I caught up with Yoervis Medina for the Clubhouse Insider report on Wednesday's pregame show. I figured most have not heard much from him so it would be a good time to get him on the radio.
In watching him go about his business of being a Major League rookie, he has struck me as being a very pleasant, unassuming presence in the clubhouse.
I first met Medina in spring training a few years ago. He was impossible to miss, partly because of his size and partly because of the double-take you would do when you looked at him to make sure he wasn't Felix Hernandez. Back then he was almost exactly the same size as Felix and to complicate matters he had his mannerisms as well. Medina, 24, grew up in Valencia, the same hometown in Venezuela as Felix, and although he is only a few years younger than Felix he has always looked up to him.
Rookie Yoervis Medina, pictured celebrating after notching his first career save Tuesday, has a 3.04 ERA in 23 relief appearances. (AP)
Pitching coach Carl Willis laughed when I mentioned this to him.
"I saw that when I was pitching coordinator and went to Venezuela to see some of our young pitchers there," he said. "We all saw it. There was no mistaking it."
Medina has since acquired his own style but still is thrilled to be on the same team as Hernandez.
"I like Fifi because he's the guy who every day he is happy," Medina said. "On the mound he is aggressive every day. He likes to win. He's a great example. He talks to me every day to be aggressive in the game. If you are aggressive then every day you do a good job."
Medina spent the majority of his time in the organization as a starter but command issues forced a switch to the bullpen, where he has thrived. He made the move at the start of last season and after a slow start he took off, allowing no runs in June and just one in July for Double-A Jackson. He finished the season with a 3.25 ERA and was assigned to Tacoma at the end of spring training this year. When Stephen Pryor was placed on the disabled list in mid-April, Medina got the call.
Usually a manager likes to give a new reliever a soft landing in his first outing. No such luck for Medina, who was called upon to face the heart of the Tigers' lineup in his debut. He walked the first batter he faced but then struck out Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta. He walked three batters in his first three innings but then went seven outings before issuing another free pass.
In those early outings Willis noticed that he appeared to be a bit too amped up and tended to rush things on the mound. He sat him down for a couple of conversations and told him to approach this like he would a game in Venezuela, where he played winter ball.
"In Venezuela he was pitching in front of 20,000 almost nightly," Willis noted. "Closing the game with an atmosphere like a Washington-Washington State football game. They get into it. Rowdy, bands playing, and he was able to eliminate the atmosphere and focus on pitching. I think he has really slowed the game down and it has allowed him to throw many more strikes."
Both Willis and manager Eric Wedge have been impressed with his composure on the hill and the ability to make adjustments within an outing. He gained enough of their trust to give him his first save opportunity Tuesday, a moment he relished. After pitching a 1-2-3 inning with Albert Pujols leading off, he said that for an inning, "I felt like Mariano Rivera."
"I liked that," he told me before Wednesday's game. "My opportunity was to win. I like [to] win. Concentration for three outs. No more. The first out? Okay, two more. The second out? Okay, one more out and win. Yes."
There is no telling how many more save opportunities Medina will get. The goal is to get Tom Wilhelmsen back into the role and Wedge will go with matchups until he is able to do that. Regardless, Medina has opened eyes.
"We put him into situations for a young guy that are tough," Willis said. "I just think he has been really impressive and shown some maturity that he's allowed himself to slow down and he has really seemed to be gaining some confidence. He is another arm in the bullpen that we can depend on."
News and notes
• The closer spot is not the only one that is being determined by matchups. One day after returning from the DL, Justin Smoak was not in the lineup against lefty C.J. Wilson. With Michael Morse still not able to play the outfield, Wedge now has to juggle Morse, Smoak and Kendrys Morales between DH and first base,
• The Rainiers beat Colorado Springs 16-4 Wednesday. Franklin Gutierrez played right field and went 2 for 6 while Dustin Ackley was in center and went 3 for 4 with an RBI. Brandon Maurer started the game but left after one inning with lower-back tightness.
• The scheduling fairy strikes again. Wednesday is a night getaway game so the team will not arrive back in Seattle until very early Friday morning. Hisashi Iwakuma, who starts Friday, will be sent home early.
• The Mariners announced that they agreed to terms with 15 of their players from the 2013 draft, bringing their total of signed players to 28 of 40 drafted. No. 2 pick Austin Wilson out of Stanford was not among those listed as signed but is expected to be in Seattle Friday to sign.