Rookie reliever Carson Smith didn’t join the Seattle Mariners until Sept. 1, but he’s quickly positioning himself as a prime candidate for any potential postseason roster.
Smith, 24, got his first big-league victory Tuesday when the Mariners rallied for a 13-2 victory against the Los Angeles Angels by pitching two lockdown innings after Roenis Elias departed because of a strained elbow.
“He’s throwing extremely well for us,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I don’t think he’s been overwhelmed by any situation we’ve put him in, regardless of the inning.”
Smith has logged 62/3 scoreless innings in five outings while allowing two hits. He has walked two and struck out six.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of. I’m confident in my ability, and I’m just going to go out there and do the best I can. Just do what I’ve done all year.”
McClendon previously characterized Smith as a reliever whose delivery and arsenal would create problems for right-handed hitters. That situational specialty, alone, makes Smith a valuable weapon in the stretch drive.
“I love his sinker,” McClendon said. “We’ve thrust him into the midst of a pennant race, and he’s done a nice job. He’s got real good stuff. He throws strikes, and he’s not afraid. He’s pretty impressive.”
The Mariners could find a space for Smith, if they want, on a postseason roster without shortening their bench. Most clubs choose to carry just four starting pitchers in October.
Smith made a steady progression through the Mariners’ system after his selection in the eighth round of the 2011 draft but battled niggling injuries this season while compiling a 2.93 ERA in 39 games at Triple-A Tacoma.
“My finger had some inflammation. It was a weird injury. It’s nothing that I was too worried about. A sore back kept me out for a couple of days. And then a sore oblique kept me out for a couple of days.
“Now, I’m good. I’m healthy.”
It appears the Mariners will shut down Elias for the remainder of the season no matter what an MRI later this week reveals on his left elbow.
“Most likely, yes,” McClendon confirmed. “He’s had a heck of a year. He’s had a tremendous second half. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
Elias, 26, is 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 29 starts and has posted a 2.31 ERA in 10 starts, despite a 3-4 record, since the All-Star break.
Plans call for him to return to Seattle on Thursday to undergo the exam. Club officials, at this point, are characterizing the injury as “flexor bundle tightness.”
Elias pushed his innings count to 1632/3 by pitching three-plus innings Tuesday before leaving because of elbow stiffness. Counting a five-inning outing at Tacoma, he’s pitched 332/3 innings more than last season with Double-A Jackson.
The Mariners plan to insert right-hander Taijuan Walker into their rotation for Friday’s series opener against the Astros in Houston.
McClendon confirmed his plans after Wednesday’s 5-0 loss to the Angels.
By starting Walker on Friday instead of Sunday — when Elias had been scheduled to pitch — Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma will each get an extra day of rest.
The move also positions the Mariners to have their three top starters lined up for the season-ending series against the Angels at Safeco Field.
Walker has allowed two runs and 10 hits in 91/3 innings over three relief appearances since his Sept. 1 recall from Tacoma. He is 1-2 with a 2.96 ERA overall this season in six big-league games.
After Walker starts Friday, Young (Saturday) and Iwakuma (Sunday) will follow against the Astros. That sets up James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Walker and Young to start the four games next week in Toronto.
Iwakuma, Paxton and Hernandez would then be lined up for the season’s final three games against the Angels.
MORGAN AIDS CANADA
Outfielder Gareth Morgan hit a two-run single in the eighth inning Tuesday that helped Canada to a 9-7 victory over Mexico in the bronze-medal game of the 18-under Pan American tournament in La Pax, Mexico.
Morgan, 18, was the Mariners’ second-round pick in the June draft. He batted .148 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 45 games for Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League.
In addition to his two-run single, Morgan hit a tie-breaking homer earlier in Tuesday’s game that gave Canada a 6-5 lead.
The tournament marked the end of Morgan’s career for the Canadian Junior team. He is one of only two players to join the club as a 14-year-old.
“It’s bittersweet, for sure,” Morgan told CanadianBaseballNetwork.com. “I’m really happy we got the win and to contribute with some key hits is something that I will take with me forever.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be on some good teams in the past, but this win is extra special because of the way we won.”
The Mariners are still looking to lock down a player-development contract with a Class-A affiliate after their agreement with High Desert in the California League expired at the end of the season.
High Desert has been a Mariners’ affiliate for the past eight years.
The Mariners would prefer to keep their High-A affiliate in the California League, but High Desert and Bakersfield are the only franchises in that league currently without an agreement.
There are franchises available in the two other High-A Leagues: the Carolina League, and the Florida State League.
The Mariners recently reached two-year extensions through the 2016 season with Double-A Jackson and Low-A Clinton. Their agreements with Triple-A Tacoma and Short-A Everett also run through 2016.
The Mariners do not intend to replace Pulaski with another rookie-league team in their affiliate roster. Their contract with Pulaski expired at the end of the year, and Pulaski has already reached a new deal with the Yankees.
The Mariners got six scoreless innings Tuesday from their relief corps and are, again, on a near-record pace for bullpen ERA by an American League club in the DH (1973-onward) era.
The current record for a full season belongs to the 1990 Oakland A’s at 2.35. The Mariners entered Wednesday at 2.36. The 1981 New York Yankees had a 2.26 bullpen ERA in a strike-shortened season.
It was five years ago Thursday — Sept. 18, 2009 — that Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-out, two-run homer against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera that lifted the Mariners to a 3-2 walk-off victory at Safeco Field.
The victory snapped a streak of 27 straight successful saves by the Rivera against the Mariners.
Mike Sweeney started the comeback with a two-out pinch-hit double. After Michael Saunders entered the game as a pinch-runner, Suzuki homered to right field.
Suzuki’s homer rewarded Felix Hernandez with a victory, instead of a tough loss, after pitching a complete game in which he allowed just one earned run.
The Mariners and Angels conclude their four-game series at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Angel Stadium.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (14-5, 2.14 ERA) will oppose Los Angeles right-hander Jered Weaver (17-8, 3.50 ERA). Root Sports will televise the game.
The Mariners then head to Houston for three weekend games before concluding their 11-game trip next week with four games at Toronto. They then end the season with three home games, Sept. 26-28, against the Angels.