If you were a little shocked to see Max Povse become the latest Seattle Mariners prospect summoned to the big leagues this season, don’t fuss: there is a tall, 23-year-old right-hander who didn’t really see it coming, either.
“It was a big surprise,” said Povse, the newest member of Seattle’s ever-evolving bullpen. “You work for it, and once you get that news, you don’t see it coming, and it’s just unbelievable.”
Several prospects have already worn a path between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma this season as general manager Jerry Dipoto tries to account for a remarkable number of injuries to the club’s pitching staff. For Povse, Dipoto reached deeper, plucking him from Double-A Arkansas to put him on a Major League roster for the first time.
Arkansas was finishing a weekend series in Springfield, Missouri, against the Cardinals’ affiliate when manager Daren Brown called Povse into his office. It was June 17, a Saturday night. Brown told Povse the good news.
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“It was kind of overwhelming,” Povse said.
Povse’s first call was to his father. “That was a real special phone call because he’s helped me so much over the years,” Povse said. “It was just super exciting.”
A starter throughout most of his baseball life, Povse’s immediate future is in the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever – ideally in the mold of Chris Devenski, a right-hander who has mastered that role with the Houston Astros.
Mariners manager Scott Servais noted Povse’s performance in spring training, when he allowed only three hits and zero walks with seven strikeouts in 10 innings. At 6-foot-8, Povse can be an intimidating presence on the mound. He maximizes that advantage with an over-the-top delivery, which enhances a fastball thrown in the lower-to-mid 90s.
In nine appearances with Arkansas this season, Povse posted a 3.46 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 14 walks in 39 innings. A hamstring injury forced him to the disabled list in late May, after he had begun his conversion from starter to reliever. He returned and made one appearance – 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a 56-pitch outing as a starter on June 14 – before the Mariners called him up.
“It’s been a good, fun experience,” Povse said. “I like coming out of the ’pen. I think it’s something I can be successful at. It’s just going to take a little bit of time to get used to it. But I’m excited for it.”
He had to wait four games to make his debut. It didn’t go so well. With the Mariners leading 9-3 in the eighth inning against Detroit on Thursday, Povse allowed three runs on four hits – including a home run by Miguel Cabrera – in two-thirds of an inning.
“You would like to throw up a zero,” Povse said. “But you just kind of take it with a grain of salt and keep working and move on and make sure the next one’s better.”
Servais wasn’t sweating one rough outing. He said the next day that “his stuff was fine, he just had a tough time getting the last out.”
“He realizes the value of having to get the secondary pitch over the plate,” Servais said. “When you don't and you just locked in on the fastball, they’re going to eventually hit it. Good experience for him. I have no reservation about putting him out there. I think he'll be a little better each time he goes out.”
Here are a few other things to know about Povse:
1. It’s pronounced POVE-see.
2. Born in Raleigh and raised in Cary, North Carolina, Povse makes his home in that state during the offseason. He likes to relax, golf and play with his dog, a basset-lab named Dexter.
3. His earliest memory as a pitcher was at 9 years old. He played some third base as a kid, he said, because he had a strong arm. He played basketball, too. But nothing stuck with him like toeing the rubber with a baseball in his right hand. “I remember the first time taking the mound, I loved it from the start,” he said, “just having the ball and having the whole game go through you. Just something that I fell in love with, and just ran with it.”
4. He was a 42nd-round pick by the Dodgers as a high-schooler in 2011, though he chose to play college ball at UNC-Greensboro. Three years later, the Atlanta Braves drafted him in the third round, and he spent three seasons in the Braves organization before the Mariners acquired him, along with pitcher Rob Whalen, in a December trade for former first-round pick Alex Jackson and pitcher Tyler Pike.
“I enjoyed my time in Atlanta,” Povse said. “They gave me the opportunity to play professional baseball. They helped me with a lot of things, pitching, and becoming a better player, and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
5. His parents, Max and Elizabeth, his sisters, Megan and Rachel, his brother-in-law, his niece, his nephew, his girlfriend and his agent made the trip to Seattle to see him pitch for the first time. “It was a good crowd to have,” he said.
6. Povse’s biggest baseball influence: North Carolina-based pitching coach Ken Shuey, whom Povse also called soon after learning he was headed to the bigs. “He’s helped me so much,” Povse said. “I know without him, I wouldn’t be here today. I can’t thank him enough.”