BALTIMORE -- When the Mariners look at which relievers they unearthed this season who could help headline the bullpen going forward, Austin Adams’ name leaps to mind. But the promising 28-year-old right-hander’s future was put on hold Sunday after learning he’ll need surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee and will be sidelined the next 6-8 months.
Adams twisted the knee as he planted to avoid a near-collision at first base with the Orioles’ Hanser Alberto in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 7-6, 13-inning victory. An MRI exam on Sunday revealed the tear.
“Initially, I thought I hyperextended it,” Adams said Sunday following the Mariners' 2-1 loss to the Orioles. “Then I came in here and watched the video and kind of saw the way the knee moved and thought, ‘That’s not a hyperextension.’ I was trying to stay as optimistic as possible and not think negative thoughts, but it is what it is. It’s not a surgery that no one has ever had before. There’s been success with it. I’m just going to stay positive and dominate the rehab.”
Adams will head to his offseason home in Tampa, Fla., spend the winter there, then join the Mariners in Arizona for Spring Training. But he’s likely looking at June or July of next season before being ready to compete, which means missing likely the first half of the season.
“It’ll be a significant recovery,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s pretty shook about it, as anybody would be. He really did nice things for us, and he will be back. He’ll fight through it and go through the surgery and rehab, and we’ll get him back. But I feel bad for him. He did a lot of good things for himself and for us this year.”
Adams is Example A of a player who grabbed hold of the opportunity the Mariners provided to numerous contenders in their bullpen churn this season. Since being acquired from the Nationals in May, he’s struck out 51 batters in 31 innings, a 14.9 strikeout per nine innings ratio that ranks third in club history for a reliever with at least 100 batters faced in a year.
The only reliever with a higher strikeout rate has been Edwin Díaz at 15.33 per nine innings in 2016 and 15.22 in '18.
Adams posted a 3.77 ERA in his 29 outings for Seattle, a number that was inflated by a couple rough appearances before he went on the injured list in July with a right shoulder issue that led to a seven-week shutdown.
“When he’s been healthy, the strikeout numbers speak for themselves,” Servais said. “He’s got a special pitch. That slider is really a wipeout. He’s got the demeanor you like out of a reliever, no situation is really too big for him. He likes being out there. I like bringing him in with traffic. He’s got a chance to strike anybody in the league out. He’s had a nice year."
Adams was designated for assignment by the Nationals before being traded to Seattle for Minor League pitcher Nick Wells and cash in one of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s numerous bullpen acquisitions.
So despite the difficult ending, Adams views this season as a breakthrough in his career after finally getting an opportunity to show what he could do in the Major Leagues. The Florida native has always had a big-time slider, but a high walk rate had limited his advancement until now.
“It’s meant a lot, just showing myself that I can compete at this level,” Adams said. “Even when I do struggle, [I am] throwing strikes and competing with the best in the world. Getting DFA’d is a really weird situation -- being told you’re not good enough to play any more by an organization and then going out and pitching pretty well. So it definitely helped my confidence, which is the biggest thing.”