Sports

Altavilla’s up-and-down season takes turn for the better with return to Mariners bullpen

Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Dan Altavilla (53) and catcher David Freitas celebrate the team’s 9-5 win over the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a baseball doubleheader Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Detroit.
Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Dan Altavilla (53) and catcher David Freitas celebrate the team’s 9-5 win over the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a baseball doubleheader Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Detroit. AP

This baseball season hasn’t yet reached its halfway point, but it’s already been full of twists and turns for Seattle Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla.

The 27-year-old right-hander returned to the big-league club on Friday afternoon from Triple-A Tacoma in place of reliever Tayler Scott, who was optioned back to the Rainiers. It’s Altavilla’s third stint with the Mariners since March.

His first two stays with Seattle lasted a combined two appearances, less than a complete inning and nine batters. He came on in relief during the Mariners’ series against Oakland in Japan, allowing a hit and a walk before being pulled. Last month, he joined Seattle in Boston for one game, allowing three earned runs on one hit and four walks.

Altavilla was sent back to the minors with the intention of sorting out his command. He has spent stretches with both Tacoma and Double-A Arkansas since, and moved up and down since he was first optioned to the Rainiers when Seattle trimmed its roster to 25 players after returning from Japan.

“I think the biggest takeaway is baseball is extremely hard, and you go through times when you’ve got to make adjustments,” Altavilla said. “I learned first-hand that I had to make those adjustments and just getting through that step was huge for me mentally and physically, just feeling really good, and working my way back. I’m really happy to be here and excited for what’s next.”

Altavilla’s first stay in Tacoma was a struggle. In five games, he posted an 11.57 ERA in 4 2/3 innings before ultimately being transferred to Arkansas.

“At first it seemed like a huge whirlwind, but I just broke it down and got back to being who I am, and just tried to keep it as simple as possible, getting back to the simple delivery and getting after it on the mound,” Altavilla said.

He had more success during the first stint with Arkansas, and didn’t allow a run through 7 2/3 innings of work across six relief appearances. He allowed just two hits, two walks and struck out 10.

That was enough to earn him a call-up when the Mariners traveled to the East Coast, but his only appearance yielded more troubling results.

“Whenever you put in all that work and you finally get your chance, guys tend to over-do it,” Altavilla said. “I did that. Especially when I got called up to Boston. Just trying to prove myself when in reality I just had to go out and be myself.”

He was returned to the Travelers, and said it was then he started focusing on getting through his daily routine. During the full slate of 14 games he spent there in two stints, he had a 3-0 record with four saves, a satisfying 1.10 ERA across 16 1/3 innings with 25 strikeouts.

“A couple outings in, something just clicked for me, and it felt really smooth and easy on the mound,” Altavilla said.

He said being in Arkansas before spending his most recent week-long stretch before the Rainiers helped him simplify his approach in a less pressure-packed environment.

“It was just an opportunity to take a step back,” Altavilla said. “It’s easier to control outings in Double-A. Triple-A guys are right on the cusp of being in the big leagues, and they’re really good, especially with using major league balls, it’s a huge hitter’s league now. But, it was just an easier way for me to take a step back and get back to being me.”

Mariners manager Scott Servais said he’s seen Altavilla’s minor league results through video.

“It does look like he tried to clean some things up in his delivery just to be more consistent,” Servais said. “His release point and his timing. It looks like he’s getting good results. ... Commanding his stuff and staying ahead of the hitters will be the key for him.”

IS THE OPENER WORKING?

The Mariners will use an opener for Saturday afternoon’s game against Baltimore, with left-hander Tommy Milone scheduled to follow. It will be the eighth time this season the club has tried the opener approach.

Has it worked out so far? In some ways yes, in some ways no.

Through seven games, Seattle’s openers have allowed 13 earned runs on 11 hits, while walking 11 and striking out five in six innings. Their collective ERA is 19.50, and the Mariners have a 3-4 record when using them. Thursday night’s win over Baltimore was the first time the opener spotted the opposing team runs and Seattle’s offense was able to overcome it.

The Mariners continue to go back to the strategy more because of the return on the back end. The followers — Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc — have delivered some of their best performances following the opener.

The two have combined for a 3.10 ERA in 40 2/3 innings, allowing 31 hits, five walks and striking out 31. Take out LeBlanc’s outing in Oakland last week — he gave up six earned runs in 2 2/3 — and that collective ERA is a stunning 1.89.

“They’ve both pitched out of the bullpen in lengthier outings being a long guy when you go throw three, four, five innings,” Servais said. “They’ve done it before. There’s not really any situation that’s going to overwhelm those guys. They are who they are, they know how to get hitters out.

“They’re not really going to deviate from that and try to throw harder or try to throw nastier. They make their pitch and move on from there. Those guys have done a nice job. They really have. They’re throwing the ball really well right now.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.
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