All it took was two solid late September innings to rescue left-hander Dillon Overton from an offseason of crushing doubts. Add a January change of address plus spring success, and he’s now brimming with optimism.
“It’s been awesome,” said Overton, who the Mariners acquired from Oakland in a Jan. 26 trade for minor-league catcher Jason in a Goldstein.
“I told my family over and over that this is going to be a good experience for me. Being with the A’s for 3 1/2 years since I got drafted, a change of scenery will be good for me.”
That change of scenery will, almost certainly, eventually be Triple-A Tacoma and not the Mariners. For now, that’s fine with Overton, and we’ll get to that. First, though, let’s cycle back to September.
Overton was on his fourth big-league call-up of the year with the Athletics and, like the previous three, it was turning into a disaster. He gave up five runs in a mop-up ninth inning on Sept. 15 in a blowout victory at Kansas City.
It was inexplicable, too, in some ways. When not getting battered by big-league hitters, Overton put together a solid season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at Triple-A Nashville by going 13-5 with a 3.29 ERA in 21 games.
“When you get hit around like that as much as I did,” he said. “it makes your confidence waver a little bit. It doesn’t matter how good you did in Triple-A. When you up there, that doesn’t matter. Big-league hitters, they don’t care.”
That five-run inning against Kansas City was Overton’s first relief appearance in the big leagues after five starts, and it left him with a slew of ugly numbers: 31 runs and 48 hits allowed in 22 1/3 innings for a 12.47 ERA.
He also allowed a staggering 12 home runs in that span.
The Athletics, not surprisingly, put him in a deep freeze at that point by burying him deep in the bullpen. No game action. Overton spent his time working with coaches to find a solution.
He believes he found it.
“I wasn’t using a whole lot of my backside in pushing off the rubber,” Overton said. “It was more arm (before) than using my body. With big-league hitters, if your fastball looks like it doesn’t have life on it, they pick it up pretty easy.”
That’s where those two innings come in.
“I was struggling mentally and emotionally,” he admitted. “It was tough. They finally threw me in for two innings in Anaheim, and everything went really well. That was the last outing I had before the offseason. “In my mind, I ended the season on a good note.”
The Athletics, apparently, weren’t convinced.
On Jan. 25, in need of a roster spot, Oakland designated Overton for assignment — and the Mariners pounced. They still saw potential in Overton and, unwilling to see whether he would clear waivers, they pursued a trade.
“Overton has always been a strong performer and maintains two options,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He’s an excellent strike-thrower with above-average feel and a solid curveball/changeup combination.
“I’m glad we were able to add him.”
The Mariners wanted Overton as organizational depth. Their big-league rotation was already in place. That meant Overton, at 25, could anticipate another season in the Pacific Coast League.
The key, though, to Overton is they wanted him.
“When (the Mariners) called and told me I was getting traded to them,” he recalled, “they told me they had actually looked at me out of college (Oklahoma). They were going to pick me out, but the A’s had the pick before. They had wanted me before.
“So when the opportunity arose for me to get picked up, they jumped on it like it was nobody’s business. When a team wants you like that — well, it feels good to be wanted. That’s why I say I think it’s going to be a good opportunity.”
A strong spring is providing further validation and reinforcement.
Overton delivered strong starts in his last two outings and owns a 2.65 ERA at five earned runs in 17 innings. The long ball remains a bugaboo — he’s allowed three — but he has 13 strikeouts and no walks.
“Pretty impressive,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s not going to blow you away with his fastball. The change-up is his big weapon, and he’s willing to throw it to left-handed hitters. You don’t see that a lot with young pitchers.”
It’s worth noting that while the Mariners have already moved the other projected members of Tacoma’s rotation to minor-league camp, Overton still has a locker in the big-league clubhouse.
Tentative plans call for Overton to pitch a piggyback start behind Yovani Gallardo on Saturday in the Cactus League finale against Colorado at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. Opening the season as the long reliever remains a possibility.
“I’m trying to do as much as I can to open their eyes and make them think about it really hard,” Overton said. “Last year in big-league camp (with Oakland), I threw six innings and got sent down in the first round of cuts.
“For me to still be here this year, it’s a big deal. I’m trying to make the most of my opportunity…It’s been a lot of fun over here with Seattle, and I can’t wait to carry that over into the season.”
Two good innings. Maybe that backside push was all it took.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners