Given the short build-up time for pitchers in this unique Major League season, it’s not surprising to see a number of pitchers already beset with injuries.
Astros ace Justin Verlander, Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw, Rangers key addition Corey Kluber, Cardinals standout Miles Mikolas, Blue Jays closer Ken Giles and promising A’s prospect A.J. Puk are among the casualties less than a week into the regular season.
So while COVID-19 remains a large concern for MLB, the pandemic’s impact on the preparation for pitchers raises even more challenges.
To date, the Mariners have fared relatively well. Gerson Bautista went down early in camp with a strained flexor mass in his right elbow, and fellow reliever Brandon Brennan landed on the 10-day injured list on Monday with a strained left oblique muscle, but Seattle’s starters haven’t had any issues yet, including veterans Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman in their first MLB outings since Tommy John surgery two years ago.
But in their four games in Houston, none of Seattle’s starters went deeper than Marco Gonzales’ 4 1/3 innings on Opening Night. That was partly because the Astros' offense put together some big innings, but also because the Mariners are being careful not to overextend anyone in the early going after just two intrasquad outings to prepare in Summer Camp.
“You do need to be careful,” manager Scott Servais said Tuesday from Anaheim before the Mariners opened their series vs. the Angels. “It’s just different. Guys can be at home and throw their bullpens and long toss and different things. But the intensity and volume of throwing, that’s the thing people don’t realize. When you’re at home doing workouts, you go to a facility or ballpark and get your arm loose and throw your bullpen and go home.
“In the three-week ramp-up to this, you’re doing [pitcher fielding drills] and throwing every day. It’s the volume. Then you put the intensity of game action on top of it, that’s where the injuries start to set in. There has been a number of guys go down around the league. Knock on wood, we’re just trying to keep our guys healthy. But some of it is out of your control just because of the quick ramp-up and where we’re at with this thing.”
That’s not long relief
The Mariners kept 24-year-old lefty Nick Margevicius on their 30-man roster because of his ability to pitch multiple innings and even fill in as a starter if needed, given he started 12 games for the Padres last year and filled that role throughout his Minor League career.
But the team’s youngest player made his Mariners debut in an eighth-inning appearance in Monday’s 8-5 loss to the Astros and needed just five pitches to retire Kyle Tucker, Dustin Garneau and George Springer.
“That’s not really his forte, coming in for one inning,” Servais said. “He’s been a starting pitcher almost all his career and that’s really why he’s on the ballclub, to create some length for us out of the bullpen. But he hadn’t pitched yet and I thought it was an opportunity.
“He came in and five pitches and he was out of it, which was great because he’ll be available [Wednesday] night if we need help with [Justin] Dunn at all. Being able to go out there and take on two or three innings, that’s a valuable guy to have on your club right now.”
New city, new scene
Life on the road is obviously different this year with the COVID-19 social-distancing protocols, and Servais said the adjustment continues at Angel Stadium, where the visiting clubhouse is a little smaller than Minute Maid Park in Houston.
“We’ve got some coaches that are dressing up in the fourth-level suites,” he said. “Players are spread around the clubhouse. They’ve moved all the video equipment and things like that to a different part of the ballpark to clear up some room. There’s no food in the clubhouse, so we have to go to the Diamond Club there to pick up anything.
“Each ballclub and organization is trying to do the best they can with their facilities. It’s a bit of an adjustment for everybody.”
Servais said one benefit in Anaheim is the team is staying at a relatively remote hotel.
“Guys understand we’re really putting the lockdown on here, especially on the road,” he said. “The hotel we’re staying at really doesn’t have much around it. It’s pretty secluded and nobody needs to go anywhere or have any family or anybody come in and meet with them.
“We’re trying to deal with it the best we can. These are the cards we’ve been dealt, and guys are doing OK with it.”
Rookie righty Dunn gets his first start of the season in Wednesday's 7:10 p.m. PT game in Anaheim, live on MLB.TV. He'll square off against Angels Opening Day starter Andrew Heaney (0-0, 1.93 ERA). A shift to a six-man rotation coming out of MLB’s shutdown opened a spot for Dunn, and the 24-year-old will look to take advantage after making four abbreviated starts with a 2.70 ERA in ’19 as a September callup.