SEATTLE -- While starting pitching has turned into a recent strength for the Mariners after a rough start to the season, the health of the rotation suddenly is in question as the club awaits word on doctor’s tests on a neck issue with right-hander Kendall Graveman.
The 29-year-old got through 4 2/3 innings on three hits and two runs -- both runs scoring after he was replaced with two runners on base in the fifth inning of Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the A’s. But he dealt with a sore neck that limited the extension on his throwing motion and impacted his velocity and the Mariners sent him to have the neck examined on Monday.
“I think it affected him quite a bit,” manager Scott Servais said in an online interview prior to Monday night’s series finale. “Quite honestly, it wasn't near the crispness to his stuff, or velocity. I tip my hat to him because he hung in there and was really a couple inches away from walking out of there with five innings of scoreless ball. It was pretty impressive.”
The Mariners can likely buy some time if Graveman is out temporarily, as they’re going with a six-man rotation and could just switch to a normal five-man group to cover Graveman’s next scheduled start on Saturday in Houston.
There’s also an off-day the following Thursday, Aug. 13, that would be an extra day of rest in the next series of starts.
That seems the likely route at this point, though it’s always possible that one of the young prospects currently working at the alternate training site in Tacoma could be added to the Major League roster to make a start. It seems doubtful that top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert would be summoned for just one spot start, but there are other candidates like Ljay Newsome or current long reliever Nick Margevicius who could step in.
“You always have contingency plans, who is the next guy we go to and things like that,” Servais said. “But until we get clarification from the doctor and talk to Gravey and see where he's at, we're not going to say anything there. Hopefully he can make his next start.
“If he can’t, with how we're spread out with six starters and next week we have an off-day, so maybe he misses one start and that one start you can kind of spread out over almost two weeks.”
After not pitching in the Majors for two years while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Graveman has been a bright spot for the Mariners since signing a one-year, $2 million free-agent deal with a $3.5 million team option for next season.
He impressed in Spring Training with his mid-90s fastball and off the field with his veteran leadership as a former Opening Day starter for the A’s.
“He believes in what we're doing here and helps drive our messaging with our young players,” Servais said. “Kendall is very prepared. He's a real pro and prepares the right way. He's a good teammate and all those other things. Hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible.”
Don’t let the sun shine down on me
With no fans in the stands and no rain in the forecast, it was surprising to see T-Mobile Park’s roof closed just prior to the start of Sunday afternoon’s game against the A’s. But Servais said MLB’s COVID-19 protocols call for covering from the elements to be provided whenever possible for players who must sit outside the dugout to help with social distance policies.
“Not every city has the luxury we have where it's like 75 degrees,” Servais said. “It is one of the protocols with having guys sit outside the dugout. And certainly, if you're in a 100-degree day somewhere in St. Louis or the Midwest, they’ve got to be under cover there.”
Servais said having the roof closed had the additional benefit of helping the infielders who were having a hard time picking up the ball out of the glare off the cutout fans in the stands, which are mostly white.
Short takes from T-Mobile Park
• Reliever Yoshihisa Hirano is throwing bullpen sessions and building up his arm at the Mariners' complex in Peoria, Ariz., as he returns from a bout with COVID-19 that caused him to miss almost all of Summer Camp. The veteran right-hander will join the extra players at the alternate training site in Tacoma once he’s ready to face live hitters.
• Reliever Austin Adams, who underwent ACL surgery on his left knee in October, has an outside chance of joining the Mariners on their upcoming road trip starting next Monday if he can get in against some live hitters this week in Seattle, according to Servais. Adams has been working with the Mariners and their training staff at T-Mobile Park since being sidelined after pitching in two intrasquad games last month.
Rookie right-hander Justin Dunn faces the Angels for the second time in a row in Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. PT series opener. Dunn was sharp for three innings before giving up a three-run homer to Shohei Ohtani in the fourth in his 2020 debut last Wednesday in Anaheim. The 24-year-old rookie now faces the Halos at T-Mobile Park in what reportedly could be the debut of top Halos prospect Jo Adell. The matchup is available live on MLB.TV.