innings, allowed two home runs, walked 14 batters, struck out 54 and opponents hit just .106.

Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. shook his head when asked for an explanation this spring.

“I don’t know,” Stottlemyre said with a laugh.

He thought a little longer.

“He’s always … when he gets in between the lines, he’s going to go hard,” Stottlemyre said. “But the game can get fast for him. And it has. It has spiraled on him in the past. Sometimes young players just don’t know where to go and how to stop it.”

But now he knows.

It started when the Mariners demoted Diaz in May, temporarily stripping him of his closer role for 10 days.

They wanted him to work on mechanics, but Stottlemyre said they also wanted him to be able to slow the game down — while still having that fiery intensity that allows him to touch triple-digits with his fastball.

“We went down and went back to work on some mechanical things so that when it got fast or when he got fast and was spraying the ball, he had somewhere to go,” Stottlemyre said. “Somewhere to go in terms of delivery-wise and slowing himself down and go back to making pitches.

“And in the game, as far as learning to slow that down, that’s just time. That’s maturity and experience.”

It also helps to some advice from a pitcher who’s been around. That’s where Juan Nicassio comes in.

The 31-year-old Nicasio, signed by the Mariners to fill out their bullpen in the offseason, and Diaz might as well be attached to each other’s hips. Nicasio, like Diaz, is a former starting pitcher who found more success in a reliever role.

“He knows how to pitch,” Diaz said. “So I talk to him a lot, how he can teach me how to pitch, too, how to attack hitters to get an out.”

“I try to help because he’s young,” Nicasio said. “So I’m just trying to help him on a couple of things.”

And it reminded Servais of Diaz’ first call-up to the big leagues. The Mariners had veteran pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who was instrumental in developing Diaz’s slider.

Diaz had the wicked fastball, but no reliable secondary pitch when he made his big-league debut in 2015. Servais said all reports from the Mariners’ minor league staff mentioned how inconsistent Diaz was with his slider.

“Joaquin started showing him a different grip,” Servais said during spring training. “He took it and ran with it and now he’s got a plus slider.”

And now Diaz has found a new mentor in Nicasio, who isn’t so much helping develop Diaz’s pitches as he is developing Diaz’s routine and preparation.

Of all the pitchers who had at least 10 saves last year, only the Blue Jays’ Roberto Osuna (23) is younger than Diaz, who was tied for fourth in the American League in saves last year, finishing with 34 despite that brief demotion.

“Just having a guy like Nicasio out there to help train his thought process and his mindset is going to help him this year,” Stottlemyre said. “This is a guy who knows how to prepare himself and has done as good as anybody in the game. They are tied at the hip and it’s a great thing.

“Eddie just turned 24. He’s still a kid. And to his defense, he hasn’t had much in terms of somebody really taking him through the ropes and showing him what the role entails.”

Ryon Healy experienced as much success as anybody against Diaz. He was with the Athletics last year when he smoked an RBI double in the top of the ninth inning in what would be the deciding pitch in a 4-3 Mariners loss that July.

That was in the thick of Diaz’s struggles, especially with it being in haunting Safeco Field. Still, Healy didn’t speak of that at-bat with particular fondness.

“You know, it’s not a very comfortable at-bat,” Healy said. “You better be ready to go Pitch One because he’s coming at you.”

And if Diaz is bringing it, you better, too.

“Seeing him out there, that really helped raise my focus and competitive edge,” Healy said. “Facing a guy like that when you know he’s got some of the best stuff in the league. You just have to bring it. You really have to heighten your focus the minute you step into the box.”

And then Diaz stepped onto the mound on Opening Day at Safeco Field last week, knowing it was a chance to shove all those home struggles behind him. It wasn’t easy — he hit two batters and was flustered by speedy Rajai Davis on the basepaths — but he stranded Davis at third when he struck out the side, ending it on a 98-mph fastball that raced past the Indians’ Tyler Naquin in the 2-1 Mariners win.

The next save opportunity two games later was far easier. He struck out the side again — a common theme as Diaz opened the season with eight consecutive strikeouts.

“My first season was amazing,” Diaz said. “I felt really good and nobody knew me. Last year, I felt I pitched pretty good for my first full season. Everybody’s starting to know me more and they know how I pitch. This year, they will know me even more, but I feel more ready now.

“I know how to pitch now. That’s what it is for me.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Stanwood's Kaeden McGlothin yells after stealing the ball from Mountlake Terrace's Adison Mattix to seal the win for Stanwood on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 in Stanwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Stanwood pulls out ‘gritty’ win over Mountlake Terrace

The Spartans answered every Mountlake Terrace push in a tense fourth quarter for a 63-62 victory.

Chicago State guard Aaliyah Collins, a Glacier Peak High School graduate. (Sebastian Montoya / Chicago State Athletics)
Community roundup: GP grad shines again for Chicago State

Plus, professional bull riding is coming to Everett, former Silvertips are headed to the Olympics and more.

Jackson's Lindyn Solis bowls during a match against Everett on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
GALLERY: Jackson, Everett girls bowlers hit the lanes

The Timberwolves brought a 13-1 record into the match with the state tournament fast approaching.

Winter prep sports roundup.
Prep results for Thursday, Jan. 20

Prep results for Thursday, Jan. 20: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Tucker Molina, right, tries to block a shot by Tony MacArthur during EVCC practice on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
EvCC men’s hoops seeks unprecedented 5th straight North title

After a delayed start to region play, the Trojans begin their quest for another crown on Wednesday.

Kevin Clark / The Herald

***Silvertips Special Sections*****
Yan Khomenko signals for substitution Sunday night at Xfinity Arena in Everett, Wa on September 6th, 2015

Sports:  Silvertips Special Section
Shot on: 09/06/15
Silvertips’ game versus Rockets on Friday postponed

Kelowna is pausing all team activites due to COVID protocols, according to the WHL.

Lake Stevens' Tyler Fouts lifts Glacier Peak's Gil Mossburg during wrestling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
GALLERY: Lake Stevens edges GP in boys wrestling showdown

The Vikings beat the Grizzlies 42-31 in a matchup of two of the best 4A teams in the area.

A variety of sports equipment on a black background including an american football, a soccer ball, a baseball, a baseball bat, a tennis raquet, a tennis ball, and a basketball
Vote for The Herald’s Athlete of the Month for December

Below are the candidates for The Herald’s Prep Athlete of the Month… Continue reading

Most Read