M’s notebook: Diaz is the closer — but with conditions

SEATTLE — While rookie Edwin Diaz now gets an audition as the Seattle Mariners’ closer, it comes with a couple of qualifiers.

“He’s ready,” manager Scott Servais said, “but I’ve said all along with him, he’s 22 years old. He’s never pitched an entire major-league season through September. So we’re going to have to watch it.

“Three (days) in a row, stressful innings, number of pitches. He’s obviously the logical choice, and he’s ready for that. There’s no doubt.”

Servais confirmed Diaz as the replacement for veteran Steve Cishek after Monday’s 2-1 loss to Boston, when Cishek gave up a homer in the ninth inning to Mookie Betts.

One night earlier, Cishek let a three-run lead slip away in the ninth inning against the Cubs in Chicago before the Mariners eventually suffered a 7-6 loss in 12 innings.

“Anybody who has tried to do that role,” Servais said, “you need confidence. You need to believe in it. (Cishek) has just made some rough pitches the last couple of nights.”

There seems little question that Diaz possesses the tools to be a closer with an upper-90 mph fastball and a put-away slider that continues to get better. He certainly believes.

“I’m ready to be the closer,” he declared. “I like to pitch in pressure (situations). I feel more confident when I’m in a close game. I don’t know why, but I feel very good.”

Servais said the development of Diaz’s slider, learned from recently departed Joaquin Benoit, is the difference-maker. Diaz has a 1.80 ERA in 24 appearances since arriving June 4 from Double-A Jackson.

Diaz also has 49 strikeouts in 25 innings.

“He doesn’t have to be perfectly fine on the corners when he pitches,” Servais said. “He has stuff. So it makes it a little bit easier. That’s why stuff guys are preferred at the back of the bullpen. They don’t have to be perfect.

“So when the heartbeat does pick up (with the game on the line), just get it somewhere close and you usually get good results.”

Cishek, 30, produced those good results for extended stretches this season in compiling 25 saves with a 3.40 ERA in 44 appearances. But he also has six blown saves, which matches Oakland’s Ryan Madson for the most among all closers.

And Cishek admits he’s searching for answers.

“It’s not a mental thing,” he insisted. “Mentally, I’m confident when I go out there. It’s just, for whatever reason, it’s not happening right now. It’s really hard to explain when you’re in the moment.

“I’m sure when the dust settles, and everything clears out, I can look back and build off of what I’ve been going through right now. But right now, I need to find an answer pretty soon.”

While he searches, Cishek joins two other former closers in the Mariners’ bullpen who are serving as setup relievers: Tom Wilhelmsen and Drew Storen. The takeaway is the Mariners have plenty of experience to spell Diaz when necessary.

“It’s very much a plus,” Servais said. “For me, it’s being able to bring those guys in with traffic, with guys on the bases, knowing they can execute because they have closed out games.”

Wilhelmsen had 13 saves in 15 chances last season over the final six weeks as the Mariners’ closer. He also had 53 saves in 2012-13 before, like Cishek, losing his job because of ineffectiveness and shifting to lower-leverage duty.

A November trade last year sent Wilhelmsen to Texas, where he pitched poorly, but he returned to the Mariners in late June and has a 2.70 ERA in 12 games.

Storen had 29 saves last year at Washington, and registered 43 in 2011, before going to Toronto in an off-season deal. And like Wilhelmsen, he proved a disaster in new surroundings.

The Mariners acquired Storen from Toronto in a July 26 deal for Benoit.

For now, Wilhelmsen rates as the top alternative to Diaz if the Mariners require one. They want to see more of Storen, who has made just two appearances since arriving, and Cishek is definitely ticketed for softer targets in the near future.

But Wilhelmsen, too, is clearly in a support role. The spotlight is on Diaz.

“His demeanor, from the first day he got here,” Servais said, “he felt like he belonged. Credit to our veteran group for making him feel like he’s a part of them right away.”

Servais chuckled before continuing: “I think once they saw him throw the first time, it made it easier for guys to put their arm around him and welcome him in.”

Rotation plans

The Mariners are about to throw just-acquired lefty Ariel Miranda into the deep end of the pool. Servais confirmed Miranda will be recalled from Triple-A Tacoma in time to start Thursday’s series finale against Boston.

Miranda, 27, was obtained Sunday from Baltimore in a trade for veteran lefty Wade Miley. Miranda’s only previous big-league appearance was July 3, when he gave up three runs and four hits in two innings to the Mariners at Safeco Field.

Still…the Mariners want to take a look.

“Miranda has topped out as high as 96 mph,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “His average velocity is in the 92-mph range, which for a lefty is firm. A real good changeup. A four-pitch guy. Has thrown strikes.

“I do think if we turn him loose in a bullpen role, we’ll see some velocity toward the higher end. Or we let him start and continue to do the things he’s doing. He threw seven (strong) innings (last) Friday night for the Orioles’ Triple-A club.”

Miranda was 4-7 with a 3.93 ERA this season in 19 starts at Triple-A Norfolk, A Cuban defector, he signed a minor-league deal on May 27, 2015 with Baltimore.

— Right-hander Taijuan Walker is in line to rejoin the rotation this weekend after throwing 69 pitching Monday over 4 1/3 innings for Tacoma in a rehab start.

It was Walker’s first game action foot tendinitis forced him to the disabled list after a July 5 start at Houston.

“I think we can slide him in as long as we’re protective on pitch count,” Servais said. “I don’t think it’s smart to run him out for 100 pitches his first time out.”

Tentative plans call for Walker to start either Saturday or Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.

Vincent ‘ready to go’

Right-handed reliever Nick Vincent believes he’s ready for game action after throwing 20 pitches in a simulated inning with no discomfort in his back.

“It feels good,” he said. “First time throwing to hitters when they’re swinging. I’m ready to rock and roll. There’s no pain. If I had pain, I wouldn’t be throwing off the mound.”

Vincent, 30, hasn’t pitched in a game since June 26 because of a strained muscle in the middle of his back. He was 2-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 35 games prior to the injury.

Shortstop Ketel Marte, who is recovering from mononucleosis, took all 20 pitches from Vincent. An rough tally showed two hits for Marte and 14 strikes from Vincent.

“He looked good,” Marte said. “His cutter was (freakin’) good.”

Both are likely to start minor-league rehab assignments later this week.

“Nick looks healthy,” Servais said. “I don’t think anything is bothering him at all. I don’t know that the velocity is there yet. I think he needs some adrenaline from being in the game for that.”

Vincent agreed.

“I need to work on the mechanics,” Vincent said. “That’s just more dry work, I think. Just getting my hands separated at the same time. But it felt good. Life was good on the ball.

“The last five (pitches), I kind of pitched like a game, so I could get the adrenaline going a little bit. I’ll come in (Wednesday) and see how I feel. But I think I’m good to go. I’m excited.”

— Reliever Evan Scribner, injured in spring training, worked one scoreless inning Monday for Hi-A Bakersfield in his first rehab appearance. He gave up one hit, struck out two and threw 11 of 19 pitches for strikes.

Scribner, 31, suffered a torn muscle on the right side of his back (the latissimus dorsi) in spring training. The Mariners acquired him on Dec. 8, 2015 from Oakland in a trade for minor-league pitcher Trey Cochran-Gill.

Hard-hit rates

Robinson Cano continues to hit the ball hard more often than anyone else on the Mariners, according to video reviews compiled by @insideedgescout, a scouting and information service for major- and minor-league clubs as well as the media.

Cano ranks 20th in the majors with 20.8 percent of his at-bats resulting in a hard-hit ball.

Boston designated hitter David Ortiz is the overall leader at 27.1 percent, followed by Arizona third baseman Jake Lamb (24.2), Detroit DH Victor Martinez (24.1) and Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson (23.0).

Kyle Seager ranks second among the Mariners, and 28th overall, at 20.4 percent, and Adam Lind is 47th at 19.5.

Minor details

First baseman Dan Vogelbach is off to a slow start at Triple-A Tacoma after joining the Rainiers following a July 20 trade that brought him from the Cubs’ organization.

Vogelbach, 23, is batting .182 in 12 games at Tacoma with two homers and eight RBI. He does have nine walks, which boosts his on-base percentage to .321.

Prior to the trade, Vogelbach batted .318 in 89 games at Triple-A Iowa with 16 homers, 64 RBI and a .425 on-base percentage.

Looking back

It was 24 years ago Wednesday — Aug. 3, 1992 — that Edgar Martinez was chosen as the American League Player of the Month for July after batting .388 with three homers and 12 RBI in 25 games.

It was the first of five times that Martinez would win the monthly award in his career. He also took over the AL batting lead on July 31 and maintained it for the remainder of the season in finishing at .343 for the first of his two batting titles.

On tap

The Mariners and Red Sox continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday with a matchup of right-handers at Safeco Field.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7 with a 4.21 ERA) will face Boston’s Rick Porcello (14-2, 3.47). The Red Sox, in the past, proved a tough match-up for Iwakuma; he is 1-1 with an 8.59 ERA against them in five previous career starts.

The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.

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