Mariners manager on starting pitcher Erik Swanson’s inability to locate fastball
The shape of the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation shifted again on Friday when the team optioned rookie right-hander Erik Swanson to Triple-A Tacoma.
This comes on the heels of placing Felix Hernandez (lat) on the 10-day injured list Sunday and the news on Thursday that lefty Wade LeBlanc (oblique) was ready to return to the rotation.
The decision to send Swanson back to Tacoma was somewhat anticipated following another frustrating start Thursday night against the Twins and opens up the question of who starts on Tuesday.
Swanson (1-5, 8.04 ERA) served up a career-high four home runs to the Twins. In his shortest start of the season, he allowed eight runs on nine hits without recording an out in the fourth inning. He has allowed five or more runs in four of his six starts — including a combined 15 earned runs in his past two.
“A couple of fastballs tonight that just caught too much of the plate,” Swanson said after the start. “Moving forward, I just have to minimize the amount of plate that I’m catching with them, whether that’s throwing a little bit more inside, a little bit more outside, top of the zone, bottom of the zone. Adjustments I need to make moving forward, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Servais praised Swanson for making adjustments and staying aggressive in the strike zone when opposing offenses have hit him well. However, he’s lacked consistency and teams have taken advantage.
“Give him an opportunity to kind of regroup,” Servais said. “He got hit around a little bit. Certainly saw it (Thursday) night. Kind of got cornered into some fastball counts and everybody knows that’s his pitch, and they got on it. He’ll make a concerted effort to work on the off-speed pitches down there.
“I will say, I saw some improvement with his slider. I saw some decent changeups. But, just the consistency of it throughout an entire outing, you’ve got to have it at this level.”
The Mariners are considering several options to fill Swanson’s rotation spot but no definitive decisions were made Friday.
Seattle ace Marco Gonzales was projected to start Friday night, LeBlanc is scheduled for Saturday, and Yusei Kikuchi for Sunday’s finale against Minnesota. Mike Leake is projected to pitch the opener against the Rangers on the road Monday before Swanson’s turn comes up again.
“Still up for discussion a little bit who takes that turn or where we go there,” Servais said. “We’ll look internally of course and see who may be able to handle that one.”
Mariners top prospect Justus Sheffield was scheduled to pitch Friday night with the Rainiers, and likely wouldn’t be called up to start on three days rest unless he makes an abbreviated appearance.
Rainiers left-hander Tommy Milone (4-2, 3.83) pitched Thursday night, and would likely be available should Seattle decide to promote from Triple-A. He has allowed just five earned runs across his past four starts, and has logged more starts (eight) and innings (49 1/3) than any other Rainiers pitcher this season. However, he would have to be added to the 40-man roster.
Seattle could also opt for a bullpen day -- the team is staffed with 10 relievers currently.
“We could,” Servais said. “Or bring somebody up and not expect them to go six, seven innings, but get the game going and go from there. You could do a lot of different things, but we haven’t made a decision.”
The outcome of Friday night’s game could also impact the decision as the Mariners will have to make another roster move Saturday to reactivate LeBlanc ahead of his start.
Seattle’s bullpen has seen just as much, if not more, turnover than its starting rotation during this homestand.
Right-hander Parkel Markel was promoted from Tacoma on Sunday, and has since made his MLB debut, and Dan Altavilla was called up and optioned back to Double-A Arkansas in the span of one day. Right-hander Austin Adams was called up from Tacoma to replace him Monday.
Right-handed relievers Matt Festa and Ryan Garton were recalled from Tacoma in moves corresponding with Swanson’s on Friday, while left-hander Zac Rosscup was designated for assignment.
“Those guys have gone multiple innings,” Servais said of Garton and Festa, which plays well into the structure of Seattle’s bullpen.
Servais said the decision to DFA Rosscup had a lot to do with that setup, and needing relievers who can remain in games across more than one frame.
“Zac really is a left-on-left guy,” Servais said. “That’s what he’s good at. He’s got the left-handed breaking ball. We’re not really built that way. We need guys that can go out and pitch for one-plus, two innings.”
Earlier Friday, the Mariners claimed right-hander Andrew Moore off waivers from the Giants, and designated right-hander Nick Rumbelow for assignment. Moore will report to Arkansas.
“We’re going to see a lot of players continue to join our roster as this thing moves forward,” Servais said. “There will be some turnover in our roster. We knew that when the season started.”
Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12