Seattle Mariners 2019 Position Preview: Relief Pitchers
MIDDLE RELIEVERS, PART 1
This will be the meat and potatoes of the Mariners’ bullpen, and there are certainly tons of names to choose from. These relievers fall more under the traditional category of the position and will likely be spotted anywhere from the fifth to seventh innings of most ballgames.
Of the seven names likely to be considered for three-to-five spots in the bullpen, two appear to be set in stone with Matt Festa and Cory Gearrin.
The 25-year-old Festa is coming off a quick eight-inning cup of coffee at the Major League level and looks to be ready to assume a full-time role in the Mariners’ bullpen. With Double-A Arkansas last year, Festa tossed a 2.67 xFIP with a 12.31 K/9 over 49 innings of work. If the high strikeout numbers, Festa could eventually take his dangerous fastball/slider combo into a late inning role, though his skillset is better suited for damage control rather than closing games.
Gearrin is in a similar boat, bolstering solid stuff but not enough to warrant a significant role. The 32-year-old bounced around between three teams last year, winding up in Oakland after being traded from Texas in August. During that time, Gearrin posted an average 4.34 xFIP with a little less than a strikeout per inning. He’s a pitcher that relies less on missing bats and more on pitching to contact, which usually goes to one extreme or another.
Competing for what should be the final spots decided upon are returning pitchers Dan Altavilla, Chasen Bradford, and Nick Rumbelow, as well as newcomers Zac Rosscup and Gerson Bautista.
Bradford and Bautista, both former Mets, may be on the outside looking in when camp starts next week, but things can quickly change in the desert heat. The 29-year-old Bradford got off to a solid start, but began to show his weaknesses as the season dwindled. Bradford simply won’t overpower hitters; instead, he relies on contact, which bit him more than once in 2018, reflected by his struggles with the home run ball and a low groundball percentage for a pitcher of his particular skillset (46.6%).
Bautista, on the other hand, has one great tool: he can top out at 100 MPH on his fastball. The problem? He can’t locate the pitch, or either one of his other two pitches for that matter. Command and location has been a big, well-documented issue for Bautista throughout his professional career, and that won’t change overnight.
Simply, Bautista is a project for a team that has succeeded in producing quality relievers from within their system, so all hope isn’t yet lost for 23-year-old. But it’s going to be tough for him to figure things out over the next month or so in order to break camp with the Major League club.