TNT Mariners chat: Injuries, eagles and a conversation with prospect Rob Whalen
One cried in Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais’ office last year.
The other wasn’t sure when he’d be playing baseball again this season after suffering nerve damage in his neck.
On Thursday both pitchers, Rob Whalen and Nick Rumbelow, were sitting in reclining chairs (even if just briefly) in front of stalls with their names etched over the top in the Mariners’ clubhouse at Safeco Field.
Both shared a word to describe the experience.
“It’s definitely surreal,” said Rumbelow, who was mentioned most all offseason as someone locked into the Mariners’ bullpen plans before a brachial plexus injury in his spinal cord.
“I’m so excited to be here with the Mariners. They’re playing such good baseball and I got an opportunity to come up here and help the team.”
And then Whalen, the 24-year-old who broke down in Servais’ office last season because he was struggling with depression.
“Thinking about this last night and thinking about where I came from the last time I was here – it’s surreal,” Whalen said.
The Mariners bolstered their bullpen from seven members to eight with the Boston Red Sox in town for a four-game series starting Thursday. They optioned first baseman Daniel Vogelbach to Triple-A Tacoma and designated right-hander Mike Morin for assignment to create room on the 25-man roster for Rumbelow and Whalen.
The last time Whalen was recalled from Tacoma to Seattle, he was tasked with making a spot start against, you guessed it, the Red Sox.
He allowed three runs in the first inning, saying he could feel the anxiety of pitching on that Fenway Park mound and telling himself he wasn’t healthy enough, didn’t have good enough stuff – defeating himself before he threw a pitch in the eventual 6-0 loss.
But he said he found help from mental strength coaches and getting back to church for the first time since he was in elementary school this past winter. His mental state was so bad, he just left his Triple-A Tacoma team after a start in Reno in July.
“In the spring I came in with no expectations,” Whalen said. “After all the things that happened last year, I just wanted to come in and have fun again and enjoy what I do for a living. Being 24 years old and the experience I had last year, I just didn’t have fun for some reason and I wanted to change that.”
“I feel phenomenal,” Whalen said. “It’s all the credit to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He’s the reason that I’m here. Saved my life this offseason. All the glory to Him to get me back in this position.”
Whalen went 7-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 13 starts with the Rainiers, though he figures to be used out of the bullpen as a long reliever in his newest stint with the Mariners. They also have former starter Roenis Elias, a left-hander, but he pitched in Wednesday's win over the Los Angeles Angels.
Servais was asked about seeing Whalen back in the Mariners’ clubhouse.
“Oh, it’s great,” Servais said. “He came in and made a spot start for us last year in Boston and that was an interesting one.
“He’s turned his whole life around. And we saw it in spring training. He’s really changed his life and I’m happy for him. We’ll see what it looks like here. I’m sure he’ll get an opportunity to pitch here at some time.
“But he’s back in the big leagues and it’s not easy to get here. Hopefully he can stay for a while.”
Whalen said one of the differences this year for him: he works on shortstop drills every day. Like he’s 15 years old again.
“That’s part of my process where I was overthinking things a lot last year,” Whalen said. “And I feel like if you ask a lot of pitchers when they struggle, you think automatically to mechanics and this and that and we’re so used to controlling our bodies and focusing on pitching the ball – instead of literally just throwing it, which is the easiest part of the game besides catching.
“So if I could get back to the basics and being athletic like a kid and just letting it ride, then everything is on time.”
Rumbelow is in the big leagues for the first time since 2015, when he was with the New York Yankees.
Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto raved about the 26-year-old after he acquired Rumbelow from the Yankees in exchange for minor leaguer pitchers JP Sears and Juan Then in November.
Rumbelow started the season on the disabled list, though, because of an injury to the group of nerves that come from the spinal cord in the neck and travel down the arm. He wasn’t reinstated until June 5.
“I’m not even sure what was going on, really,” Rumbelow said. “It’s really just in the past, though, something I’ve put behind me. It’s just feeling great now.
“I trained all offseason to be out there and competing and not having that just continued to light that fire in me down in Peoria and seeing the Mariners play so well and wanting to be part of that. Jerry and them had patience with me, though, which was so great. That’s all I could ask for.”
Since then he pitched three scoreless relief appearances with the Rainiers, retiring nine of the 11 batters he faced with five strikeouts and one hit allowed. He pitched last season for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Yankees system, going 5-1 with six saves and a 1.12 ERA. He brings a mid-90s fastball and a hard breaking ball.
“Oh yeah, he’s got good stuff,” Servais said. “It’s legit stuff.”
He said they’ll be cautious with him, though, since Rumbelow hasn’t yet even pitched back-to-back outings.
“It’s part of being on a big-league staff, there will be days you will need to go back-to-back,” Servais said. “But we’ll check in with him regularly like I do all the guys and we’ll be cautious with him early on.”
Whalen and Rumbelow also fill spots in the bullpen with the Mariners currently without right-hander Nick Vincent (groin strain), right-hander Juan Nicasio (knee effusion) and right-hander Dan Altavilla (right UCL sprain).
Kyle Seager was plugged back in at at third base against the Red Sox after missing Wednesday’s series finale against the Los Angeles Angels because of a personal issue.
Seager was originally in Wednesday’s lineup but was scratched about an hour before the first pitch.
“I talked to him (Wednesday night) and we texted back and forth – everything seems to be OK there at home,” Servais said. “He’s got a pregnant wife and he wanted to make sure things were where they needed to be there."
The Mariners will start left-hander James Paxton (6-1, 3.02 ERA) in the second of their four-game series against the Red Sox, opposed by right-hander Rick Porcello (8-3, 3.54 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field and the game will televise on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM radio.
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