Fien looking like a find for Mariners' bullpen

Fien looking like a find for Mariners' bullpen

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In a bullpen group featuring some flame-throwing youngsters and big arms, Casey Fien has quietly gone about his business this spring.

Fans aren't buzzing about the 33-year-old right-hander and though he was one of just two free-agent signees this offseason, most of the attention went to the multitude of trade acquisitions by general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Fien doesn't bring high-octane heat like Thyago Vieira, Dan Altavilla, Shae Simmons and others. But when it comes to whittling down their choices for the final bullpen, the Mariners brass certainly has kept a close watch on Fien.

Fien looked sharp even before the games began and has backed that up by allowing just two hits with no walks and nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 scoreless innings in five of his six Cactus League appearances.

That ignores a rough showing in his one other outing -- a three-hit, three-run, two-walk struggle against the Angels on Sunday. But manager Scott Servais is willing to chalk that one up as a typical spring hiccup and was encouraged when Fien bounced back with 1 2/3 hitless frames with two strikeouts in Wednesday's 12-7 loss to the Dodgers.

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"He knows how to pitch and how to work his stuff," said Servais. "This guy has had success. He's got Major League time, there's no doubt he's going to help us and it could be in different roles. It could be later in a game, it could be in the middle. I like what I've seen so far."

Fien's chances appear to be increasing with Steve Cishek's recovery from hip surgery leaving him out of the picture to start the season and Simmons' recent forearm issue raising concerns about another late-inning option.

Fien put together four solid seasons in the Twins bullpen from 2012-15 when he posted a 3.54 ERA with a 1.073 WHIP in 223 2/3 innings over 243 appearances. And with 197 strikeouts and just 39 walks, Fien fits Dipoto's control-the-zone mode.

But life didn't go as well last year. He struggled early for the Twins and was waived after putting up a 7.90 ERA in his first 14 games and claimed by the Dodgers. Things went better there, until elbow tendinitis sidelined him.

The Mariners signed him to a $1.1 million deal, figuring he could add depth if he bounced back. And so far, the signs are encouraging.

"I'm just trying to prove that I'm healthy and go out there and have my stuff that I had back in '14 and '15," Fien said. "I need to get that swing-and-miss stuff back. I'm trying to be a big part of this team, especially on the back end of the bullpen. That's my goal."

Fien says he's "the epitome of a strike thrower," which makes him a good fit for the Mariners. And he loves the approach Servais takes of mixing things up in morning meetings and keeping the atmosphere light.

"I've never been a part of an actual Spring Training where it's supposed to be fun," Fien said. "Everywhere else it's been more tedious work, but the skipper makes it fun for everybody. Which is pretty nice to see. It makes you want to come in and you feel welcomed. It's been a fun change."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.