'Hard to even fathom': Sewald reflects on resurgence

March 14th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- is well aware that his journey is hard to explain.

The Mariners closer, who shares high-leverage duties with Andrés Muñoz, was selected by the Mets in the 10th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. The right-hander spent the first five years of his pro career trying to move up in New York’s system, before finally making his big league debut on April 8, 2017, the month before his 27th birthday.

Sewald pitched for the Mets from 2017-20, a span during which they managed a winning record only once. He struggled alongside them, going 1-14 with a 5.50 ERA in 125 games (147 1/3 innings), leading New York to non-tender him after the 2020 season.

The Mariners offered a lifeline, signing Sewald to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training in 2021. The non-roster invitee didn’t make the team out of camp and was assigned to Triple-A Tacoma, where he made enough of an impression that Seattle selected his contract soon thereafter on May 13.

Since then, he has, of course, become an integral part of the Mariners bullpen and one of the best relievers in the American League.

Now in his third big league camp with Seattle, Sewald can hardly believe how it all worked out for him.

“I can’t contextualize it. That’s part of what’s made this so amazing,” he said. “I don’t even know how to explain it. The Mets thought nothing of me and got rid of me for literally nothing. And Seattle took a chance and I felt like I had nothing to lose. So I worked on what they told me and it clicked, and I turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball -- which is just crazy -- from not having a job and nobody wants you to being so good.

“So it’s hard to contextualize, it’s hard to even fathom how well the last few years have gone -- not only for me, but for the team. I was on [losing teams] in New York and a bad pitcher. Then I become a great pitcher and [the Mariners] are a great team. It’s been a lot better here in Seattle than it was in New York.”

In a moment that garnered a lot of attention on May 13 last season, Sewald had a particularly pointed reaction to an inning-ending strikeout in a 2-1 win over the Mets at Citi Field. But as much as that was about them, it was perhaps even more about the Mariners.

Sewald has been open about how close he was to retiring from the game altogether, and now his career resurgence has lined up with a Seattle team that has enjoyed back-to-back 90-win seasons and its first postseason berth since 2001.

“He’s been great for us, great for our bullpen,” said manager Scott Servais. “I think he understands how we run our bullpen, and it’s worked out really well for him. To be a guy that really didn’t have much of a career at all and turned into a really nice pocket of what [we’ve] been able to do here over the last few years. … We’ve gained his trust.”

But first, Sewald had to gain theirs. He has been eager to repay it ever since.

In January, Sewald avoided arbitration with the club, agreeing to terms on a $4.1 million contract for the 2023 season. That came not long after it was revealed that he underwent right elbow cleanup surgery and a pair of heel procedures during the offseason. Both surgeries were deemed to be minor, and Sewald said he is back to full health.

He made his first Cactus League start on March 5, allowing only one hit and striking out two in a scoreless inning. He followed that with another scoreless frame in Thursday’s exhibition game against Canada.

Though Sewald came out of those outings feeling good, he knows what the standards are now that he’s part of a contender, saying, “I need to make sure that my stuff is A-plus before we get to March 30, when we face Cleveland.”

That would be Opening Day, when the Mariners begin their own quest for even greater heights in 2023. Sewald will be right in the middle of it.

“We are excited about how good our team is,” he said, “but at the end of day, there’s nothing we can do about how we’re going to finish in March, other than trying to get a little bit better and be pretty good at the start of the season and better in May and better in June and hopefully peak in October.”