SEATTLE The Seattle Mariners’ ever-evolving bullpen changed again Tuesday, when the club activated veteran Anthony Swarzak from the 10-day injured list.
The 33-year-old right-hander was placed on the injured list March 20 (retroactive to March 17) with a right shoulder impingement. He didn’t make an official spring training appearance, but the Mariners are looking for Swarzak to add more depth to a bullpen that has yet to define its structure this season.
“He gets plugged in whenever we need him,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said ahead of Tuesday’s series finale against the Los Angeles Angels.
“I haven’t seen him throw. I saw one little bullpen down in spring training when he was just starting to get on the mound there. I’m anxious to see him out there. He’s anxious to kind of chip in and help any way he can.”
Swarzak came to Seattle as part of a deal with the New York Mets in December. He appeared in 29 games as a reliever with the Mets last season, posting a 0-2 record withe a 6.15 ERA. He struck out 31 batters and walked 14.
He spent two stints on the injured list in 2018, including a month near the end of the season with right shoulder inflammation.
“Everybody in this organization has been very patient, and they’ve really given me the time I needed to get ready to get back to being effective in games,” Swarzak said.
Swarzak told the club he was ready to return after some work late in the spring, and expects to get back to throwing the fastball-slider combination he has worked with the past few seasons.
“I think he’s learned, like most veteran guys over time, sometimes less is more,” Servais said.
Swarzak said, earlier in his career — he has played parts of nine seasons in the majors since debuting with Minnesota in 2009 — he tried to do too much on the mound, and it didn’t work for him.
“When I stopped trying to throw five pitches to multiple spots, and I just tried to throw two to one spot, as a reliever, that took me to the next level,” Swarzak said. “So, that’s what I’m going to try to continue to do this year.”
More than focusing on the weaknesses of hitters, or what a situation calls for, Swarzak said he’s learned to rely on his own strengths.
“I’m not a guy that looks at scouting reports too much,” he said. “I obviously look at them. But, I don’t really try to pitch to a hitter’s weakness, as much as I now try to pitch to my strengths.
“I throw two pitches, so I can’t be out there trying to trick guys too much. It’s, here’s my stuff, I’m going to locate, do what you want with it. When I started pitching that way, I had a lot more success.”
Swarzak said he revisited his approach when he spent the 2016 season with the New York Yankees organization, and pitched alongside the “three-headed monster” in Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller.
He said looking at their numbers, and looking at his, he realized he could locate the ball just as well, and needed to work on getting more hitters to swing and miss.
“I’m never going to be Chapman or Betances, right, on paper,” Swarzak said. “That’s fine. They already have those guys. There’s plenty of room for Anthony Swarzak in the big leagues if I can do what I need to do, and that was expanding the strike zone better.”
That’s what he worked on, and said he saw much more favorable results. In 2017, Swarzak split the season between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, and his 91 strikeouts were 15th-most among major-league relievers.
“Let’s expand the strike zone, get more swing and misses, and see what happens,” Swarzak said. “My walks went up a tick on paper. … But, the strikeouts went through the roof.
“That’s something I took from just watching guys in the bullpen who I was around and had electric stuff, and I tried to just pitch like that.”
To make room for Swarzak on Tuesday, the Mariners optioned right-hander David McKay to Triple-A Tacoma. McKay, who has yet to make his MLB debut, was called up Saturday when Seattle placed closer Hunter Strickland (right lat) on the 10-day injured list. Strickland has since been moved to the 60-day list.
The Mariners have an off day Wednesday before beginning their first road trip of the season. They play one game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, before another day off on Friday.
Two more games against the White Sox follow Saturday and Sunday before Seattle opens a four-game series in Kansas City on Monday.
After some early starts and stops this season — the Mariners opened with two wins against the Oakland A’s in Japan on March 20-21, and then went six days without playing a regular-season game before their home-opening win last Thursday — Servais welcomes the short breather.
“We’re OK with the off (days),” Servais said. “We’ve had a clunky schedule at the beginning of the season. We’ve handled it great. I think the off days in Chicago will be welcome for our bullpen. Kind of give those guys a chance to rejuvenate.”
Though, he’s not as keen on the stops for his hitters, who were leading the majors in runs (54), hits (68), home runs (16), doubles (15) and RBIs (53) entering Tuesday. The Mariners were also third in the league in slugging percentage (.536) and fifth in batting average (.274) and on-base percentage (.374) ahead of the series finale against the Angels.
“When you’re swinging the bats the way we are, you want to keep playing every day there, but the schedule is the schedule,” Servais said. “I like the way we’re playing right now. I’d love to play every day if we could. But, I think the off day (Wednesday) will kind of help our bullpen guys catch their breath a little bit.”
Veteran Jay Bruce recorded his third home run in as many nights in Monday’s win over the Angels to bring Seattle’s season home run total to 16.
Bruce, now in his 12th season in the majors, ranks third among active left-handed hitters in career home runs with 289. He trails only Miami’s Curtis Granderson (333) and former Mariners slugger Robinson Cano (312), who was dealt to the New York Mets in December, in the same trade that brought Bruce to Seattle.
“I feel like I’m seeing the ball well,” Bruce said. “I think when I’m laying off the tough pitches and taking those walks, it’s important for me, but it’s hard. I have to balance it because I’m an aggressive hitter. It’s more about getting my pitch and not missing.”
Entering Tuesday night, the Mariners had scored 28 of their 54 runs this season off of the long ball.