If you’ve hung out on the bullpen rail at T-Mobile Park this season, you might have witnessed some of the shenanigans that go on among Seattle’s good-natured group of relievers. All bullpens are full of, to borrow a term, Weird Little Guys, but it’s remarkable how quickly the group in Seattle has gelled despite a significant amount of turnover and mainstays of last year’s ‘pen—Penn Murfee and Andrés Muñoz—currently on the IL. This group is led by four new faces to the ‘pen this year: lefties Gabe Speier and Tayler Saucedo, and righties Justin Topa and Trevor Gott; a group Scott Servais has nicknamed “the Fearsome Foursome,” although that’s far from the only nickname this crew has.
The party starts at the bank of lockers on the left side just as you walk into the Mariners clubhouse. Justin Topa and Tayler Saucedo have the two lockers closest to the entrance (and closest to annoying media types), having not made the club out of spring training. Trevor Gott has the next locker over, and has been granted rare control of the clubhouse sound system on back-to-back days: his outlaw country playlist, heavy on Cody Jinks, is a favorite with Cal Raleigh (and a certain crotchety beat writer who shall go unnamed). Murfee’s currently unused locker has created a spillover zone between Gott and Gabe Speier, another midseason addition, which is often occupied by Saucedo, who likes to be in the middle of everything, and the crew is rounded out by Matt Brash before things take a turn into position player territory. Each reliever filters in and out during the day, but it’s not uncommon to see a cluster of the newer players joking around together. They’ve also bestowed nicknames on each other—or rather, had them bestowed on each other.
“The nickname thing is new,” says Gabe Speier. “I think I just rattled off one and everyone kind of loved it, so I was like, I guess I’ll just do everybody else, too.”
Speier is the chief nickname-giver, and has a clear pattern to his process. Sewald is “Big Hinge,” because he shuts the door. Saucedo, in a nod to the more commonly used sobriquet “Sauce” and his Mexican heritage, is “Lil’ Queso.” Brash is “Lil’ Slab,” as in slab bacon, as in Canadian bacon (?). Speier was in turn gifted the nickname “Lil” Unit” as a plus-velo lefty with a similar mop of dirty blonde hair, although at nearly a foot shorter than the venerable Randy, the “Lil” part of the nickname is doing a lot of heavy lifting there, maybe on purpose.
Topa’s nickname—”Big Loaf”—is a trickier one to parse. “Honestly, I was delirious after a flight and somehow came up with that,” Speier says, laughing. “I don’t know how it happened. Me and a couple guys were out to dinner, trying to come up with nicknames for everybody, and I just blurted out ‘Big Loaf’ and everyone started laughing, so it stuck.”
Saucedo is the one who came up with Gott’s nickname: “Blood Clot Gott,” because he “stops the bleeding.” Servais says “Sauce” has got a “fantastic personality,” but that it took a little while for Saucedo to feel comfortable enough to share it when he first joined the team in spring training.
“Every day he would sit in the back of the room during my morning meeting and it looked like he was asleep. He’s just got these droopy eyes, and I’m like, Sauce, are you awake? [Deepening his voice in imitation of Saucedo] ‘Oh yeah, skip, I hear you, I gotcha.’
While it took a while for Saucedo to warm up to his new club, he’s now fully comfortable in his environment. Born in Hawaii but raised in Maple Valley, Saucedo is a loyal Seahawks fan; at 6’5” and 225, he’ll tell anyone who will listen that he has the same body type as DK Metcalf. When the trio of former Seahawks greats threw out ceremonial first pitches the other night, no one had to ask Saucedo twice to volunteer to catch one of those pitches. He wanted to catch the pitch thrown by his favorite player, Doug Baldwin, but wound up with Michael Bennett, who sailed a pitch over his head and then wore out the 6’5” Saucedo for not making the catch—as did his manager. Nevertheless, Saucedo was able to collect autographs from the trio of players and take photos. “He wasn’t going to miss an opportunity like that,” says Servais drily.
He was also happy to laugh about the experience later. “Sauce” is the jokester, willing to be the butt of the joke if that’s what it takes to get people laughing. In contrast, Topa is sincere and serious, intent on working hard. Speier has a dry sense of humor; like Gott, he’s on his fifth organization with the Mariners, and has assumed a kind of leadership position among the crew. Gott has a quieter demeanor, although he’s happy to chime in when things get going. He’s enjoyed finding success on the mound, but also appreciates the relationships he’s formed with his fellow relievers. “They really care about the people they bring into the clubhouse,” he says.
Speier agrees. “The biggest thing is just, everyone is just really awesome, like as a person. So it’s really easy to get along.”
“They let you be yourself here,” adds Saucedo. “As a person and as a player.”
“The fearsome foursome,” says Servais, bestowing yet another nickname on the quartet. “Their personalities, they’re all way different, but they all jive together really well. It’s been fun to watch.”
The fun this group has off the field is translating into success on the field. Over this past homestand, both Saucedo and Topa had key high-leverage strikeouts in extra innings to help the team lock down walk-off wins: Saucedo on Sunday against the Pirates, and Topa last night against the Yankees. But each member of the “Fearsome Foursome” is enjoying a career year in at least one aspect of their game, if not more. In the table below, career bests are highlighted in bold.
The Mariners’ Fearsome Foursome
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|IP||K%||BB%||ERA||FIP||fWAR 2022||fWAR 2023|
Speier, who came over from the Royals, says he didn’t know what to expect from the Mariners, but was prepared to dive into the metrics and adjust his pitch shapes if required. “I heard they were kind of like an analytical, forward-thinking team, but I didn’t really know what to expect. If I were to guess, I would have thought it would be like, ‘hey, we need your slider to do this and your fastball to do that,’ but it wasn’t like that at all. It was just like, hey, we like your stuff, that’s why we got you.”
Likewise, Saucedo appreciates the team’s trust in his stuff, as evinced in his high-leverage moment on Sunday when he threw six changeups in an eight-pitch at-bat—at one point throwing five changeups in a row—to Ke’Bryan Hayes, finally getting a crucial strikeout to eventually propel the Mariners to victory.
“The Mariners, since I’ve been here, they just said they believed in me 100%, no matter what. Obviously I still needed to do what I need to do, and I did that, and ever since then, they’ve just believed in me. Being a part of this, it’s been so great. I just can’t appreciate it enough.”
“He’s a joy,” Servais says about Saucedo. “He’s straight left-handed. I said that to Robbie Ray and Robbie gave me a funny look. Robbie’s not straight left-handed. But Sauce is.”
In a season that’s been up-and-down, Servais appreciates what Sauce and the rest of the fearsome foursome have brought, both on the field and off of it.
“Really, it’s good. It’s what makes a long baseball season fun. That’s how you keep your sanity.”