Isaiah Campbell tried to make it sound like he didn’t know the exact time frame that he had been waiting to do something other than throw bullpen sessions or pitch in drills as a member of the Mariners.
How long had he been waiting to face hitters in a game setting?
“It’s about 395 days since the last time I was in a live game like this, facing another team’s batter,” he said. “I was amped and excited to get back out there, face a batter again and get going again.”
Entering Sunday, the previous time Campbell faced a batter in a game was June 15, 2019 at the College World Series, and that player will be a teammate in the Mariners’ minor-league system.
Pitching for Arkansas in the first-round game of the CWS vs. Florida State, Campbell delivered a brilliant outing, tossing seven shutout innings while allowing five hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts in a 1-0 loss. The last hitter of Campbell’s outing was Seminoles shortstop Mike Salvatore, who flew out to left to end a 1-2-3 seventh inning.
Ten days earlier, the Mariners had selected Campbell with their competitive balance round B pick (No. 76 overall) on June 4. A day later they drafted Salvatore in the eighth round.
Had there been a typical minor-league season, both players would’ve likely played for High A Modesto in 2020.
Given a heavy college workload — 18 starts, in which he was 12-1 with a 2.13 ERA and 125 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 118 1/3 innings — and the high-leverage games of the postseason, the Mariners decided to not have Campbell pitch the rest of the summer. He signed his contract, participated in the myriad camps offered to top prospects, but didn’t pitch in any sort of game.
“Obviously, it was difficult to do that,” he said. “You really don’t hear of it unless there is an injury. My circumstances were pretty interesting. But there was obviously a plan in place for me. I had to go with it. I’m a competitor and I wish I was out there last year and playing this year for a full season, but you just go with it make do with what you are given.”
There were plenty of workouts, bullpens and repetitions, but no competition.
“Game action is a lot different than practice,” he said. “You can try and replicate it as much as you want, but it’s tough. When you face a batter, it’s completely different.”
The delay between live action wouldn’t have been this extreme if not for the spread of the novel coronavirus shutting down Major League Baseball on March 12 and Minor League Baseball before it even started.
Minor league spring training had just officially started to get going and hadn’t had any spring-training games played when baseball was shut down, meaning Campbell had to wait even longer.
During the shutdown, Campbell split time between his current hometown of Olathe, Kansas, and back in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the University of Arkansas is located. The Razorbacks facilities are similar to most professional teams. Olathe didn’t offer such luxuries. He worked out on a field that was used for 12-under baseball and softball.
“It was a challenge, but it’s how you took it,” he said. “You could either get better or worse, and I feel like got better during that time.”
His first live outing as a professional will be more memorable than other players. Instead of facing hitters on the backfields of the spring training complex, Campbell jogged to the mound of T-Mobile Park in the bottom of the first to face MLB level hitters.
“When I got drafted, I didn’t think my first outing would be in a big league stadium,” he said. “T-Mobile is a great ballpark and it was awesome. I couldn’t complain about having my first outing here.”
He allowed a run in the first, giving up a leadoff double to Sam Haggerty after being up 1-2 in the count. Kyle Seager’s deep fly out to center allowed Haggerty to advance to third. He then scored on Tom Murphy’s deep sac fly to right. Campbell notched his only strikeout, getting Jose Marmolejos to the end inning.
Campbell’s only other hit allowed as a one-out “double” on hard ground ball off the bat Jarred Kelenic that took a bad hop and almost hit first baseman Evan White in the face. Campbell didn’t panic at the misfortune, getting Braden Bishop to ground out to second and Donnie Walton to bounce out to first end his outing.
“I felt a little rusty,” Campbell said. “The fastball command was there pretty well in the first inning. It got a little sporadic in the second. My slider probably my best pitch throughout the outing, the feel for it, throwing it for strikes, getting swings and misses and getting some weak contact. I have to work on the splitter and curveball and fine tuning them.”
Despite not pitching last season, Baseball America rated Campbell as the No. 13 prospect in the organization. Even with his perceived prospect stature, Campbell wasn’t certain he’d be one of the 60 players invited to summer camp. Would not pitching last season help him or hurt him in the eyes of general manager Jerry Dipoto?
“I had a thought maybe I’d be invited, but you don’t know till you get the call,” he said. “I was actually taking a nap when he called. I was half out of it when I answered the phone. When he said it was Jerry Dipoto, I woke up instantly. It was awesome and an honor to get that call. I’m just thrilled and excited to be here.”
After 395 days to face hitters in a game situation, the wait for his next outing will only be about four or five days.
“I’m happy the first one is done,” he said. “I’m excited to get after it again.”