With Strickland out, Mariners' ninth up for grabs

McKay joins club from Triple-A; Swarzak on verge of activation

March 30th, 2019

SEATTLE -- Mariners closer was placed on the 10-day Injured List on Saturday with a right lat strain, leaving Seattle's already thin bullpen with only one pitcher who has earned a save in the Majors.

The Mariners selected right-hander David McKay from Triple-A Tacoma to take Strickland’s place on the Major League roster. McKay, who turns 24 on Sunday, pitched last year primarily in Double-A and was not on the 40-man roster, so third baseman Kyle Seager was transferred to the 60-day IL to open a spot for him.

Minus Strickland, the only remaining Mariners reliever with any MLB saves is right-hander Cory Gearrin, who has five to his name in seven seasons. McKay joins two other rookies -- Matt Festa and Rule 5 pickup Brandon Brennan -- in the bullpen, along with lefties Zac Rosscup and Roenis Elias and righties Nick Rumbelow and Chasen Bradford.

The Mariners’ bullpen already was in major transition after offseason trades of All-Star closer Edwin Diaz along with setup men Alex Colome and Juan Nicasio, and the release of Nick Vincent and others. Spring injuries to right-handers Anthony Swarzak, Gerson Bautista and Shawn Armstrong have further thinned the crew.

So who handles closing duties now?

“I think the way to probably go about this is just manage the game along and use the pieces you have to use to get you to the ninth inning,” manager Scott Servais said. “And in the ninth inning, you’ll probably see a guy who hasn’t pitched in the game yet.

“That could be a number of guys. It could be Zac Rosscup one night, it could be Elias, it could be Gearrin or Festa or Rumbelow. Go down the list. We’re looking for somebody to get us three outs.”

Swarzak has been rehabbing from a sore right shoulder, pitching Minor League games in Arizona. He rejoined the team Saturday in anticipation of coming off the Injured List on Tuesday. The nine-year veteran has six career saves, including four last year with the Mets, so he has some late-inning experience.

Armstrong, who went on the IL in Japan with a strained left oblique, will throw a bullpen session on Sunday and isn’t too far from returning. Bautista is still at least a few weeks away as he recovers from a strained right pectoral, according to Servais.

In the meantime, the Mariners will be pushing a number of youngsters into new situations and hoping for the best.

“We have some inexperience,” Servais said. “There’s one way to change that. We’re going to see some guys pitching in roles they typically haven’t done in the past. But we did talk early this year -- this is going to be the season of opportunity. There is a ton of opportunity for people to jump up and grab and run with it. Hopefully, some of these guys do it.”

Strickland gave up the go-ahead home run Friday night in the Mariners’ 7-6 loss to the Red Sox and then acknowledged he felt tightness in the back of his right shoulder even while warming up, though he stayed in the game and told Servais he was OK to keep pitching after Servais and athletic trainer Rob Nodine went out to check on him after he gave up a leadoff double and then a hit batter in the ninth.

Strickland got one out, then surrendered a three-run homer to Mitch Moreland as the Red Sox completed a rally from a 6-1 deficit. The 30-year-old had saved Seattle’s first two wins in Tokyo last week in his first appearances of the season.

Servais acknowledged it was a tough spot with Strickland wanting to stay in and compete for a team he just joined and Servais not having been around the veteran long enough to know whether he was being totally up front about his shoulder.

“He said, ‘I’m fine, I’ve got this, I’m fine,’” Servais said. “You’re looking somebody right in the eye and trying to get a feel for him. You’ve got to trust your guys. The velocity didn’t back off. He was still throwing 95-96.”

The Georgia native prides himself on being tough and admitted he stayed in a Minor League game in 2013 and finished out an inning after he hurt his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery.

“Sometimes the adrenaline carries you,” he said.

Strickland signed with the Mariners as a free agent this winter to fill their closer’s role after going 3-5 with a 3.97 ERA and 14 saves in 49 games for the Giants last season. He missed two months last season with a broken right hand.

Coming to a new team and immediately getting injured is the last thing he wanted.

“There’s nothing fun about this situation,” Strickland said. “I want to be out there for these guys. Obviously, last night these guys played their tails off. We deserved that win. They worked for it, and I didn’t come through. It’s frustrating, for sure. But where I’m at now, I’ll just control what I can and get back as soon as I can.”