Seattle Mariners

Mariners’ latest pitching hope came from Jupiter – among 10 other places

Seattle pitcher Sam Gaviglio, who wasn’t counted to be in the rotation this year, is 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA for the Mariners.
Seattle pitcher Sam Gaviglio, who wasn’t counted to be in the rotation this year, is 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA for the Mariners. TNS

The guy the Mariners are counting to save them from their latest abyss comes from Jupiter.

Plus 10 other places in the last 10 years.

Sam Gaviglio is Plan F in Seattle’s shambles of a pitching rotation. He’s the 10th of 13 starting pitchers the Mariners have needed, less than three months into this season.

This time last year, the 27-year-old rookie was stinging from getting demoted from the Triple-A Rainiers to Double-A Jackson. Saturday night in Anaheim, Gaviglio gets his ninth major league start at the Los Angeles Angels.

“Big league life, it’s been a dream come true,” he said with a smile this week in front of his Mariners locker.

“(From) riding around on buses? Yeah, I’ve come a long ways.”

He has risen in 11 months from bummin’ at Double-A in Tennessee to the Mariners’ starter with the lowest earned run average (3.38).

The former Oregon State Beaver has been just about everywhere in the last decade. From Ashland, Oregon, to Oregon State to Batavia to Quad Cities, to Jupiter – in Florida, not outer space – then to Palm Beach, Springfield and Tacoma. He went to El Cibao in the Dominican Republic for winter ball after the 2015 season, then to, Jackson, back to Tacoma, back to El Cibao last winter and to Italy’s national team in the World Baseball Classic this past spring training.

He was back with Tacoma in April. Finally, on May 10, he made the big-time with Seattle.

Now he’s a key part of a Mariners’ patched-together rotation.

Felix Hernandez has been below his previous ace standard in two starts since returning from nearly two full months on the disabled list. The day the Mariners officially selected Gaviglio from the Rainiers, Seattle put starter Hisashi Iwakuma on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Iwakuma’s still on the DL. Mariners manager Scott Servais said this week “we’re a little ways away” from Iwakuma getting on a mound to even begin rehabilitation.

And Wednesday, the Mariners learned veteran starter Drew Smyly needs Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery.

Viola! Gaviglio and his sinker have a prime chance to stick in the Mariners’ rotation for the relatively long term.

“He’s filled a big hole for us,” catcher Mike Zunino said.

It’s more than unexpected. It’s so unlikely, Servais had this answer Wednesday when asked what the organization expected from the right-hander at the start of this year:

“Gaviglio? He was not in major-league camp,” the manager said, chuckling.

Yes, he didn’t even get an invitation to the big club’s spring training.

But now he is 3-2 in nine Mariners games, eight starts. Gaviglio had all of five starts for the Rainiers this season before he got his call. The Mariners at that point had four of their top five starting pitchers on the DL.

“We got to the point where we went so deep on our depth chart he was the best option at the time,” Servais said. “He came up, he took the opportunity. .. We had no one else to start, fired him in there, and he seized it.

“He’s 27 years old. He’s pitched a lot of minor league baseball. He’s been able to not get too in awe of things and let innings get away from him. He’s just kept us in ball games.”

Gaviglio has given up more than four earned runs just once. And that was in his first major league win: Six innings with five earned allowed in a 6-5 Mariners victory at Colorado on May 29.

One troublesome trend: He’s given up 10 home runs in his first nine appearances. His catcher sees that as a product of Gaviglio boldly going right after hitters.

“He’s got a great sinker,” Zunino said. “He’s got a curveball, slider, change-up to go with it. But he attacks guys. That’s the biggest thing.”

Wednesday, Servais was discussing the lone silver lining to Smyly needing season-ending surgery was some of the clarity it gives inside the battered rotation.

“It gives us certainty with the guys we’ve got, and how important they are,” Servais said.

Then the first such important guy the manager mentioned? Gaviglio.

“I don’t want to raise expectations or want him to do more than he’s done,” Servais said, “because he’s been fine.”

Gaviglio began this season with the expectations the Mariners had for him: about none. His future was in doubt entering the final year of his minor league contract.

Gaviglio was putting balls in a bucket during batting practice before a game he wasn’t pitching in early May, against New Orleans at Cheney Stadium. Tacoma bench coach Denny Hocking was standing near second base.

“Give me the ball bag,” Hocking told Gaviglio during BP. “Go talk to (Pat) Listach.”

Gaviglio walked off the field to the Rainiers manager’s office. On the way, he began thinking.

“In the back of my mind I was hoping that I was getting the call up,” he said. “But at the same time I was questioning everything I’ve done, making sure I didn’t do something bad to be called into his office.”

Instead, Listach gave Gaviglio the good news of being promoted.

The first person Gaviglio called was his mother, Nancy, back in Ashland.

“It was pretty crazy,” he said.

He called his grandmother, Dorothy. Then he called his older brother, Gus. Gus preceded Sam in attending Oregon State. Aunts and uncles went there, too.

Sam got his scholarship offer from the Beavers just before he won the Oregon Class 5A state championship as Ashland High School’s ace in the spring of 2008. That trumped being Tampa Bay’s 40th-round pick in the ‘08 draft.

He played three seasons for the Beavers, including the 2009 one as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America. St. Louis drafted him in the fifth round in 2011. He took the Cardinals’ $175,000 signing bonus and turned pro.

In 2014, the Mariners traded former Rainiers infielder Ty Kelly to St. Louis for him. Gaviglio spent 2015 with Tacoma. He went 8-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 21 games including 17 starts, but began 2016 at Double-A Jackson.

Did he get an explanation for the demotion last year?

“No, I didn’t,” he said.

“It was rough, mentally. I had to grind through it. I was there longer than I thought I was going to be (until last July). But I learned a lot from it. That was the biggest thing.

“It was a challenge, being down in Tennessee. I had some other issues off the field that were kind of ongoing. It was hard.”

Gaviglio declined to elaborate. A check this week of city and county court records in Jackson showed no arrests, citations or legal actions there for him.

“Once I got to Tacoma, in July (2016), I knew I belonged there,” he said. “And I wanted to prove it.”

Gaviglio made his major league debut May 11, pitching the final two innings of the Mariners’ 7-2 loss at Toronto. His girlfriend of 4½ years from Ashland, Alaina Findlay, was in Rogers Center to see him strike out four in two innings.

Those six-plus years in the minor leagues finally paid off.

And still are.

“It’s different,” he said his new role as a major leaguer. “But as long as you’ve got a uniform you’ve got a chance.

“I got an opportunity here. And I’m just trying to make the best of it.”

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

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