PEORIA, Ariz. — Any question as to whether a middle-back strain would keep right-hander Erik Swanson behind schedule on his throwing progression was erased Saturday when he threw about 20 pitches in a quick bullpen session.
“It felt really good today,” Swanson said. “It probably looked a little funky for you guys watching and wondering what I was doing. But I just wanted to feel the slope when I threw today before my bullpen on Tuesday. Everything felt good and it’s starting to get back into sync.”
Swanson felt the discomfort on the right side of his “back strap” during a throwing session about three weeks ago. He called senior athletic trainer Rob Nodine and flew to Seattle to have it checked out. Swanson was relieved to learn it was nothing serious, but he reported a week early to get treatment and rehab the issue.
A year ago, Swanson was new to the Mariners, coming over from the Yankees along with Justus Sheffield and Dom Thompson-Williams in the trade that sent James Paxton to New York. The Mariners viewed Swanson as a starter and had him prepare to be the first one recalled from Tacoma, if needed.
After debuting in long relief, he made his first start April 17 and tossed six innings, allowing one run on two hits against the Indians. But he could never consistently replicate that success against any team other than Cleveland. In his next five starts, he posted a 9.65 ERA and that included a second start against the Indians where he pitched six shutout innings to get his first and only MLB win. By midseason, the Mariners had decided to convert him to a reliever, and he flourished in that role.
In his final 18 relief appearances, he posted a 2.38 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings with two saves and a hold. Of his final 15 appearances — all at least one inning — 13 were scoreless.
“When I came back in my second stint as a reliever, it took me a few outings to really nail down my routine, but once I did, I felt really comfortable,” he said. “I had a lot of success in the bullpen and that was main focus in the offseason was building off that.”
The expectation is for Swanson to be on the opening-day roster as a reliever who can pitch in the middle innings and three-plus outs when needed. The ability to work multiple innings is an asset with the new MLB rule requiring a three-batter minimum for relievers.
“It’s something I know I can do and I’m very comfortable with,” he said.
Two more signings
The number of players in the Mariners’ major league camp continues to grow. Two new name cards were placed above empty lockers on Saturday morning — Collin Cowgill and Cody Anderson.
MLB sources confirmed the players are in agreement on minor league contracts with invites to MLB camp. They will need to pass their physicals before the deals become official. An announcement on their signings along with veteran outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could be made Sunday.
Cowgill, 33, is a veteran outfielder, who last appeared in the big leagues in 2016 for the Indians. He’s spent the last three seasons playing at Triple A with three different organizations. Last year for Fresno (Nationals), Cowgill produced a .228/.330/.440 slash line with 11 doubles, two triples, 12 homers and 34 RBI in 84 games.
It would appear that Cowgill is a depth signing who will provide outfield depth in Tacoma.
Anderson, 28, made five appearances for the Indians last season, posting a 9.35 ERA in 8 2/3 innings. He underwent surgery to repair a flexor tendon issue in his right forearm June 14. He had a promising rookie season in 2015, posting a 7-3 record with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts. But persistent elbow issues hampered him over the next two seasons and led to Tommy John surgery in 2017. The Mariners are planning to stretch him out as a starter.
With possibly two more pitchers being signed to minor league deals in the coming days, the Mariners could have close to 70 players in camp.
“Ryan Stiles told me I have one locker left,” manager Scott Servais said of a conversation with his clubhouse manager. “This is probably most we have had in camp. Again everybody has got a different plan. Some of the veteran guys we are bringing in, when you sign a guy this late, a lot of times it’s for insurance purposes. Having lost Mitch Haniger, for a second time, now creates opportunities for young guys. If something happens to those guys, where are we headed from there? That’s played into some of the thinking. Same thing on the pitching side. As long we stayed disciplined to what we are doing. That’s the key.”
- Former Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is in camp as a special instructor for outfielders. He’ll work with players in the major league and minor league camps. “He’s going to be here for about a month,” Servais said. “He’s fired up. He’s excited. It’s a whole different ballgame on the other side of the door.”
- Dee Gordon is expected be a late arrival to spring training as he awaits the birth of his first child. Gordon’s wife is due some time next week. He cleared the absence with the Mariners and will continue to work out in Florida.
- Left-handed pitcher Manny Banuelos, who recently signed a minor league contract, has yet to report to camp due to visa issues.