Mariners' top Draft pick Kirby aims for July debut

Haniger cleared to begin light baseball activity; Tuivailala's rehab start postponed

June 22nd, 2019

SEATTLE -- George Kirby, the Mariners’ first-round Draft pick, had a chance to check out T-Mobile Park and meet with manager Scott Servais and other club officials on Saturday. But his introduction to pro ball will be delayed a bit longer as the lanky right-hander out of Elon University said he won’t start pitching for Short-A Everett until mid-July.

The Mariners will be careful with Kirby’s initial workload as he just finished a full season at Elon, where he went 8-2 with a 2.75 ERA and 107 strikeouts with just six walks in 88 1/3 innings as a junior.

Kirby is with the AquaSox and made his first long road trip on the bus trek to the Tri-Cities and Boise, Idaho this week, but he’ll be limited to about 20-30 innings and won’t begin that process for several more weeks.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s a little weird not doing much right now, but it’s good to get the rest and I’m excited to start throwing again soon,” said Kirby. “I need to get used to the five-day schedule instead of once a week, but I think I’ll be just fine.”

The 21-year-old is several years away from impacting the Mariners, but he joins a growing prospect group that includes recently acquired Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Erik Swanson, 2018 first-round Draft pick Logan Gilbert and the re-acquired Juan Then.

“That’s really important for us,” Servais said. “We like the position players we have coming and some of the guys we already have here, but it’s all about pitching. We’ve seen that. You need starters. You need to develop and grow those guys yourself.

“We’re starting to develop a nice little pocket. We’ve got a couple upper level guys and we’re now starting to populate the lower levels with guys that can start. You need a whole bunch of them and hopefully a few can make it through and be that guy. I like what it looks like.”

Another one of those young prospects could be Ty Adcock, who was Kirby’s teammate at Elon and wound up being drafted by Seattle in the eighth round after flashing strong potential following his conversion from a catcher and outfielder to a reliever this past year. The Mariners are looking at him as a potential starter.

“He’s got a good arm,” Kirby said. “He’s down in Arizona right now. Hopefully he can make it to Everett toward the end of the year. To get to see him play again would be nice. He throws upper 90s. He just started pitching this year, so once he gets a couple years under his belt and gets his command, he should be pretty darn good.”

Kirby, of course, is a far more-polished product and the Mariners will be eager to see his development as well. He met with Servais in the manager's office for 20 minutes on Saturday morning and came away with a pretty clear message.

“He told me to just control the zone and throw strikes,” said Kirby. “I did pretty well with that in college, so I’ll try to do that and it should work out pretty well.”

Worth noting

• Outfielder Mitch Haniger was cleared to begin light baseball activity on Saturday for the first time since having surgery to repair a ruptured testicle two weeks ago. Haniger will begin by hitting off a tee and playing catch before he’s cleared to begin running, with the hope that he could be back in action early next month.

• Reliever Sam Tuivailala’s rehab start with Everett was postponed on Friday night after he warmed up, but then was delayed by a long inning and a mound repair. Rather than risk anything, Tuivailala’s return was pushed back to Monday. He’s been working back from a ruptured Achilles tendon since last August, then had some arm issues last month.

• Veteran closer Hunter Strickland will resume playing catch on Monday after his rehab was shut down when he developed soreness while throwing live batting practice two weeks ago. Strickland had to have fluid drained from the area around his strained right lat muscle, but is now ready to continue pushing toward a midseason return.

• Servais said the decision to not use an opener on Saturday, as initially planned, was strictly due to the status of his bullpen after Austin Adams threw two innings in Friday’s 10-9 win over the Orioles and closer Roenis Elias pitched for a third straight game.

The club will likely return to the opener strategy on Wednesday when Wade LeBlanc’s next turn comes up in Milwaukee.