A professional pitcher for 18 seasons, Seattle Mariners reliever Joe Beimel has a plan for every contingency.
When manager Lloyd McClendon called on Beimel for a rare game-finishing appearance Saturday against the Oakland A’s, Beimel knew what to do after throwing the final pitch of his team’s 7-2 victory.
Beimel made a quick pivot to face the outfield and executed a precise recreation of the imaginary arrow launch Fernando Rodney performs after saves. Absent such an opportunity, the closer wasn’t needed on Fernando Rodney Bobblehead Night.
“I always told him that if I had a chance to come in and finish a game, I was going to do it,” said Beimel, who recorded the most recent of his four career saves in 2009. “He laughed and told me, ‘Go ahead.’ Turned out it was the perfect opportunity, because it was his bobblehead night. It was a fun thing to do while giving a little credit to him.”
Against Oakland on Saturday, Beimel was the fifth reliever of a bullpen that worked four low-stress innings. After a rocky first month, the Mariners’ middle men seemed to have regained the form that established them as among baseball’s best in 2014.
That the revival began with the promotions of Beimel and 31-year old right-hander Mark Lowe last week from Tacoma is not a coincidence. Each has appeared three times, allowing a combined three hits without a run.
“Beimel and Lowe have stabilized things, given us a bit more of a veteran presence,” McClendon said Sunday. “They’ve pitched well, to boot. That helps.”
Beimel and Lowe essentially replaced Dominic Leone and Yoervis Medina, sent to the Rainiers to work on improving the location of their breaking pitches.
“The only reason we made changes in the first place is that guys were elevating balls up in the zone, and opponents were taking advantage,” McClendon said. “It helps that our starters are going deeper into games. The early struggles had everything to do with our starters, not the bullpen itself. The bullpen was overexposed and stressed. All in all, things are starting to even out. You’re starting to see the bullpen as it was last year.”
Beimel was a staple of that bullpen, making 56 appearances, generally in the role of a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy.) During a 21-game stretch between May 2 and July 10, he did not allow a run, and never allowed more than two runs in a game for the entire season.
For somebody who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2011, it was a breakout year. But when talks over a contract extension stalled, Beimel ended up signing a one-year deal with Texas — only to be cut in March.
“I had a lot of weird things happen in the innings I was pitching during spring training, and I wasn’t sharp,” he said. “I was using spring training to get ready for the season. I’ve been around long enough to know what I need to do, but the results weren’t there. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
“I gave up a few runs and they wanted to see a little more than what I was doing, and they definitely have that right. As soon as I got released, I contacted my agent and basically told him this is where I wanted to be. He did what he could to get me back here and it ended up working out. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised to be back with the Mariners, but I definitely took the long way to get back here.”
As did Lowe, the former Seattle prospect who was called up in 2006 and pitched five seasons with the Mariners before he was sent to the Rangers, along with starter Cliff Lee, in a 2010 trade-deadline deal. Tours with the AngelsNationals and Indians followed, but Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik remembered Lowe as a hard-throwing reliever beset by some hard-luck injuries.
Lowe signed a minor-league deal with Seattle in December, and after showing lights-out stuff in Tacoma — 11 strikeouts and no walks over nine innings — he rejoined the Mariners to help buoy a struggling bullpen.
“If everybody pitches the way they should and the way they are expected to — as a bullpen and as a team — we should be fine,” Beimel said. “You’re gonna hit rough patches and if you let those get out of control and snowball, it makes for a long season.
“But we have enough talent and enough guys in here to figure out what’s wrong and get back on track.”