Seattle Mariners

For side-arming Adam Cimber from Puyallup, pitching in Seattle is just a day at the office

Cleveland Indians pitcher Adam Cimber throws against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Monday, April 15, 2019, in Seattle.
Cleveland Indians pitcher Adam Cimber throws against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Monday, April 15, 2019, in Seattle. AP

Adam Cimber had pitched at the ballpark he affectionately remembers as Safeco Field a few times before Monday night.

As a Puyallup High School senior in 2009, he allowed just four hits in a Class 4A state semifinals win over Tahoma, lifting the Vikings to their first ever appearance in a state championship game.

Later in college, he pitched there against Stanford as part of the Washington Huskies pitching staff.

The dirt was familiar when Cimber, now a 28-year-old reliever for the Cleveland Indians, took the mound at T-Mobile Park for the first time as a major leaguer. The moment was not.

With Cleveland protecting a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh Monday night, Cimber was called from the bullpen to face Mariners All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger with two outs — and the bases loaded.

“You try your best to block everything out,” Cimber said. “Block the stadium out. Block the Mariners out. Block family and everybody in the stands out.

“And I was roommates with Mitch in college ball, in summer ball my sophomore year in Green Bay, Wisconsin. We had the same host family, so there’s a history there.”

Cimber had to veer away from thinking about any of that in his first trip back to Seattle with the Indians, and instead dial in on throwing strikes.

“There’s a lot of things that you just have to say, ‘OK, there’s the catcher’s mitt, and I’m out here, and just going to try to hit it,’ ” he said.

Cimber fell behind 2-0, but rallied, striking out Haniger with a low sinker in his signature submarine pitching style, and ending the intense ninth-pitch battle.

He was visibly fired up as he walked back to the Cleveland dugout. The Indians held on to win 6-4.

“There was definitely adrenaline flowing in that moment,” Cimber said. “That’s pretty special. It’s something I’ll remember forever.”

“At that moment, it became really fun,” said Russ Cimber, Adam’s father, who was sitting behind home plate with family. “It was exciting. But, it was the most intense at-bat I’ve seen him pitch. The stakes have never been bigger in one at-bat and one out.”

Adam didn’t pitch again in the three-game series — Cleveland swept — but his short appearance in Seattle was part of a wild first two seasons he’s had in the majors.

He was drafted in the ninth round by the San Diego Padres in 2013, and played five seasons in the minors before making the Padres’ Opening Day roster in 2018. He made his major league debut last March, and was traded to the Indians in July.

This season with Cleveland, he had appeared in nine games entering Saturday’s double-header against the Braves, pitching 6 2/3 innings while allowing just one earned run on two hits, and striking out six.

“Last year, I wasn’t even expecting to get a big-league camp invite, and I did,” Adam said. “I wasn’t expecting to make the team out of spring training, and I did. I wasn’t expecting to get traded, and I did. There’s a lot of things I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know if it’s ever sunk in. It’s been a whirlwind.”

Though, there are figures from Adam’s younger years, including Puyallup coach Marc Wiese, who never doubted he would make it this far.

Wiese told The News Tribune in 2012, after Adam had transferred from UW to play his final season of college eligibility at San Francisco, he thought the side-armed thrower would one day pitch in the majors.

“I just have a gut feeling about it that it is going to happen for him,” Wiese said then. “He is a hard worker and a special kid. He possesses such a great mentality and perseverance. That is one of the biggest reasons why I think he truly has a great shot of making it.”

Adam was a JV player as a ninth-grader, and one of the smaller players Wiese said he’s coached, but his success with his submarine pitching style made him Puyallup’s ace his final three years of high school.

“He was probably 125 pounds and a mid-70’s guy that just changed speeds and knew how to pitch, and he got people out,” Wiese said. “There were times he threw 60-pitch complete games. We’d win 4-0 and and plan an hour-and-five-minute game in high school, as fast as he worked. He always trusted his stuff.”

Adam was a shortstop when he was young, Russ said, and had a natural side-arm motion, as most shortstops do.

As Adam approached high school, Russ suggested one day when the two were playing catch at a field in Federal Way that Adam try pitching submarine style.

Russ quickly noticed his son could throw accurately that way, and it was a way to differentiate him from every other right-handed pitcher trying to make Puyallup’s team.

Adam thought the motion looked strange, and wasn’t so sure, so Russ asked him to try it about once every 10 pitches in games.

“We started doing it in the driveway, and started doing it a few pitches a game,” Adam said. “It kind of worked out that those were the ones I was getting guys out on.

“I started doing it full time when I was 14, and it kind of clicked when I was a sophomore at Puyallup.”

Adam hasn’t deviated from the approach since. He hasn’t thrown a pitch overhand since he was a teenager — the last time he tried he accidentally broke his dad’s cheekbone.

The two were at a training facility in Auburn, and on the final pitch of their session, with a plastic batter standing in, Russ asked Adam to try throwing overhand, just to see how hard he could whip the ball in there.

“He was sitting there on a bucket catching me, and it hit the plastic batter and ricocheted into his face,” Adam said.

“I put my glove up there to catch it, it nicked off the chin of the batter and went right into my cheekbone and broke it,” Russ said.

Adam stuck with his side-armed motion from there, and had unmatched success for the Vikings in high school, including earning TNT’s All-Area player of the year honors as a junior in 2008.

Wiese said Adam was a trailblazer for Puyallup baseball, which has advanced to the state playoffs every year since he graduated, and won a pair of state titles in 2014 and 2017.

“He’s a big reason why we’ve kind of been able to do the things we’ve done the past 10-12 years,” Wiese said. “He put us on the map, there’s no question.”

Adam pitched three seasons for the Huskies, and graduated from UW after his junior season. He had some draft interest, including contact with the Mariners, but ultimately decided to pitch his senior season.

He transferred to San Francisco to begin his master’s degree and reunite with pitching coach Greg Moore, who was with the Huskies Adam’s freshman year.

Since the Padres drafted him, Adam’s professional baseball career has taken him up and down the West Coast, to Texas and Ohio, and last week it brought him back home.

When the Indians touched down in Seattle before the series against the Mariners, Adam stayed that Sunday night with his parents. His mom, Lori, made him cookies.

Then, Monday morning, Adam and Lori got in the car to drive to the ballpark, recreating an old pastime.

“She used to drive by the stadium all the time with him in the car when he was younger,” Russ said. “Always words of encouragement, she said, ‘There’s your future office.’ Everybody would laugh, and you’d get a smile.

“He came to stay with us Sunday night. He got in early enough. … The next morning, she took him to work and said, ‘I’m dropping you off at your office. Finally.’ So that’s pretty neat.”