As if the Seattle Mariners weren’t tortured enough by injuries.
Add another one.
They’ve spent this offseason knocking on wood and swearing there’s no way last year’s injury-riddled season could happen again. But for the second consecutive year, the Mariners lost one of their projected key pitchers before the season could even begin.
Right-handed set-up reliever David Phelps will miss the rest of the season because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm, which will require Tommy John Surgery and a 12-15 month recovery.
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He suffered the injury on the final pitch of his last outing on Saturday against the Angels.
“It was pretty clear when he walked off the mound the other day there was something wrong with him,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He immediately came in and we sent him for some tests. We had an MRI done and got a second opinion. He got the result today of the second opinion and he determined this was the way to go and it was the only decision he had.”
Phelps was projected to be a key piece in the Mariners bullpen, which Dipoto and manager Scott Servais had previewed this offseason as one of the strongest position groups on the club.
The usually positive-outlooked Dipoto knew he couldn’t sugar coat the injury and its ramifications for the bullpen. Especially in the wake of using 40 total pitchers all of last season because of injuries.
That was a franchise record and the second-most used in MLB history. So he stopped short in saying that the silver lining in this is the Mariners appeared to have a pretty deep bullpen.
“Just judging by my history here, I’d say no,” Dipoto said. “There’s no way to sugar coat it. He’s a big piece of what we were doing. It’s a big loss for us. He will feel it, his teammates will feel it and we will feel it.”
This puts more onus on one of their biggest offseason acquisitions — right-handed reliever Juan Nicasio — as well as heavily relied on Nick Vincent. They were hoping a trio of Phelps, Nicasio and Vincent would mean they wouldn’t have to wear Vincent out so much like last season to bridge the gap to closer Edwin Diaz.
Vincent appeared in 64 2/3 innings with a 3.20 ERA. His innings were the sixth-most on the team last season — and that’s including their starters.
So what now?
Dipoto praised Dan Altavilla and Casey Lawrence for the production he’s seen from them this spring. Altavilla has thrown 8 2/3 innings with three hits, two earned runs (2.08 ERA) and 12 strikeouts, while Lawrence, who now seems to have a clear path onto the Mariners’ Opening Day roster as a long reliever, has thrown 12 innings with one earned run (0.75 ERA) and 13 strikeouts.
“Fortunately for us a couple of these guys are having special spring trainings, like Dan Altavilla and Casey Lawrence,” Dipoto said. “The good thing is we do feel like we have some depth there to work back from. But it won’t be an easy spot to fill. There’s a reason why we went and got (Phelps) and why we were excited for his return. He’ll be missed.”
And both he and Servais also said this will give Ryan Cook some extended looks. Cook, a right-hander, hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since 2015 and missed all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery. He was an All-Star in 2012.
“We have to have other guys step up,” Servais said following a 7-4 win over the Brewers on Wednesday night. “And we do have capable guys.
“I feel bad for David. It’s a tough one. But things happen and we’ll move forward.”
The Mariners acquired Phelps in a July trade from the Marlins for four prospects: outfielder Brayan Hernandez, and right-handed pitchers Pablo Lopez, Brandon Miller, and Lukas Schiraldi.
He pitched 8 2/3 innings for the Mariners after the July 20 trade from Miami because he spent two stints on the disabled list, including undergoing season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur on Sept. 13. Dipoto said the UCL tear was unrelated to the bone chip.
Phelps’ season-ending injury comes after the Mariners lost left-handed starter Drew Smyly for the season during spring training last year, also to a torn UCL.
The Mariners had already placed right-hander Tony Zych on waivers after he ended last season on the DL and Nick Rumbelow, who was acquired from the Yankees this offseason, remains out since early March without a known return date because of a nerve issue in his neck.
They signed left-hander Dario Alvarez on Wednesday and optioned him to Triple-A Tacoma to report to minor league camp on Thursday. They also signed right-hander Erik Goeddel to a minor league contract.
“We don’t know how long it will take with (Rumbelow). It could be a week or two or it could be longer,” Dipoto said. “The combination of events with (Zych) and Nick Rumbelow and now David Phelps — that’s not exactly how we planned the spring to go with that group. You know you are going to run into an occasional injury, but to have three in that short of a time span, it’s tough to deal with. Fortunately we are in the time of year where players are more accessible than they can be. There’s a reason we’ve been active the past couple of days trying to refill some of the depth in the back of the relieving corps. I would anticipate seeing more of that in the next days to go.”
The Mariners open the season on March 29 against the Indians at Safeco Field.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677