With relievers Austin Adams and Roenis Elias delivering consistently in leverage situations in recent weeks, the Seattle Mariners seemed to finally start stabilizing a bullpen that has cost them more than a few games during the first half of 2019.
But, keeping in line with the season-long frustrations they have endured with their relievers, the Mariners lost half of that effective tandem Saturday afternoon, when Adams was placed on the 10-day injured list with a Grade 1 right lat strain, retroactive to Wednesday.
Mariners manager Scott Servais estimated Adams, who didn’t allow a run in 10 relief appearances in June and has a season, would miss at least “a few weeks.”
“I’m pretty disappointed about it,” Adams said. “I’ve been feeling really good, and building a lot of confidence, and pitching well for the team. It just kind of sucks that this kind of happened out of nowhere.”
Adams has been a steady addition to Seattle’s bullpen since being traded from the Nationals the first week of May. He has a 2.49 ERA in 19 relief appearances, has a 39-9 strikeout-walk ratio and what Servais has referred to as a “wipeout” slider. He’s tossed scoreless outings in 15 of his relief appearances, and hadn’t allowed more than a run in a single game in relief until Wednesday.
“A heck of a pickup,” Servais said. “He’s really taken and run with a few things we’ve thrown at him, and grown into a spot where you trust him in leverage situations. He’s striking out a lot of really good hitters out. He’ll be missed here.”
Adams said he felt some tightness and soreness Monday, when the Mariners were off, but pitched both Tuesday and Wednesday without issue, including working 1 1/3 scoreless innings against the Cardinals during Tuesday’s win. He allowed a season-high three earned runs in relief Wednesday in 2/3 of an inning, but said he didn’t feel discomfort during either appearance.
“It’s interesting to go back and look at it, and see where all my misses were, arm-side high. I wasn’t able to get to my glove side,” Adams said of Wednesday’s outing. “So, it’s kind of understandable now. Makes sense.”
After having work done on the area throughout the week, Adams had an MRI on Saturday morning, thinking it would likely just be inflammation, but the images revealed the Grade 1 strain.
“It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” Adams said. “It wasn’t something where I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is severe.’ It was just normal-feeling stuff, and I went in, and it just wasn’t getting better. I think it was a good job on the medical staff here, and good job on me just getting ahead so it didn’t become something more severe.”
The Mariners have been hit with several lat injuries this season, but Adams said he hopes catching it early on will mean a quicker return. Starter Felix Hernandez has been out with a lat injury since May, and closer Hunter Strickland hasn’t pitched since the opening homestand with a similar injury.
“Hopefully it doesn’t set him back too long,” Servais said.
Seattle also placed reliever Dan Altavilla on the 10-day IL with a right forearm strain Saturday. Altavilla pitched in Friday’s loss to the A’s, and felt discomfort in his inning of work, Servais said.
“Right at the end of his outing last night, the very last pitch, he felt something down in his forearm, elbow,” Servais said. “It could be UCL, don’t know. He’s going to get pictures today.”
Altavilla had shown improvement since returning from multiple stints in the minors this season, but allowed a pair of runs in the ninth against Oakland before being sent to the IL.
“He’s been throwing the ball great,” Servais said. “I know (Friday) night the couple of walks got him, but his misses weren’t the big misses I’ve seen in the past. But, he’s concerned, as any pitcher is when they’ve got a forearm or elbow issue.”
Both of the injuries to Adams and Altavilla cause another frustrating shift in Seattle’s bullpen, which has already had so many this season. The Mariners have used 28 different relievers before the All-Star break — not including Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, who typically follow openers — and have had to use position players to finish a few blowout games during the first half.
“It’s disappointing,” Servais said. “They were both throwing the ball really well. We were starting to get a little stability in our bullpen. But, (stuff) happens. We’ve had a lot of (stuff) happen this year. We’ll keep moving forward.”
Right-handers Parker Markel and David McKay were recalled from Triple-A Tacoma as replacements. Both have pitched in stints with the Mariners earlier in the season.
Markel made four relief appearances for Seattle in May, allowing six earned runs across 3 2/3 innings, while striking out and walking three each. He’s had much more success with the Rainiers, posting a 2-0 record with a 2.81 ERA and seven saves in 20 games, while striking out 42 and walking 20. He was Tacoma’s All-Star selection before he was recalled.
McKay allowed just one earned run across five innings with Seattle during the final two weeks of May, and is 3-0 with a 3.76 ERA in 24 relief appearances with Tacoma.
“I know McKay’s been throwing the ball really well in Triple-A, from the reports I got,” Servais said. “He’s thrown strikes when he was here in the past. Parker struggled a little bit when he was here. He relied on his breaking ball quite a bit in Triple-A, didn’t really have a great feel for it when he was here with us. But, he’ll get a chance to pitch and get another shot.”