Mariners pitchers face tough challenge with delay

March 15th, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- has spent nearly two years building his right arm back up after Tommy John surgery. He was pitching well in Mariners camp, one of the pleasant surprises as a free-agent addition and ratcheting up his throwing program in anticipation of the start of the 2020 season in just two weeks.

But all that went on hold in the last few days as Major League Baseball suspended all Spring Training operations and imposed at least a one-month moratorium on all games in response to the nation’s coronavirus concerns.

The decision impacts all players, but none more so than starting pitchers, who have to gradually build up their workload over an extended period to prepare for the rigors of throwing six-plus innings and 100 or so pitches when they take the mound every fifth day in the regular season.

Graveman and other Mariners starters had built up to three or four innings and about 60 pitches and figured to have two more outings before beginning the season. So what is a starter to do in the new-world scenario, with no firm end line in sight?

Graveman pondered the question momentarily and gave his most honest answer.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never done this, so we’ll find out.”

The 29-year-old right-hander isn’t alone. There are many unanswered questions right now facing all players and teams, which is why Mariners manager Scott Servais, pitching coach Pete Woodworth and others are already trying to put plans into place.

“I’m sure Woody and Scott and all the coaching staff will figure out the best route and we’ll decide if it’s to stay around 60 pitches and three innings or increase or decrease the load,” Graveman said. “Those are things they’re working on.”

Servais has been pleased with how his rotation had been throwing, from returners Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi to rookies Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn and newcomers Taijuan Walker and Graveman.

“Our guys are all in good spots as far as where they’re at right now,” Servais said. “You don’t want to lose a whole lot of momentum. We also don’t want to build them too quickly. Most guys are at three or four innings, at 50-60 pitches, so we'll try to keep them right there with our starters. And then we’ll ramp them up once we get closer to knowing what the for-certain Opening Day would be.

“For now, we just want guys to stay active, play some catch. You won’t see anybody throwing sides or catchers with gear on, we’re just going to try to slow it down here for the next few days.”

The Mariners’ complex was closed completely on Saturday as a work crew performed a “deep clean” on the entire facility. Of the 53 players who were invited to stay in Major League camp, 47 have elected to do so. Five others are opting to return to their homes, while one remained undecided as of Saturday evening. 

Those workouts will be far less intense than Cactus League competition. But with the lull in games comes a chance for pitchers to catch their breath and Dunn, the Mariners’ No. 7-ranked prospect, found a silver lining in the situation.

“For me personally, I’m a little excited for it,” he said. “I can kind of go back to rebuild phase, re-strengthen the arm again and give it a little boost. You can step off the gas a little and go back to stretch-out phase throwing wise and rebuild the strength and get even more volume in without putting a crazy high intensity on the arm. So I think it could be a good thing and I’m excited to see how it plays out.”