Santos joins Mariners to continue rehab, talks setbacks, next steps

May 18th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- Seven weeks into the season, has seemed like more of an idea for the Mariners than the high-leverage linchpin that they envisioned when acquiring him from the White Sox just before Spring Training.

One setback after another has pushed Santos’ recovery from a right latissimus dorsi strain from early May to June and now July -- and to the point where he’s shifted his rehab to join the Major League team rather than at its facility in Arizona, where its high-performance staff oversees players recovering from longer-term injuries.

“It's been a long process, but I haven't put my head down because this is my team,” Santos said Friday at Oriole Park through an interpreter. “I really want to be there for my team. So I'm trying to get ready to be with these guys and get ready to get on the field.”

Santos threw a dozen pitches from 90 feet in the outfield on Friday, with Mariners head athletic trainer Kyle Torgerson watching and filming his mechanics. Santos said that his next steps would be at 120 feet, a barometer he reached recently before a setback earlier this month that prompted a shutdown of 3-4 days and for the team to order another MRI.

“Nothing specifically, I just felt a little uncomfortable,” Santos said. “There was some inflammation, but luckily now we're pretty good.”

Even if he clears every hurdle and feels 100%, Santos estimated that he won’t throw his first bullpen session until June.

“Just taking it day by day,” he said. “I mean, I've got a long way back to recover. So I'm a little more calm when I'm going out there, and I can give a little more fire with my stuff.”

Beyond being surrounded by his teammates, the Mariners more than anything brought Santos up to create more structure to his rehab and more closely monitor him.

“There's differences,” Santos said. “Since I got here, I just feel a lot better. I feel like there's a lot more velocity. I feel more loose. Since I got here, I just feel more relaxed.”

The club is confident that Santos can return to the elite reliever he was in Chicago in 2023, one who carried a 3.39 ERA (132 ERA+, where league average is 100) with a 22.8% strikeout rate, a 5.9% walk rate and a 1.296 WHIP across 66 1/3 innings. And with Matt Brash undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery, there will be a need for bullpen reinforcements down the stretch -- potentially to where it impacts their Trade Deadline strategy.

They’re banking on Santos being one of those mid-to-late-season injections, particularly having parted with righty Prelander Berroa (their No. 15 prospect), outfielder Zach DeLoach (No. 25 prospect) and the No. 69 overall pick in the 2024 Draft to acquire him.

Separately, it wouldn’t be a shock to see No. 19 prospect Logan Evans be considered for a bullpen spot down the stretch. Evans has been wowing in the Minors, with a 1.34 ERA, .545 OPS against and only two homers allowed in 33 2/3 innings.

If they’re able to make those internal upgrades, perhaps the first-place Mariners could allocate their trade resources to other needs once that time comes.