Seattle Mariners

Surprise among Mariners roster moves: Lefty James Pazos optioned to Triple-A Tacoma

Seattle Mariners relief pitcher James Pazos (47) delivers a pitch during the tenth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Monday, August 6, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)
Seattle Mariners relief pitcher James Pazos (47) delivers a pitch during the tenth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Monday, August 6, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde) AP

James Pazos … optioned to Triple-A?

That was among the roster moves the Seattle Mariners made Sunday morning, sending their most relied-on and effective lefty bullpen option this season to the minor leagues while activating Roenis Elias off the disabled list to start Sunday’s series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They also optioned infielder Gordon Beckham back to Tacoma and recalled right-hander Chasen Bradford.

But Pazos has continued to see a dip in his fastball velocity and in his past 5 1/3 innings pitched he had allowed six runs (three earned).

For the season, the hard-throwing left-hander has a 2.68 ERA in 49 appearances and 40 1/3 innings pitched. He broke through as their most trusted lefty reliever with his impressive outings earlier in the season, including a stretch of 22 1/3 innings pitched when he allowed two runs (0.81 ERA) from April 10-June 14.

Mariners manager Scott Servais detailed some of Pazos’ mechanical issues that really started around the All-Star break. From the beginning of the season through June Pazos’ fastball averaged 94.5 mph and since then it’s been averaging 92.6 mph – and that’s a pitch he throws 91 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs.

“Over the last six weeks he hasn’t been as consistent with his fastball. That’s his trick. That’s what he’s got,” Servais said. “He’s got a riding fastball that really plays well up in the zone and the consistency of getting it there and executing it and being able to go multiple innings really hasn’t been there for him.”

The Mariners packaged a “very, very detailed” workout program for Pazos while he’s with the Rainiers and it’s more focused on getting him right mechanically and getting him in side sessions than it is about getting him in-game action.

“It’s about getting him right mechanically and it’s never easy sending a guy out,” Servais said. “But where he fits in our bullpen right now, we really need him. And I stressed that to him multiple times last night talking to him. We need him to be a real big part of our bullpen and right now he’s just not. So take a step back, take the next 10 days to regroup and go from there.”

In his place the Mariners added Bradford, the right-hander who is 5-0 with a 3.05 ERA in 44 1/3 innings this season. He was optioned to Tacoma on Aug. 9 and threw three scoreless innings of relief in three appearances.

Just as big is getting multi-inning relievers right now. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez threw five innings of a 10-inning game on Saturday, Wade LeBlanc lasted 4 1/3 innings on Friday, Elias hadn’t pitched more than an inning in three rehab appearances with Triple-A.

And Felix Hernandez is making a spot start for injured James Paxton on Monday.

Translation: The Mariners need bullpen arms, and arms that can last for multiple innings, which is more suited for Bradford, who is second among Mariners relievers is innings pitched this season behind Edwin Diaz (61 innings).

Pazos’ was also one of the few Mariners relievers with minor league options available. The only other pitchers with options in the Mariners’ bullpen were closer Edwin Diaz and right-hander Matt Festa, who was recalled from Double-A Arkansas on Saturday.

This also gives the Mariners more right-handed relief options as they prepare for a right-handed heavy Houston Astros lineup for a three-game series starting on Monday.

But that was just the tipping point for sending Pazos down. The real problem has been his mechanical struggles. Since July he’s thrown 42 percent of his pitches for strikes and had a swinging-strike rate of 6.8 percent compared to 49 percent and 11 percent the first half of the season.

“On paper, Paz doesn’t walk a lot of guys, but when you watch it, it’s been different the past 6-7 weeks,” Servais said. “I feel very confident this will be a 10-day reset and get him back. We really backed off of his workload thinking that might have been the issue around the All-Star break and we thought that would help, but it really hasn’t.

“But, again, he’s a big part of what we’re doing going forward. Sometimes you just need to back off of the gas a little bit and rest, make an adjustment and we’ll get him back.”

Paxton’s progress

James Paxton threw a baseball on Sunday for the first time since being hit in the forearm by a 96-mph comebacker on Tuesday in Oakland.

It was just some soft toss from about 75 feet and he said he went about 60 percent, but he said there was no stiffness in the arm that’s allowed him to post a 3.68 ERA and 10-5 record over what’s tied for a career-high 24 starts and 176 strikeouts this season.

They’re still unsure of a return date, but Paxton thought it could be soon, with Hernandez set to start in his place against the Astros on Monday.

“Just fastballs today, no breaking balls or anything and we’ll try to back it up the next couple days and then get on a mound and starting doing some stuff and get back at it,” Paxton said. “Very easy, just get the arm going through the motion.”

He still felt some of the swelling that sent him to the 10-day disabled list after having about no time to react to the screaming comebacker his way.

“I had just enough time to get my arm in the way of it,” Paxton said. “It was not ideal, but those things happen and it’s happened to me before. I’m just glad there’s no broken bones.”

On tap

Felix Hernandez (8-11, 5.62 ERA) is back in the starting rotation after making his first bullpen appearance on Tuesday in Oakland, when he pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed two runs with two strikeouts in the 3-2 loss.

He’ll be opposed by Houston right-hander Gerrit Cole (11-5, 2.71 ERA) in the 7:10 p.m. Monday game at Safeco Field. It will broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM radio.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill
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