Seattle Mariners

With rotation struggling, Mariners try something new by going with an opener

Sunday afternoon’s deflating 13-3 loss to the Angels was another glaring example of how much the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation has struggled since late April.

Starter Marco Gonzales, who gave up a career-high 10 earned runs in that start, was quick to note that things need to change.

“I hope to create some accountability with this team,” he said. “I think it starts with the guys on the mound. I think it starts with the starting pitching. It hasn’t been up to par. It hasn’t been what we want it to be. ... I don’t care how well we hit, if we’re not going to pitch or play the field, I think we’re not going to do what we want to do.”

Entering Monday night’s series opener against Houston, Seattle’s starting rotation had combined for a 6-20 record since April 27. Their 6.78 ERA over that stretch was the worst in the American League.

So against the Astros, the Mariners opted for a strategy that has worked well against them several times this season — use an opener. Seattle gave right-handed reliever Cory Gearrin the nod to pitch ahead of scheduled starter Wade LeBlanc, using a true opener for the first time this season — not counting the planned Yusei Kikuchi abbreviated starts.

LeBlanc had pitched five innings or less in his three starts since returning from the 10-day injured list on May 18. Servais said using an opener could give LeBlanc an opportunity to pitch deeper into the game, give him one less look at the top of the lineup, and let the Mariners use Gearrin — who has allowed just three earned runs in his last 20 appearances — in another way.

“Cory’s done a nice job for us,” Servais said. “He had that little rocky stretch really early in the season with his command, but he’s been pretty solid of late. We’re trying to mix things up a little bit.”

Servais said he’s a fan of using openers, though the Mariners aren’t necessarily committed to using one often.

“A lot of it is driven by your personnel,” Servais said. “Do you have guys who can get through a lineup three times, or get you deep in the ballgame, and keep you right there with a chance to win it? That’s certainly worked for a number of teams that have done it. We’ve seen it against us, and it’s been pretty effective against our team on the other side, so we’ll give it a shot.”

Kikuchi was originally scheduled to start Tuesday night’s game against Houston, but Seattle decided to skip his start late last week, and has not yet named a starter for that game.

STRICKLAND NEARING RETURN

Hunter Strickland, who started the season as Seattle’s closer is finally nearing a return from the 60-day IL after sustaining a lat strain during the Mariners’ opening homestand.

“I’m finally getting there, slowly but surely, but now I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Strickland said. “It’s kind of just evaluated each day to make sure we bounce back correctly, and continue to move forward in that aspect, but it’s been good.”

Strickland threw a bullpen Sunday afternoon, and said he had no pain or discomfort. He threw 20 pitches, just fastball and slider.

“Couldn’t be any happier with how he’s moving along,” Servais said. “Hunter’s worked really hard. He’s been out a while. But, he’s in a good frame of mind, his arm feels great.”

He will likely throw another bullpen Wednesday, and could progress to tossing a live BP over the weekend, possibly on the road with the Mariners or in Tacoma, before beginning a rehab assignment.

Strickland notched saves in his first two appearances for the Mariners during the Japan series against the A’s. He’s thrown 34 pitches this season across three relief appearances.

INFIELDERS ON THE MEND

Shortstop J.P. Crawford (ankle) was taking ground balls on the grass near Seattle’s dugout before batting practice Monday afternoon, and Servais is hopeful Crawford will be ready to resume play soon.

“He’s working his tail off,” Servais said. “That could have been really serious. We got lucky, and I think he’s got a chance to get back with us at some point here on the next road trip.”

Second baseman Dee Gordon (wrist) and first baseman Ryon Healy (back) have also resumed baseball activity, and were taking infield practice Monday.

“They’re moving along,” Servais said. “I would think maybe later this week get them out playing in a couple (rehab) games, and then hopefully get them back with us.”

BRADFORD TO IL

Right-handed reliever Chasen Bradford (right forearm strain) was placed on the 10-day IL after pitching two innings in Seattle’s blowout loss to the Angels on Sunday afternoon.

This is Bradford’s second IL stay this season (right shoulder inflammation in April). He appeared in just two games with the Mariners during this stint after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on May 31.

Right-hander Matt Festa was recalled from Tacoma to replace Bradford. Festa has appeared in seven games for the Mariners in two stints this season, and has a 6.00 ERA while striking out six and walking five.

“I thought really threw the ball well last time he was here,” Servais said. “He incorporated a little bit different shape to his breaking ball, curveball and his slider now. He was very aggressive.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.
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