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Altavilla getting high-leverage opportunities

@gregjohnsmlb
July 30, 2020

Dan Altavilla tried to say it felt like any other game he’s pitched in the Majors, but his broad smile after recording his first career save spoke volumes after the 27-year-old reliever closed out the Mariners’ 10-7 victory over the Angels on Wednesday night. So, yeah, it meant something special,

Dan Altavilla tried to say it felt like any other game he’s pitched in the Majors, but his broad smile after recording his first career save spoke volumes after the 27-year-old reliever closed out the Mariners’ 10-7 victory over the Angels on Wednesday night.

So, yeah, it meant something special, particularly for a guy who bounced back and forth between Seattle and the Minor Leagues for much of the past four seasons after arriving as a fast-rising prospect in 2016.

“It’s everything I’ve been working toward ever since my pro career started, finally getting that opportunity and just being able to take advantage of it,” Altavilla said Thursday from Anaheim, where the team is wrapping up its first road trip of the 60-game regular season.

Altavilla recorded 16 saves as the closer for Double-A Arkansas in 2016, and he certainly has the power arm to fit that profile. But only this summer -- having returned from baseball's 3 1/2-month layoff with a fastball consistently in the high 90s and a harder 90-92-mph slider that is giving hitters trouble -- has he slotted into the Mariners’ plans for a consistent late-inning role in a wide-open bullpen situation.

“I'm excited for him,” manager Scott Servais said. “Dan certainly has had some high moments here and some low moments, but he's in a different spot right now, both mentally and mechanically. He's repeating his delivery, throwing strikes. And when you throw strikes with that kind of stuff, you're going to have good results.

“He’ll continue to get the ball late in games. Some days, it might be the ninth inning, other days, it might be the eighth, depending where we're at in their lineup and what matchup is best for him and for us.”

Altavilla said it helped to have a “relaxed situation” with a three-run lead for his first save, though there’s nothing too relaxing about having to face the heart of the Angels’ order. After striking out leadoff hitter David Fletcher on a nasty slider, Altavilla gave up a one-out double to Mike Trout before inducing flyouts from Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani on 98-mph heaters.

Altavilla's previous outing was a 1-2-3 seventh inning against the middle of the Astros' order in Seattle’s lone victory in Houston on Sunday, and Altavilla – like all the Mariners' relievers -- knows his role will change on different nights. He’s ready for anything, including the ninth.

“It didn’t really feel any different to me,” Altavilla said of coming in for the save situation. “I’ve just been really locked into my routine and feeling really good on the mound mechanically and with my rhythm. Whenever I got out there, I’m just trying to get strike one and get guys out and throw up a zero.”

With Austin Adams opening the season on the 10-day injured list as he continues recovering from knee surgery and Yoshihisa Hirano still working his way back into shape after being out with a positive COVID-19 test at the start of Summer Camp, Altavilla figures to share save opportunities with Matt Magill, Taylor Williams and possibly others depending on the circumstances.

“We have a bunch of good arms in our bullpen, and it’s been pretty open, day by day, basically,” Altavilla said. “Skip gives us a heads up in the outfield during BP and lets us know where he sees us pitching that night. He just says to be ready. Everyone knows what’s going on down in the ‘pen. We just have to give our guys a chance and throw up clean innings. That’s all we can focus on right now.”

Short takes
• Though there won’t be any fans in the stands, the Mariners are eager to get back to Seattle and open their home schedule with Friday’s 6:40 p.m. PT game against the A’s.

“Guys are looking forward to getting back home,” Servais said. “There was certainly a lot of anxiety heading into this trip based on protocols and being in Houston and L.A. But everything has been very tightly run, and we did [COVID-19] testing again today with no issues there. So, I’m pretty happy with how things have gone so far on this trip.”

• Catcher Austin Nola was sidelined for a third straight day on Thursday with a sore right knee, but Servais said he’s feeling much better and expects his starting backstop to be ready to return by sometime this weekend, possibly as soon as Friday’s series opener with Oakland.

• First baseman Evan White was out of the starting lineup on Thursday for the first time, but only to get a scheduled day of rest as Servais looks to rotate his players to keep everyone fresh as they open the season with games on 20 straight days. But a week into White’s MLB career, the Mariners are thrilled with what they’ve seen, particularly on the defensive side.

“All the great ones make it look easy -- the great center fielders, the great shortstops and, in his case, at first base, he makes it look easy,” Servais said. “Through the years I’ve been here, we haven’t had anybody like that at first base, and I think the comfort level that gives to the rest of the infielders is huge.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.