SEATTLE -- An already questionable Mariners bullpen has taken a large number of hits this season, with seven relievers on the injured list, which explains in part why the group entered Sunday's series finale vs. Texas ranked 26th with its 5.79 ERA. But help appears on the way with the
SEATTLE -- An already questionable Mariners bullpen has taken a large number of hits this season, with seven relievers on the injured list, which explains in part why the group entered Sunday's series finale vs. Texas ranked 26th with its 5.79 ERA. But help appears on the way with the arrival of two promising arms this weekend.
Veteran Yoshihisa Hirano and rookie Aaron Fletcher both debuted in Saturday’s 10-1 victory over the Rangers, and each looked capable of providing needed respite for the relief corps.
Fletcher, a 24-year-old lefty making his Major League debut, struck out Rangers slugger Joey Gallo, then had his next batter reach on error before finishing out a scoreless eighth.
“Fletch has got really good stuff,” said manager Scott Servais. “His ball is electric, how much it moves. Often times, it can be a challenge for him to throw strikes. The sinker has big-time bottom to it, he can really spin a slider. He’s going to get an opportunity to pitch for us. He can come in a tough spot. He’s got pitches to strike people out, and they also hit it on the ground. Those are two good qualities to have for a reliever.”
Hirano, who has extensive experience as a closer in Japan and was a quality setup man the past two years with the D-backs, gave up a leadoff single but then struck out two in a scoreless ninth. The 36-year-old is finally back to full strength after missing most of Summer Camp following a bout with COVID-19.
Hirano had spent much of the past month in Arizona building his arm back up and just recently joined the alternate training site in Tacoma. The Mariners had wanted him to face live hitters in an intrasquad game in before activating him, but they recalled him on Saturday before that opportunity arose when Erik Swanson and Taylor Guilbeau had to go on the 10-day injured list.
“This guy has been around a long time,” Servais said. “He’s pitched a lot of baseball at the highest levels in Japan, and obviously done well here in the big leagues once he’s been here. The radar guns and bullpens and live BPs and all that stuff really don’t matter to these guys once the lights are on. We saw good stuff. It was 88-91 mph with a really good split-finger. It’s going to be nice to have him out there as a veteran presence in the bullpen. That will really help.”
The Mariners can certainly use the boost with Carl Edwards Jr., Austin Adams, Brandon Brennan, Nestor Cortes Jr., Gerson Bautista, Swanson and Guilbeau all on the injured list.
Swanson and Edwards Jr. are beginning to throw and could be back before the end of the season, but with only a little over a month remaining, it’s going to be difficult for any of those relievers to have much impact in this shortened schedule. More and more of this campaign is falling on newcomers like Taylor Williams and rookies Joey Gerber, Anthony Misiewicz, Ljay Newsome, Brady Lail, Fletcher and promising Rule 5 addition Yohan Ramirez.
“We’ve got a lot of bullpen guys on the IL that we were counting on, so some of the younger prospect types that we thought would get an opportunity this year may get a little longer look, just because we need those guys,” Servais said. “A lot of young guys have stepped up. Our bullpen has been pretty solid of late. I’m really excited about the young relievers that we have given a chance.”
Haggerty filling outfield role
Another young player taking advantage of his opportunity is rookie utilityman Sam Haggerty, who has been starting regularly in left field since being called up on Wednesday. Haggerty was claimed off waivers from the Mets in January and had just four MLB at-bats as a September callup while serving primarily as a pinch-runner with New York.
“Sammy has played really well,” Servais said. “The switch-hit tool is always nice to have, and he’s done a really nice job in left field. You can see what kind of athlete he is. He can really run and do a lot of things on the field, and I’m really excited how he’s swinging the bat. He’s a nice guy to have to fill in with Dylan Moore being out.”
In Sunday's sweep-clinching win over the Rangers, Haggerty smashed his first career homer off Mike Minor in the fifth -- a 385-foot shot down the left-field line -- before making a slick sliding catch to rob Rougned Odor in the seventh.
For the 26-year-old, being added to a young rebuilding team is a welcome scenario after fighting his way up through the Minor Leagues as a 24th-round Draft selection by the Indians in 2015 out of New Mexico.
“It’s exciting,” Haggerty said. “There’s a lot of energy here, a lot of guys who want to get better and turn this thing around. I’m happy to be here and want to be a part of where this is going. We’ve got a lot of good pieces being pushed forward.”
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.