Reggie McClain needed a short breather standing at his locker in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse. After all, being surrounded by the bright lights and cameras of the big leagues is still a new experience for the rookie reliever.
“Whoa,” McClain said with a smile, as reporters huddled around his locker Saturday night. “Before you (start), I’m a little bit nervous.”
But, it only took a moment for McClain to settle in and recap his stellar pitching performance — three scoreless innings of relief to close the game, one hit, two strikeouts, no walks and no trouble.
“It’s incredible,” McClain said. “When you have your pitches, it almost feels effortless. You just trust your training and what got you here.”
In a single season, and a span of only 29 games, the 26-year-old right-hander climbed through three rungs of Seattle’s minor-league system to make his major-league debut the first week of August.
McClain started the season with high Single-A Modesto, allowing just one earned run on a solo homer in 16 innings across six games, striking out 18 and walking none. That was enough to earn a promotion to Double-A Arkansas the first week of May (he also made a bizarre spot start with Triple-A Tacoma at the end of April).
With Arkansas, McClain continued to post shutdown numbers, allowing just two earned runs in 15 2/3 innings across six games, while striking out 20 and walking four. He was in Tacoma later that month, where he stayed for two months, posting a 3.29 ERA in 41 innings across 17 outings, before he was promoted to the majors when the Mariners were in Houston two weeks ago.
“You get reports on guys from the minor leagues — he’s really sinking the ball, throwing strikes,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s got enough slider to keep them honest. That fastball’s got a ton of movement, and pretty effective.”
McClain’s debut came in Houston, in the fifth inning of a game the Mariners were already trailing by six runs in. It wasn’t perfect — he allowed three earned runs on a pair of homers — but did show some early promise by striking out both Martin Maldonado and Jake Marisnick on swinging sliders.
“Nerves were flowing,” McClain said of his debut. “Family is there. You’re nervous. But, I’m glad I got that one out of the way and got back to calm, cool, collected and deep breaths, and just being myself out there.”
His second relief appearance Saturday night at T-Mobile park — in a “less hostile environment,” he noted — presented more of an idea of what he could produce for Seattle’s ever-changing bullpen.
“Really impressed with what I saw from Reggie McClain,” Servais said. “That’s an awesome step in the right direction for a guy that’s come a long way in one year. I’m excited to see more of him. Hopefully he can build on that outing tonight.
“It’s a big confidence boost for a young pitcher to come in (and throw) like that. He had a really good sinker. They were just pounding it into the ground and couldn’t do much with it. ... The ball’s going to live on the ground with him, and with the left side of our infield handling most of those, we’re in good shape.”
McClain retired the first eight batters he faced in order before allowing a two-out single to pinch-hitter Eric Sogard in the ninth. But, that was all he allowed. He got former Mariner Mike Zunino to ground out to short — one of five groundouts in the three innings — to end the minor threat.
And, perhaps even more importantly, he tossed the three innings of relief on an efficient 39 pitches, and gives the Mariners an intriguing option as a multi-inning reliever. He went multiple innings 24 times in the minors this season.
FOUR STILL FINE
The Mariners will continue to carry the four usual left-handed pitchers in their rotation — Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone — until the weekend.
With the off days built into the schedule the past two weeks, the Mariners have not yet had to fill the fifth rotation spot left by departed starter Mike Leake.
But, by Saturday’s second game in Toronto, Servais said Seattle will have to find a solution. It could be a bullpen day, he said, or the club could look to the minors. Felix Hernandez, who has made two rehab starts with Everett and Modesto, will not be ready to return by that point.
“We’ll see how that series in Detroit goes, and how fresh our bullpen is at that point,” Servais said. “We could do that or call somebody up. No decision has been made.”
With less than a month remaining in the minor-league season, Arkansas (71-45) continues to lead the Texas League, and is gearing up for a playoff run. Fifteen of Seattle’s top 30 prospects — including recently promoted top prospect Jarred Kelenic — are currently with the Double-A club.
“The big thing is to keep them healthy, keep them going,” Servais said. “Hopefully they have a deep run in the playoffs. There’s something to be said for playing playoff baseball, even at the minor-league level. The beauty of that at the minor-league level is you’re just there to win the game.
“In the minor leagues, it is about individual development and how they’re coming along, but once the playoffs start it’s like, ‘What do we have to do to win the game?’ I always loved going to minor-league playoff games. You find out a lot about players.”
▪ Hernandez (lat, shoulder) will make his next rehab start with Everett, but which day hasn’t been confirmed yet. Servais said he will need to continue to stretch out his innings, and will likely appear at least once with Tacoma before returning to the big-league club.
▪ Dan Altavilla (forearm) was scheduled to throw one inning of relief Sunday with Everett.
▪ Mitch Haniger (ruptured testicle) will report to Modesto for his rehab assignment Tuesday.
▪ Braden Bishop (lacerated spleen) will go out for rehab Tuesday or Wednesday, but there’s still no decision on which minor-league affiliate he will be with.