Ryan Cook walked through the double doors in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse. He’s been in these types of rooms before, but never as meaningful as Thursday.
Not long ago he wondered if he’d ever enter one as a big-league player again. He didn’t need to be an All-Star-caliber reliever again, just get back into one of these clubhouses with a jersey on, preparing for a big-league game.
Here he is.
“The most humbling part is wondering if I could ever do it again,” Cook said. “I felt like I had pitched at a pretty high level up here … and to recount those days when you come home from rehab and you can’t even move your arm, or you can’t feel your fingers, and literally just looking yourself in the mirror and understanding that it might be over – that was by far the most humbling part.”
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But the Mariners thought enough of the 30-year-old’s work with Triple-A Tacoma to promote him before Thursday’s game against the Detroit Tigers. To make room, the Mariners optioned right-hander Christian Bergman, who threw seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits in the Mariners’ 5-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.
Cook hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2015 because of multiple significant injuries and surgeries. He’s now six years removed from his All-Star season with the Oakland Athletics.
Seattle hopes Cook has some semblance of the 142 games he appeared in between 2012 and 2013, when he had a 2.30 ERA and struck out 147 batters. But they're also hoping that all those injures and rehab he’s undergone hasn’t taken too much of a toll on the right-handers once stellar arm.
“It’s been a long journey for Cooky to get back here,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I’m really excited to have him back with our club. He’s a veteran guy, he’s been around, he’s had a lot of success in the league and his career got a little sidetracked.
“But he’s healthy, he’s been throwing the ball really well in Tacoma and he’s one of the guys we talked about leaving camp of possibly breaking with us.”
But they wanted to be completely sure he was completely healthy.
And give Cook time to re-learn some sense of the grind of professional baseball – like being ready any game, any moment and preparing his arm multiple days.
Cook was asked to try to sum up his injury-riddled past two seasons.
In a six month span two years ago, Cook tore his latissimus dorsi muscle in his back in his first appearance in spring training with the Mariners, then tore his hamstring and later his ulnar collateral ligament.
But scar tissue built up around a nerve after the elbow surgery and he said he completely lost feeling in his fingers and lost function of his hand. He couldn’t even grip a tennis ball, let alone a baseball. So he needed nerve transposition surgery.
“Luckily on those days I had my fiancée there to kind of yell at me and get my butt in gear and telling me, ‘You knew this was going to be tough and there were going to be days like this,’” Cook said. “So just stick it out and see what’s next.”
Then he got onto the mound this past spring and pitched his first inning since all of that.
“I didn’t anticipate it would mean so much getting back onto a baseball field again,” Cook said. “I thought that would come easier to me.”
But Servais and the Mariners saw promise.
“I think he plays a major role for us at some point this season and moving forward,” Servais said in the final week of spring training. “This guy is a former All-Star. He’s got good stuff and I really tip my cap to him – it’s been two years of him grinding to get to this point.”
Cook appeared in 13 games with Triple-A Tacoma, putting together a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with 17 strikeouts.
That was after he took all of last season off, threw just one inning of minor-league ball in 2016 and appeared in just nine games in 2015 between the A’s and the Boston Red Sox. He hasn’t pitched regularly since 2014.
He was with his fiancée in their apartment in Tacoma on Wednesday when he received a call saying he’d be called up to the Mariners.
“I just tried to hold it all together,” Cook said. “And I was really looking forward to seeing what it’s like to be in a big-league clubhouse again. It’s really been that long. I got back in here and, obviously, I knew the guys from spring training, and that was like I hadn’t missed a beat. It was awesome. To do it in here means that much more.”
The Mariners won’t use him for a 50-pitch outing like they did with right-hander Erik Goeddel on Tuesday, before they designated him for assignment to create room for Bergman. But Cook has pitched on back-to-back days with Tacoma so far.
“Cook is a competitor and it’s been hard for him to be out,” Servais said. “I knew probably one of the highlights for him was getting on the mound for a spring training major league game. He hadn’t done that in a few years. I’m just looking forward for him to give us a big shot in the arm.”
Gordon to second
The Mariners gave Dee Gordon a game at designated hitter on Thursday so that he could focus pregame on working at second base.
The converted second baseman-to-center-fielder could return to the infield as soon as Friday, Servais said. He worked in the infield with live batting practice for the first time on Thursday.
This was not what the Mariners wanted when they traded for him from the Miami Marlins this offseason. They expected they’d play him only in center field, a position he had never before played in the big leagues, until MLB slammed an 80-game drug suspension on Robinson Cano.
“He’s been an All-Star and won a Gold Glove – I don’t know how you can do better than that,” Servais said. “And we just happened to have him on our roster. Dee is excited about it. He’s ready to go.”
Nelson Cruz was apparently close to playing after taking a pitch off of his right ankle in Tuesday’s win over the Rangers, which led to a right bone contusion.
He took batting practice with the team Thursday and it’s likely he could return to the lineup to DH on Friday – assuming Gordon is OK with that. Gordon jokingly seemed reluctant.
“I thought it was worse,” Cruz said of his ankle. “The pain lasted into the next day. Thankfully nothing was broken.”
The Mariners continue their four-game series with the Tigers at 7:10 p.m. Friday with right-hander Felix Hernandez (5-3, 5.66 ERA) starting against Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer (1-3, 4.37 ERA). The game will televise on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM radio.
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