Help could finally be on the way for the Seattle Mariners’ beleaguered bullpen, with right-handed relievers Hunter Strickland and Brandon Brennan nearing returns. There is even a slim possibility both could return to Seattle during the 10-game homestand that began Friday.
Strickland’s eventual return, in particular, could offer a needed boost at the back end of games. Entering the season, he was the Mariners’ projected closer, but endured a Grade 2 lat strain during the final week of March, in just his third relief appearance with Seattle, and has been on the injured list since.
While he’s been down more than half of the season, Mariners manager Scott Servais hopes Strickland’s eventual return will help stabilize a bullpen that has the second-worst ERA (5.21) in the American League entering the homestand. Strickland’s prior MLB experience could be a key in helping right the ship. In fact, he opened the season as the only player on Seattle’s active roster who had ever played in a World Series game.
“When the season started, certainly we had visions of him being the back-end guy we’d go to in the eight or ninth inning — particularly the ninth inning was kind of going to be his role,” Servais said. We’ll ease him into that. I don’t want to just say first time out there, ‘Here’s a save (opportunity).’ It could happen, but we’ll see what happens there.
“I think (it’s) not just what he does on the field, but the leadership he brings. He’s got some experience. He’s been around. He’s certainly watched us play all year from afar, so he’s got a pretty good feel for where we’re at. I just want him to be himself, and spread some of the experiences he’s had, and the knowledge he has to bring, to some of our young guys.”
After feeling comfortable in bullpen and live BP sessions, Strickland is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma as early as this weekend. He will throw three or four outings there, Servais said, and the Mariners will evaluate his progress at that point.
“He’s throwing the ball really well,” Servais said. “He’s excited to get back out there. We’re excited to get him back and join us here soon.”
Servais said there’s a possibility Strickland returns during the next three series before the Mariners hit the road again, but isn’t in a hurry to activate a reliever who has missed nearly 100 games, and hasn’t seen live game action for nearly four months.
“We’ve got to make sure he bounces back and feels OK,” Servais said. “When you’re in a big league bullpen, you’ve got to be able to go back-to-back days and some other things, so we want to make sure we don’t rush him back.”
Brennan, though, could return to T-Mobile Park a bit sooner. The Rule 5 draftee made a quick impression with the Mariners during the first few months before a shoulder strain sent him to the IL in June.
He started a rehab assignment with the AZL Mariners last week, and was transferred to Tacoma on Monday. He’s pitched two scoreless innings for the Rainiers in two outings on 29 pitches, and was scheduled to appear for a second consecutive night Friday after throwing in Thursday’s game.
Other Mariners bullpen pieces are further out. Connor Sadzeck (elbow) is playing catch while rehabbing in Arizona, but has no timetable for a return. Austin Adams (lat strain) is playing catch up to 105 feet, but hasn’t started mound work yet.
“Austin’s getting stretched out playing catch,” Servais said. “Obviously he hasn’t been down as long as some of the other guys. Once he gets on the mound, throws a bullpen and get him out for rehab, he could be back pretty quickly.”
SECOND HALF WOES
Entering Friday night’s homestand opener against the Los Angeles Angels, the Mariners had yet to win a game since the All-Star break, being swept by both the Angels and A’s on the road during the last week.
“The road trip was not kind to us,” Servais said. “We’ve got to be more consistent offensively. That’s the biggest thing. You’re not going to win many games in our league just scoring two or three runs. You’ve got to do a little bit more, put some bigger rallies together.”
Seattle averaged 1.8 runs per game in its first five back from the break, and never scored more than three in a game. Its pitching staff allowed 9.4 per game. The Mariners allowed double-digit runs by an opponent twice during the road trip, and lost by three or more runs in each game.
“We’ve had four or five guys who have struggled consistently out of the break,” Servais said. “Hopefully being home here for a 10-day stand, you get a little extra work in, you feel a little bit more comfortable, we can get it going offensively. That’s what it’s going to take (to win) — our offense to get going.”
MORE INJURY UPDATES
▪ Felix Hernandez (lat strain) threw a bullpen Thursday, and will throw more of those sessions before the Mariners move him toward another rehab assignment.
“He’ll continue to put more into it as he gets going here, using all of his pitches, and we’ll build up his pitch count from there,” Servais said. “Felix has been feeling really good ever since he came back from the break. He’s kind of energized. He wants to get back out there and pitch.”
▪ Braden Bishop (lacerated spleen) has increased his activity level, and is playing catch and hitting in the cage. He could move into taking batting practice midway through next week.
▪ Mitch Haniger (ruptured testicle) is playing catch and hitting off a tee, but the Mariners are still being cautious with his recovery. He is not participating in any strenuous running or lifting.
▪ Ryon Healy (lower back) has backed off of some baseball activity while rehabbing in Arizona after continuing to deal with back issues which have been linked to spinal stenosis.