PEORIA, Ariz. — It’s been a whirlwind week for Mariners left-hander Mike Montgomery.
From a surplus rotation candidate who is out of options and (likely) forced to ponder an uncertain future to a viable bullpen option who rates a good bet to break camp with the big-league club.
"It’s been crazy," Montgomery said. "My dad called me and asked me about the switch, and I said, `What are you talking about?’ He said he had read about it (online) in the paper."
That news report amounted to speculation that Montgomery, a starter throughout his eight previous professional seasons, might shift roles because of growing concern regarding Charlie Furbush’s recovery from biceps and shoulder problems.
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But the Mariners soon made the move. Montgomery, 26, made his debut as a reliever Wednesday by pitching one scoreless inning in a 9-6 victory over San Francisco at Peoria Stadium.
"It felt good," he said. "I really feel good in attacking with my fastball right now. The breaking stuff, changeup and cutter — it’s slowly coming along. I think if I attack with my fastball, that’s the most important thing right now."
Montgomery’s second relief appearance came Saturday against Arizona, when he gave up a one-out triple that turned into a run in his only inning.
"The angle of his fastball and his stuff was very good," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s just got to get accustomed to that role and how he’s going to attack left-handed hitters."
Club officials believe Montgomery’s stuff will "play up" in his new role — as often happens for starters who shift to bullpen duty.
"If anything, yeah, it might play up a tick," Montgomery agreed. "But then, that’s not important. I think it’s good where it’s at. I’ve just got to execute the pitches. If it jumps up a tick, it jumps up a tick.
"But I know I can get people out even if it doesn’t. Regardless of that, I feel good in just knowing I know my strengths and weaknesses and know how to use that to my advantage."
The Mariners remain hopeful that Furbush will be ready for their April 4 opener at Texas. But they want two lefties in a seven-man bullpen and the only other strong candidate is Vidal Nuno.
If Furbush isn’t ready, barring an acquisition, the math is easy: Nuno and Montgomery fill the two spots. But even if Furbush makes it back, the Mariners could opt to keep Montgomery over Nuno.
Because while Montgomery is out of options — meaning he can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers — Nuno still has an option remaining. And club officials, privately, say they see scant chance that Montgomery clears waivers.
"He’s a big, tall left-hander with stuff who is still young," one rival scout agreed. "He’s had some success up here (in the big leagues). There’s no way someone doesn’t take a chance on him."
Montgomery has always oozed potential. He was the 36th overall pick in the 2008 draft by Kansas City and entered the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons rated by Baseball America as being among the game’s top 40 prospects.
The Royals sent him to Tampa Bay after the 2012 season along with outfielder Wil Myers as part of the blockbuster trade that netted pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.
Montgomery scuffled for two years in the Rays’ system before the Mariners obtained him nearly a year ago (March 31) for pitcher Erasmo Ramirez.
There’s some irony there: The Mariners had to deal Ramirez because he wasn’t going to make their rotation and was out of options. Montgomery had one option remaining at the time.
Also, the Rays had toyed with the idea of making him a reliever.
"It was in the very beginning of spring," Montgomery said. "Then when they had two starters go down, they came back to me about a week later and said, `never mind.’"
Now, the bullpen looms as his future.
"We going to see more looks at him, more frequently," Servais said. "We want to see how he bounces back. I’m interested to see how this plays out with him in the bullpen."
The Mariners optioned three players to Triple-A Tacoma prior to Sunday’s game and reassigned two others to minor-league camp.
Catcher Steven Baron and two relievers, lefty David Rollins and right-hander Jonathan Aro, are heading to the Rainiers. Right-handed pitcher Adrian Sampson and infielder Ed Lucas are also likely headed to Tacoma.
Players who are on the 40-man roster must be optioned to the minors; players in camp on minor-league contracts can simply be reassigned.
The Mariners now have 40 players remaining in big-league camp, including two who are on the 60-day disabled list (catcher Jesus Sucre and right-handed pitcher Ryan Cook).
Aro, 25, gave up eight runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings in six games; Rollins, 26, allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings in five games; Sampson, 24, gave up five runs and 13 hits in 10 innings in four games.
Lucas, 33, was 9-for-31 (.290) in 17 games, while Baron, 25, was 3-for-10 in eight games.
BULLPEN INJURY UPDATES
Right-handed reliever Evan Scribner could be sidelined longer than expected after a recent examination into his slow recovery from a strained latissimus muscle in his back.
"I don’t know all of the details of that," Servais said, "but the feeling I got is it wasn’t great. So it’s not progressing as he or we had hoped."
The Mariners had hoped Scribner would be return this week to bullpen workouts and be ready for active duty by mid-to-late April.
Servais also sounded increasingly pessimistic that lefty reliever Charlie Furbush will be ready for the April 4 opener at Texas. Furbush has experienced lingering day-after shoulder soreness following throwing workouts.
"I’m trying to be as optimistic as I can," Servais said. "You guys can look at the calendar. I think there’s a better chance that Charlie is probably going to be late to start the season with us.
"Nothing definite yet. Nothing set in stone. But it’s starting to look that way."
Outfielder/first baseman Stefen Romero, who experienced a back spasm prior to Thursday’s game, took part in a full day of activities Sunday on the minor-league side. If all goes well, he’ll return Monday to the lineup…utility candidate Luis Sardinas is likely to play center field Monday against the Dodgers in an effort to expand his versatility…Former Mariner Chone Figgins will sign a one-day contract Monday with the Los Angeles Angels prior to announcing his retirement. Figgins had eight productive seasons with the Angels before signing a four-year deal with the Mariners for $36 million in December 2009. He was unable to replicate his previous success.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners