Right-hander Christian Bergman, who started on Friday night, was optioned back to Class AAA Tacoma.
DENVER — With two games remaining at Coors Field before the All-Star break, the Mariners did some more roster maneuvering on Saturday afternoon, calling up young reliever Matt Festa from Class AA Arkansas and optioning starting pitcher Christian Bergman, who started Friday’s game, back to Class AAA Tacoma.
How long Festa remains with the bullpen isn’t certain. The Mariners will obviously have to adjust the roster after the All-Star break. But this seemed like a good time to give him his first taste of Major League Baseball.
“We’ll see,” manager Scott Servais said. “You know how this game is. It’s results oriented. If you come in and do well, we’ll see where it goes from there. But we’ll reshuffle the deck when we get back after the break. But he’s going to get an opportunity in the next couple of days to show us what he’s got.”
Festa, 25, is one of the Mariners’ top relief pitching prospects in the organization, and is rated the No. 7 overall prospect in the Seattle system by Baseball America and No. 9 by MLB.com. He has a fastball that sits around 94-96 mph with some late movement. He has a solid slider and still also has a changeup and curveball from his days as a starting pitcher at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.
“My power stuff plays and being able to throw multiple pitches in the zone late in the game gives me an advantage,” Festa said.
His self scouting report: “I’m aggressive, I don’t back down and I can throw all my pitches for strikes. I’m going to go right after you. I’m not going to nibble. I’m going to attack the zone. That’s what I’ve always done. That’s what the coaches have seen from me. And that’s what they want me to do.”
Taken in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, Festa is the first player drafted by general manager Jerry Dipoto to be called up to the big leagues.
The call-up stunned him. He wasn’t expecting it this soon into the season.
“I was like, maybe September if I was lucky, but July?,” he said. “No chance. I had no idea.”
After a successful 2017 season, Festa earned a non-roster invite to big-league spring training this year, but an issue with his sciatic nerve forced him to miss most of it.
“I’m anxious to see him,” Servais said. “We didn’t get to see him much during spring training. He was hurt the whole time. He’s had pretty good numbers the last couple years in the minor leagues. He’s a guy that our player-development and front-office group have talked about as a guy that works his way into our mix at some point.”
It was a missed opportunity in many ways. But Festa tried to remain positive and take something from it.
“That was disappointing,” he said. “Coming into spring training, I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. I knew I had to say something. It was sciatic nerve pain coming down my left leg. It’s kind of what older people get so I didn’t think I would ever have it. But I got over it. I sat around in the clubhouse by myself. Everyone would go out for practice and I’d just be sitting there twiddling my thumbs. I did a lot while I was there. I picked brains and did what I could do even though I couldn’t be on my feet. I learned a lot.”
After getting the issue cleared up, Festa has been solid for the Travelers. He’s converted 13 of 13 save opportunities while posting a record of 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 28 appearances. In 31 2/3 innings pitched, he has struck out 44 batters while walking only seven for a 6.29 strikeout to walk ratio.
“I knew that people were disappointed that they didn’t get to see me,” he said. “So as soon as I got out there, I wanted to turn some heads. And I guess I did that.”