CHICAGO ⚊ A year ago, Paul Sewald and J.T. Chargois were still pitching at minor league spring training, waiting for Class AAA Tacoma’s season to start and Drew Steckenrider was pitching in a low-leverage role in the Mariners bullpen.
All three, particularly Sewald and Steckenrider, eventually pitched themselves into important, high-leverage roles in last season’s surprisingly successful bullpen that rated as one of the best in the American League.
Perhaps, Matt Koch can follow a similar path this season.
Koch, pronounced “Cook,” had his minor league contract selected from Class AAA Tacoma and was added to the active roster on Wednesday afternoon when the Mariners were forced to place veteran right-hander Sergio Romo on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
To make room for Koch on the 40-man roster, right-hander Casey Sadler, who is out for the season due to shoulder surgery, was placed on the 60-day injured list.
The 801st appearance of Romo’s decorated MLB career will have to wait. Romo, 39, pitched in his 800th MLB game Monday night vs. the Twins. But in talking about the milestone after the game and going for 900, he also noted that he had a big bag of ice on his shoulder.
Signed during spring training when Sadler was diagnosed with a labrum issue that required surgical repair, Romo had made two scoreless appearances this season.
The Mariners’ 10-man bullpen is now without Sadler, who was their best “pivot” reliever last season. Working usually as the bridge from the starting pitcher to either Steckenrider, Sewald or Diego Castillo, Sadler racked up a club-record streak of 29 straight appearances (27 2/3 innings) without allowing a run. He appeared in 42 games, posting a 0-1 record with a 0.67 ERA, including 10 walks and 37 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings. He had the lowest ERA of any pitcher in MLB with a minimum of 30 innings pitched.
Also absent is veteran closer Ken Giles, who was signed as a free agent before the 2021 season as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Giles was expected to be a leverage reliever for the Mariners with Sewald and Steckenrider, but a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand put him on the injured list before the season started. Per a text with Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners president of baseball operations, Giles won’t pick up a baseball and start throwing for two weeks.
Sewald and Steckenrider will remain the leverage relievers with a lead with Castillo also being used. Hard-throwing right-hander Andres Munoz has looked dominant at times during his first two appearances, showing a triple-digit fastball and a nasty slider. But manager Scott Servais said they will be cautious with Munoz, who is also coming back from Tommy John surgery. He won’t pitch on back-to-back days and likely won’t see many high-leverage situations for the first month of the season.
Koch, 31, pitched in 36 MLB games (16 starts) over parts of four seasons with the Diamondbacks, posting a 6-6 record with a save and a 4.88 ERA. After pitching in Japan for the 2020 season, Koch made 34 appearances (four starts) for Class AAA Columbus (Cleveland) in 2021, posting a 4-2 record with a 5.83 ERA.
Kyle Lewis still not ready for game action
Dipoto also said that outfielder Kyle Lewis, who is still dealing with the effects from season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee on June 9, has not been cleared to participate in extended spring training games.
After doing some straight line running on the bases and in the outfield and participating in some outfield drills near the end of spring training, Lewis has been getting real at-bats in live batting practice sessions. However, manager Scott Servais said late in spring training that Lewis won’t participate in games, even as the designated hitter, until he can run the bases at full speed without any discomfort or hesitation.