Seattle Mariners 2019 Position Preview: Relief Pitchers
Long relievers are typically the most unattractive names in any bullpen due to the negative connotations they often carry. When a long reliever takes the mound, it usually means their team is in the midst of being blown out, or their starting pitcher has been hurt or ejected early on. Sometimes the roles are reversed and a long reliever will enter a game with a massive lead, or they’ll get the nod to start on the occasional bullpen day.
These pitchers are often former starters who are unable to stick as a team’s fourth or fifth option in their rotation, but can handle the endurance of a multiple inning workload. A perfect example of that is the one long reliever seemingly penciled into the Mariners’ Opening Day roster: Roenis Elías.
The 30-year-old Cuban native had some minor success as a starter in his first stint with the Mariners, but only pitched a total of eight innings at the Major League level in his two-and-a-half years with the Red Sox organization. When the M’s reacquired him last Summer, Elías shifted to a relief role and pitched well, making four spot starts along the way.
As of now, Elías appears to be the best left-handed reliever in Seattle’s bullpen and could see more of an extended role because of that. Additionally, he could still make the occasional spot start or two as well, or fill in on the days the Mariners plan to only run Yusei Kikuchi for an inning or two.
Two dark horses to break camp with the M’s also fit the mold of long reliever. That would be Ruben Alaniz and Brandon Brennan, both career Minor Leaguers whom the Mariners have made Major League commitments to. Of the two, Brennan is the likeliest to make the team because they selected him in the first round of December’s Rule 5 draft. If he fails to be one of the Mariners’ initial 25 players, he will be reverted back to the Rockies – the team Seattle plucked him from.
Both Alaniz and Brennan have experience as starting pitchers early in their professional careers, but have transitioned into full-time relieving roles as of late. Alaniz, 27, is now with his fourth organization, coming off a year split between three different levels within the Rays’ system. Brennan, also 27, spent his 2018 with the White Sox, pitching the majority of his innings for Double-A Birmingham.
There is also the off chance that Wade LeBlanc will be moved back to the bullpen at some point to make room for Justus Sheffield or a potential free agent signing. Erik Swanson and Ricardo Sánchez could also make their MLB debuts as relievers at first, then get an opportunity to start later on.
Non-roster invitee Tommy Milone may also be in the mix, or be one of the first names in line to be called up in the event of injury. The former Oakland Athletics starter signed a Minor League contract with the M’s in early December.
For now, however, it seems that Elías and Brennan are the frontrunners to land two spots in what should be an eight-man bullpen.