Phelps made only 10 appearances after being acquired from the Marlins last season. His 2018 season ends before it even started, a crushing blow for the Mariners.

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PEORIA, Ariz. — The 2018 season is done for David Phelps before it even started. And the Mariners’ bullpen, expected to be a strength for this season and a useful tool to help offset the possible problems with the starting rotation, was dealt a gut punch with opening day looming just a week away.

In the midst of Wednesday night’s Cactus League game vs. the Brewers, the Mariners announced that right-handed reliever David Phelps has suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Phelps felt the ligament tear on the final pitch of his last outing on March 17 against the Angels. He pitched one inning, allowing one hit with a strikeout in that outing. He’d made four previous outings this spring.

“I feel terrible for David Phelps,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He really prepared and came into this spring, coming off the bone chip and looked great. Physically, the stuff was right where it needed to be. We were waiting for the precision. Oddly the last outing, the precision joined the stuff and that’s when he wound up hurting himself.”

Phelps will eventually be placed on the 60-day disabled list so the Mariners can use his spot on the 40-man roster. He is eligible for free agency following the season.

“He had a MRI done and he got a second opinion,” Dipoto said. “Today we got the results of the second opinion and he decided this was the way he was going to go. Really, it was the only decision he had. Unfortunately, we will be without him.”

This will be the second straight season that elbow issues have ended Phelps’ season early. After being acquired from the Marlins on July 20 of last season for four minor leaguers, including touted outfield prospect Brayan Hernandez, Phelps made just 10 appearances, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.12 ERA in 8 2/3 innings pitched. He went on the disabled list on Aug. 8 with an impingement in his elbow. He came back and made three appearances before returning to the disabled list for the same issue, ending the season on the disabled list.

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He underwent surgery to remove a bone spur on Sept. 13 in hopes of correcting the issue. The Mariners were careful with him to start the spring, delaying his return to games. But in the end, it didn’t matter.

It’s a crushing blow for the Mariners, who were relying on Phelps to serve as a late-inning set-up man with Juan Nicasio, pitching ahead of closer Edwin Diaz and allowing Nick Vincent work less high-leverage situations. Instead, the Mariners will be without a major weapon late in games, and they really don’t have another experienced power arm to replace him.

“He was a big part of what we wanted to do,” Dipoto said. “It’s a big blow. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. He was a big piece of what we were doing and it’s a big loss for us. The good thing we do feel like we have some depth there to work back from, but it won’t be an easy spot to fill. There’s a reason why we went and got him. There’s a reason why we were excited for his return. He’ll be missed.”

Right-hander Nick Rumbelow, acquired from the Yankees this offseason, is dealing with a nerve issue in his neck and has no timetable to return to the mound.

“It has to work itself out and we have don’t know how long that will take,” Dipoto said. “It could be a week or two or it could be longer than that. Those are tricky things.”

Right-hander Tony Zych was released earlier this spring due to arm issues. Of the three power arms, two are gone and the other is in doubt

“The combination of the trio of events that happened with Tony Zych, Nick Rumbelow and now David Phelps, that’s not exactly how we planned the spring to go with that group,” Dipoto said. “You know you are going to run into an occasional injury and lose players along the way, but to have three in that short of timespan is tough to deal with.”

Right-hander Ryan Cook does have some big league experience and success, but he has essentially missed the last two seasons with injuries. Logically, right-hander Chasen Bradford, whom Seattle claimed off waivers, will fill the open spot in the bullpen, while Vincent will have to go back to pitching in an elevated set-up role. The Mariners do have right-handers Shawn Armstrong and Mike Morin, who were both competing for bullpen spots in Class AAA Tacoma as well.

The projected eight-man Mariners bullpen could look like this:

  • Edwin Diaz, RHP
  • Juan Nicasio, RHP
  • Nick Vincent, RHP
  • Daniel Altavilla, RHP
  • Casey Lawrence, RHP
  • Chasen Bradford, RHP
  • James Pazos, LHP
  • Marc Rzepczynski, LHP

“Fortunately, we are at the time of year where players are a little more accessible than they sometimes can be,” Dipoto said. “There’s a reason why we’ve been pretty active the last couple of days trying to refill some of the depth in back of where we believe our Major League club will be. I will anticipate you’ll see even more of that in the days to come.”

The free agent market has a few veteran arms. The most notable is Greg Holland, who was the Rockies closer last season and saved 58 games for the Rockies last season. Even though he hasn’t been signed by a team, his contract demands might be too much for the Mariners in terms of dollars and years. Holland also rejected a qualifying offer, meaning if the Mariners signed him, they would lose a third-round draft pick in the upcoming draft. Dipoto has avoided signing players with rejected qualifying offers attached to them for that reason.

Other potential right-handed relievers on the free-agent market include: Jason Grilli, Chad Qualls, Huston Street and Joe Blanton.