BY Art Thiel 06:55PM 08/23/2015

Thiel: Mariners get a pause in bullpen mayhem

As the Mariners were blowing another big lead, manager Lloyd McClendon gave the ball to an unlikely reliever, newcomer Logan Kensing, who promptly gave up a two-run homer. Then the story turned.

Logan Kensing gave up a two-run homer, but followed with three outs to help save the Mariners from another embarrassment. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

The circus calliope was in full volume at Safeco Field Sunday. The Mariners were gradually losing a 7-1 lead to the Chicago White Sox when Logan Kensing was summoned to relieve imploding starter Taijuan Walker, who later admitted he dared to get a little relaxed with a six-run lead.

Kensing, you may not have heard of. He was the guy sprinting from the dugout to the pen in the second inning, having just arrived with fellow call-up Roenis Ellis by car from Sea-Tac, where he had flown from Denver after pitching an inning in Colorado Springs for AAA Tacoma Saturday night.

He was still a minor leaguer at midnight. Fifteen hours later, he was on the Safeco mound in front of 30,537 trying to hold a 7-4 lead in the sixth inning by staring down Adam LaRoche with a man on and two out.

Four hundred and seven feet later, it was 7-6. A third consecutive Seattle bullpen mega-collapse was as inevitable as olive oil in a Greek restaurant.

It was the first major league appearance by Kensing since June 19, 2013 for Colorado, and only the 26th in MLB since 2008. The chance to get to 27 looked exceedingly dim for a 33-year-old.

“You know your window is shrinking every day, even if you’re good,” said Kensing, a striking figure with shaved head and a full beard.  “You give everything you got until you can’t go any more.”

So Kensing gave it all. He struck out Alexei Ramirez to end the inning, which is when the grim Seattle narrative turned.

Kensing picked up two more outs in the seventh, then issued a walk to Adam Eaton before being relieved by Carson Smith, who delivered the next four outs. Tom Wilhelmsen had a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve an 8-6 win (box score).

Weird. The calliope stopped. Everyone who still cared about the Mariners had assumed the cringe position, then had to unwind.

Kensing, a San Antonio native who was a second-round pick in 2003 out of Texas A&M by the Marlins, offered his mental approach to the difficulty in anticipating baseball developments.

“I can’t say I didn’t expect (to pitch today),” he said. “You learn not to have expectations like that. Because anything can happen at any time.”

Wise fellow. Such an attitude may be useful in the clubhouse as the Mariners figure out in the final five weeks how best to keep from embarrassing themselves.

That’s the only goal, because management gave up on winning July 31 by trading their best healthy reliever, Mark Lowe, which helped dig deeper the sickening trench the worn-down bullpen was in.

It took the bosses three more weeks to figure out their worst reliever, Fernando Rodney, was killing them. He was fired Saturday, and another bust, Danny Farquhar, was demoted to Tacoma to make roster room for Kensing and Elias.

But nobody in management bothered to tell the Rainiers until midnight, when Kensing’s cell phone lit up. The delay wasn’t because they were dithering among riches.

In 32 relief innings in Tacoma, Kensing gave up 29 hits and 10 walks with 25 strikeouts. Not bad, and with a 2.23 ERA, Kensing could not be much worse than most of the current pen occupants. As the Mariners should learn from him, it is best not to have expectations.

Manager Lloyd McClendon pulled Walker after two singles, a double and the LaRoche home run produced what become a five-run sixth inning, and didn’t blink in giving the ball to Kensing, even if he was still breathing hard after running from the dugout to the pen.

Maybe it was the delirium produced by a Mariners (57-67) triumph, but McClendon said he actually likes the bullpen talent level. In case you have not kept up with the whirlwind, besides Kensing, Elias, Smith and Wilhelmsen, that includes Edgar Olmos, Rob Rasmussen and David Rollins. At least for the moment, until the next UPS truck driver with big arms shows up at Safeco.

“We got some guys who very talented, and very young,” he said. “I think we’ll have a bright future. We have good arms. There’s a learning curve. All in all, I think our bullpen will be pretty good.”

Whether his boss, Jack Zduriencik, agrees, and whether either will be around to see that time, is conjecture. The Mariners are out of expectations for this season. They should adopt Kensing’s coping mechanism: One phone call, one out, one inning at a time.

As Kensing put it about his future: “I try not to think about it all.”


  • Will

    “I try not to think about it all.” That’s exactly how I think about the M’s.

    • art thiel

      Yet they still draw 29000 and change.

      • dingle

        It’s hard to argue with those who characterize the prototypical Seattle sports fan as undemanding simpleton.

        • art thiel

          Those types are in every market. Seattle has not cornered the market, and every club needs them. Just because Philly fans vent anger at the top of their lungs doesn’t make them more than simpletons.

          • dingle

            I very much agree that volume does not equal savvy. (Especially you, Philly fans.) But the garden-variety Mariner fan is often described as being way more interested in the shiny things at Safeco than in the actual product on the field. (Granted, much of this lamenting is from other Mariner fans, so there’s that.)

  • Trygvesture

    Well put, again, Art.
    Sounds like Lloyd got told to snap-to, toe the line, Honor the Howard and give way to the Z’s #1 Lackey of the Court status after his veiled reference to the overworked and brought-up-too-soon & I’m-not-making-those-decisions comments of yesterday.
    Seems the FO also wouldn’t get rid of Rodney on Lloyd’s wishes when it was already way past time, but needed to wait until 2 days ago… because, what? couldn’t beiieve already-committed personnel decisions weren’t infallible? That a mere manager might know more than The Howard– or The Z? The arrogance of the FO simply is appalling.
    Luckily for us, the fans, the M’s won a game and it was pretty much enjoyable to watch. Pretty much.

    • art thiel

      McClendon slipped the other day and let some real feelings out. Every manager who has to bail at the deadline is bitter, and LMC has held his tongue. Glad he vented a little.

      • dingle

        Yes, it’s nice to see a little truth come out.

        I don’t think he’ll give us the Full Wedge, though. I don’t see that as his style. Plus, I don’t think he wants to wait another 10 years to get a managing gig.

  • Long-Time Mariners Fan

    (Art, I know you’re optimistic, but towards the end, you list the Mariners as 58-67. They’re actually 57-67.)

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Glad you got something from the column.

      • Long-Time Mariners Fan

        Now, come on – I always read you (closely) and always get something of value from your scribblings. But I’m not of the school which (nightly, knee-jerkily) calls for the heads of JZ and HL and LM and FR. (Well, maybe FR.) Sometimes, there’s just nothing to comment on.

        But I propose a litmus test – you’re at the ballpark right now, Art. You just saw Franklin Gutierrez crank that one out. He’s healthy and contributing, mightily. Management should look at the email trail or quiz the principals directly – Who wanted to keep Gutierrez and who wanted him gone? Did JZ want him gone, but LM plead for his cause? Or the other way around? Neither or both?

        Keeping Gutierrez says a lot about baseball instincts and handling players. Use him as a test when it comes time at the end of the season to drop the blade(s).

        • art thiel

          Thoughtful response, LT. I wasn’t at the park, but I am to your point. I don’t like the part of the fan base that knee-jerks at every bad week, month or year.

          I like your litmus test, except the reaction will never be clear. Everyone in the org will fib on the answers — if a debatable player succeeds, everyone says it was his idea to keep/promote him. If he fails — not me, man.

          The only truth is in the won-loss record, at least for GMs. Jack has had two winning seasons in seven, none with playoffs. He’s working under Lincoln, he has expensive player failures, and he’s largely failed in trades and drafts. He guessed right this year on Gutierrez, but he’s only a part time player for health reasons. Iwakuma was kept because LMC would have had a nightmare rotation to finish the season — and he still might have a nightmare.

          Whatever the constraints, the GM’s job is to fix it. JZ hasn’t fixed it.

          • Long-Time Mariners Fan

            Agreed – JZ has not fixed it. But if the GM’s job is to put the players on the roster, the manager’s job is to manage them to victory. Assess, play, bench, substitute, motivate, step in, back off, yell, shut up, give the team something to play for, fill out the lineup card. On that count, personally, I’m on the fence about LMC. It feels like this team is adrift at times and they tend to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. I would point to Montero’s gaffe last night, and the fact that no one on the bench could see that Iwakuma was melting down.

            It’s too expensive for me to follow the team on the road, but before every home game, I’m down there with a glove at the player’s gate, waiting for the call to suit up. It never comes and I know exactly why – I can’t do the job that those 25 do. But I do know something about attitude and motivation – Hey, Montero…. I… me… I’m right here, looking to take your job. At least hustle like I was about to take it from you. At least hustle like you cared about winning as much as I do.

            [Rant concluded. Thank you for listening.]

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  • Bayview Herb

    I remembered last year’s fade with King Felix is being repeated this year. He looks like he is out of gas.

    • art thiel

      I expect he’ll have several good games left. But they will be meaningless.

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