Right-hander Rob Whalen says it up front. He even brings it up himself. He wasted an opportunity this spring with the Mariners by making himself "irrelevant" because of shoulder and calf injuries.
That might be a bit harsh. Injuries are injuries. Even so, Whalen, 23, saw the November trade that brought him to the Mariners from Atlanta as a boost to his career, and the injuries "really ticked me off."
That all fades to the shadows Saturday when Whalen gets an opportunity to start against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He will be the 43rd different player, and 12th different starting pitcher, used this season by the Mariners.
Both totals are the highest in either league, i.e., lots of opportunities.
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The Mariners summoned Whalen once earlier this season from Triple-A Tacoma to serve an emergency long reliever but sent him back the next day in order to keep him stretched out as a starter…for an situation such as Saturday.
"I’m extremely excited," he said. "The one day I came up here and didn’t get to throw was a little disappointing. But (general manager) Jerry (Dipoto) promised there’d be opportunities here when I got traded. That’s all I can ask for.
"I’ve been feeling healthy. My time in Triple-A, the numbers might not look good, but I felt I was getting better every start. Starting to shake that rust off a little bit."
Whalen was 0-2 with a 4.09 ERA in four starts at Tacoma after being activated April 27 from the disabled list and then optioned to the Rainiers once he recovered from shoulder and calf injuries.
Those injury problems can be traced back two years.
Whalen missed the second half of the 2015 season after undergoing knee surgery. He returned last season and pitched well enough in 21 starts at Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett to gain an August promotion to the big leagues.
The Braves shut down Whalen after five starts.
"When I got to 150 innings last year, which was my career high," he said, "I was kind of shot at that point. I was throwing all arm again, and my shoulder took the bulk of it. Throughout the offseason, it didn’t feel good when I was throwing.
"It was my own fault. It extended back to the year previous with my knees. I got rushed back last year. I didn’t really build up the strength in my legs that I needed to."
The Mariners acquired Whalen with pitcher Max Povse in a Nov. 28 trade for outfielder Alex Jackson and pitcher Tyler Pike.
Of the four, only Whalen was on the 40-man roster. He represented another piece in Dipoto’s depth-building strategy; someone who had big-league experience, was still young, had options and legitimate upside potential.
But Whalen’s shoulder problems led to a go-slow approach in spring training.
"They were really patient with me," he said. "They gave me the time to work on it and build up my strength. I was doing that, and then I pulled my calf muscle. That was kind of it for spring training. I didn’t throw at all after that."
Whalen insisted he’s fine now. He pitched an eight-inning complete game while allowing just one earned run on May 19 at Iowa (Cubs) before getting recalled Wednesday when the Mariners again needed a fresh bullpen arm.
Instead he gets to start.
"We’re not looking for him to throw seven shutout innings," manager Scott Servais said. "I’ll take it…but keep us in the ballgame. Do what he does. Good slider. Good curveball."
It might be a one-time thing. Lefty James Paxton made a rehab start Friday at Double-A Arkansas and, if ll goes well, will rejoin the rotation next week. That could push Whalen back to Tacoma. Or maybe not. Or if so, maybe not for long.
For now, Whalen is in the big leagues, and he took full advantage Friday by arriving early to explore Fenway Park.
"I’ve been wanting to come to this park since I dreamed of playing baseball," he said. "I’d always been a low-key Red Sox fan growing up. So it’s really cool to be here. The history here is amazing. To take the mound is going to be really cool."
The irrelevant spring is receding in the distance. Opportunity awaits.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners