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Mariners add No. 9 prospect Festa to bullpen

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

DENVER -- The Mariners reached into their prospect ranks to add an extra arm to their bullpen on Saturday, promoting Double-A Arkansas closer Matt Festa for his first shot in the Major Leagues.

"It's kind of indescribable, being here," the 25-year-old said after joining the team prior to Saturday night's 4-1 loss to the Rockies. "You walk into this clubhouse and see all the guys you've always looked up to. Some of them I met in Spring Training, but I'm speechless."

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DENVER -- The Mariners reached into their prospect ranks to add an extra arm to their bullpen on Saturday, promoting Double-A Arkansas closer Matt Festa for his first shot in the Major Leagues.

"It's kind of indescribable, being here," the 25-year-old said after joining the team prior to Saturday night's 4-1 loss to the Rockies. "You walk into this clubhouse and see all the guys you've always looked up to. Some of them I met in Spring Training, but I'm speechless."

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The Mariners wasted no time getting Festa into action, as he replaced Wade LeBlanc with one out in the fifth with Ian Desmond on third. The youngster faced the meat of the order, and gave up a pair of singles to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, allowing Desmond to score, before he got a pair of groundouts to get out of the inning.

Video: SEA@COL: Festa strands a pair in his MLB debut

"I thought Matt handled it well," manager Scott Servais said. "He wasn't fazed by the moment at all. He'll get some more chances here down the road."

Festa is Seattle's No. 9 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and has gone 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA and 13 saves in 28 appearances for Arkansas. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander features a 92-95 mph fastball and quality slider that has helped him rack up 44 strikeouts with just seven walks in 31 2/3 innings this season.

He's the first Draft pick of general manager Jerry Dipoto's first three years in Seattle to get a shot with the big league club and joins outfielder John Andreoli -- who signed as a Minor League free agent last December -- as the second player to make his MLB debut this season for the Mariners.

Festa replaces Christian Bergman, who was optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma after making a spot start in Friday's 10-7 loss to the Rockies. The move gives Seattle 10 relievers for the final two games before the All-Star break, with just three starters currently active since Felix Hernandez and James Paxton are temporarily on the 10-day disabled list to rest sore backs.

It's likely just a chance for Festa to get his feet wet in the Majors, and provide an extra reliever until the starters are brought back after the break, but he's understandably thrilled for the opportunity; Servais said he's eager to see how the youngster performs.

"We'll see," said Servais. "This game is results oriented. You come in and do well and see where it goes from there. We'll reshuffle the deck, obviously, when we get back after the break, but he'll get an opportunity here the next couple days to show us what he's got."

The Mariners have jumped pitchers from Double-A to the big leagues before, most notably closer Edwin Diaz and right-hander Dan Altavilla. Festa knows what he needs to do to stick around.

"Keep my pitch count low, throw strikes and get outs," he said. "That's it."

Festa was a seventh-round Draft pick out of East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania in 2016. After moving to the bullpen last year for Class A Advanced Modesto, he posted a 4-2 record and 3.23 ERA with six saves in 42 outings before earning a stint in the Arizona Fall League against the game's premier prospects.

"The Fall League really helped," he said. "I was only in High-A last season, but going in there and playing those guys who are unbelievably talented was good. But the most important part was pitching in the Fall Star Game. That was on television, but that was one of my best outings and I really showed myself I could do this."

Festa was invited to Seattle's Major League camp this spring, but never pitched while dealing with a hip issue. After a slight delay to the start of his season, the New York native has gone 13-for-13 in save situations, and now will get at least some brief exposure to the big leagues.

"When I first was told I was coming up, it was like panic in my head," he said. "I'm thinking, 'It's going to be Colorado, Nolan Arenado.' But as the day went on, I realized it's the same game. You're just playing catch out there. Throw it hard, trust your stuff and it's going to play. A lot of people have backed me up and it helps build my confidence. So, when I go out there, I'm just going to let it rip."

There was no hiding the excitement in Festa's voice, however, as he recalled calling his parents to tell them he'd been promoted to the big leagues.

"Very emotional," he said. "Coming into it I was like, 'I'm too excited. I'm not going to cry.' But you hear your mom's voice and you lose it."

Bergman will rejoin Tacoma's rotation after allowing six hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Rockies. The 30-year-old is 0-1 with a 3.97 ERA in two starts for Seattle this season and 6-6 with a 4.78 ERA in 18 starts for Tacoma.

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

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