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Bradford carving niche in Mariners' bullpen

Rediscovering a nasty sinker, righty making case for permanent spot with Seattle
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- When Chasen Bradford was called up from Triple-A Tacoma on April 9, the assumption was it would be a brief stay as Seattle temporarily went with a nine-man bullpen.

But while Bradford still could be sent down at some point as the 25-man roster tightens with the return of injured players, the 28-year-old sinkerballer has made a case for his place in the relief mix by being one of the more dependable relievers in the early going.

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SEATTLE -- When Chasen Bradford was called up from Triple-A Tacoma on April 9, the assumption was it would be a brief stay as Seattle temporarily went with a nine-man bullpen.

But while Bradford still could be sent down at some point as the 25-man roster tightens with the return of injured players, the 28-year-old sinkerballer has made a case for his place in the relief mix by being one of the more dependable relievers in the early going.

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Bradford, who was claimed off waivers from the Mets in January, has posted a 1.17 ERA and allowed just five hits with two walks and four strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings over five appearances.

"Chasen is throwing the ball really well," said manager Scott Servais. "He does it a little bit differently than some of our other bullpen guys. He's got the ability to get ground balls, and double plays are a big part of what he brings. Bringing that guy in that can keep the ball on the ground is huge. I like what he brings and how he goes about it."

Video: SEA@KC: Bradford kicks a combebacker to first for out

Bradford pitched 28 games as a rookie for the Mets last year with a 3.74 ERA in 33 2/3 innings after working his way up through six seasons in the Minors. It hasn't always been an easy road for the 35th-round Draft pick, who spent three seasons mostly at Triple-A Las Vegas from 2014-17 before getting his big league promotion.

Bradford grew up in Las Vegas, but playing in the high altitude and often-windy conditions of his hometown didn't do any favors for a guy who relies heavily on breaking pitches that don't break as much in that environment.

"Oh yeah, that was fun," Bradford said with a wry smile. "That is home for me. But home and baseball are two different things. When you're there, your sinker doesn't move that much. My first year and a half there, I kind of got away from the guy I was because trying to make the ball move there, it's not going to happen.

"I started trying to throw too hard, and the ball was flattening out and guys started hitting it. In 2016, I just went back to my sinker, and last year, luckily, I got up with the Mets."

That was fortunate for two reasons. Clearly getting a shot at the big leagues is every player's dream. But for Bradford, it was also a chance to spend time with Mets closer Jeurys Familia.

"Jeurys throws a disgusting sinker," Bradford said. "He and I talked about it a lot, he showed me his grip and I took that and kind of turned it into my own grip. And it's become a really good, consistent pitch."

It's that heavy sinker that allows Bradford to regularly induce ground balls.

"You come into a big situation where you need a ground ball, I know from experience that pitch is going to get it," he said. "It's hard to lift that ball. If a guy is sitting on it, you might switch it up on 'em a little, just to change their eye level. But usually it's the sinker, and it's heavy enough that it's hard to hit super hard, which is good."

Bradford has Minor League options, which means he could be shuttled back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma frequently when roster flexibility is needed. But he's making the most of his opportunity and says he couldn't ask for anything more.

"I'm comfortable here, which is always helpful when you're in a new spot," he said. "They've taken me in and trusted me, which is nice. You build that relationship, and here it was quick. Leaving the Mets after knowing everybody for seven years, then coming in here and you barely know what your manager looks like -- but you meet him for the first time, and he welcomes you and tells you that you'll have an opportunity, it's nice to hear."

Injury updates

• Catcher Mike Zunino (strained left oblique) went 0-for-4 with a walk while catching all nine innings for Class A Advanced Modesto on Wednesday, and he will join the Mariners "at some point on this road trip, probably in Texas" this weekend, according to Servais.

Zunino is 1-for-11 in three Minors games, but Servais said the 27-year-old is healthy and moving fine behind the plate and appears fully ready to go.

• First baseman Ryon Healy (sprained right ankle) will join Double-A Arkansas on Friday and play at least 2-3 games to get his timing back at the plate before rejoining the Mariners at some point on the upcoming 10-game road trip as well.

"I'm excited to get back out there," Healy said. "The next test will be game speed. The at-bats will be big, just getting the timing back. I was just starting to feel good before I got hurt, so I need to get that feeling back."

• Servais acknowledged he's concerned with designated hitter Nelson Cruz's mobility as he attempts to play his way back from a sprained right ankle. Cruz came off the DL on Saturday, but is still running gingerly.

"We may have to give him a day down here or there," Servais said. "I'm hoping he gets better. I'm not so concerned with the running as looking comfortable in the batter's box, being able to handle some pitches and use his lower half correctly so he can get his swing off. I am concerned and keeping a close eye on it."

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

Seattle Mariners, Chasen Bradford