A Mariners bullpen that was already inexperienced and was expected to be inconsistent at times has lost its best overall reliever for at least 10 days, if not more.
Closer Hunter Strickland was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right lat strain about three hours before the first pitch Saturday night vs. the Boston Red Sox. Strickland underwent a MRI on Saturday afternoon and met with team doctors to diagnose the issues.
He was replaced on the active roster by right-hander David McKay, who had his minor-league contract selected and was added to the 40-man roster. To open up space on the 40-man roster for McKay, third baseman Kyle Seager was placed on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left hand. Seager is expected to miss 8 to 10 weeks after having the surgery during spring training.
Strickland’s injury came in Friday night’s 7-6 loss to the Red Sox. Brought in to close out a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth, he struggled to get his shoulder loose. He gave up a leadoff double to Rafael Devers, tossed a wild pitch to move Devers to third and then hit Blake Swihart in the foot with a wayward slider.
At that point, manager Scott Servais came to the mound with athletic trainer Rob Nodine to see if he was hurting. Players and coaches in the dugout noticed Strickland was continually flexing his arm.
“I asked him, ‘Are you OK? What’s going on here?’ ” Servais said. “He said, ‘I’m fine. I got this. I’m fine.’ Again, you are looking someone right in the eye and you are trying to get a feel for them and you have to trust your guys.”
Servais left Strickland in the game. But Strickland wasn’t fine. He struggled with his command and eventually gave up a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland that proved to be the difference. He later admitted his shoulder felt tight and couldn’t get loose.
“It’s a tough call, no doubt,” Servais said about believing Strickland in the meeting. “You have to trust your players. It’s one thing if the guy typically throws 95, 96 miles per hour, if he’s throwing 89-90, then, yeah, you get them out. He wasn’t finishing his pitches and didn’t have a feel for his breaking ball.”
The homer that Moreland hit out was on a 95-mph fastball.
McKay’s first appearance with the Mariners will be his first in the big leagues. He climbed the Mariners system starting at High Class A Modesto, then moving to Class AA Arkansas where he spent most of last season before making one appearance for Class AAA Tacoma.
In 35 relief appearances with Arkansas, he posted 5-1 record with a save and a 2.49 ERA (14 ER, 50.2 IP) with 71 strikeouts and 21 walks. He held opposing batters to a .199 (36 for 181) average against.
“He throws strikes,” Servais said. “It’s a little bit different look. There’s some ride to his fastball and a breaking ball that he throws for strikes. There’s a chance you could see him tonight.”
McKay is one of six minor-league pitchers that the Mariners acquired from the Royals just before the 2018 season in a series of trades to fill out their affiliate pitching staffs. All six were set to be released by the Royals because they didn’t have spots for them. Seattle acquired each for $1 — the minimum cost for a minor league trade.
The Mariners will get additional relief help April 2 when veteran right-hander Anthony Swarzak is expected to be activated from the disabled list. Swarzak came to spring training with some inflammation in his shoulder. He’s been rehabbing in Arizona and pitched in a minor league game on Friday. He was in the Mariners clubhouse on Saturday before the game.
Right-hander Shawn Armstrong (oblique strain) is scheduled to throw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Sunday afternoon, while fellow right-hander Gerson Bautista (pectoral strain) has yet to resume throwing since getting injured in a Cactus League game.