PEORIA, Ariz. — What has seemed like an eternity, now feels even longer for Ken Giles.
After barely pitching in the shortened 2020 season, missing all of the 2021 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery but feeling strong this spring, the veteran reliever has been shut down due to a tendon strain in the middle finger of his throwing hand.
Giles was seen wearing a brace on his throwing hand, immobilizing the finger, and manager Scott Servais later confirmed the injury in his pregame media session Friday afternoon.
“He had an issue about three or four days ago,” Servais said. “Something didn’t feel right in his middle finger when he was just playing catch and long toss. It was like the day after he threw or two days after he threw in a game. They had it checked out with an MRI. He was seen by specialists (Thursday). He doesn’t need surgery or anything like that, but he’s probably ‘no throw’ for a couple of weeks and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Giles was understandably upset about the situation.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s practically 2½ years of nothing competitive. It doesn’t matter how I start, it’s how I finish the season. As long as I finish the season healthy, I think it’s a win-win. I’ve just got to be patient. And trust me, I’ve done a lot of waiting in patience for the last over 500 days so I think I can deal with it a little bit longer.”
Giles is the second reliever expected to fill a major role in the bullpen to suffer a significant injury. Reliever Casey Sadler was lost for the season because of shoulder surgery.
“I have no idea when it happened,” Giles said. “It’s hard to describe. It’s a soreness or stiffness. It’s not really when I’m gripping a baseball, it’s more spinning it like when I’m trying to spin my breaking ball. I knew there wasn’t going to be any surgery because I could move my finger fine.”
Giles looked dominant in his last outing March 25. His fastball touched 95 mph and he showed much better command of his slider, while working a scoreless inning that featured a soft single and three strikeouts.
“That was probably the best I’ve ever felt in the last two plus years,” he said. “For this to happen, it’s frustrating overall. I was finally getting my timing down. I felt like I was getting stronger, and I had a lot more room to grow, especially when the season was round the corner. I knew everything would be ticking up in a game setting, but you’ve got to take it slow. I’ve got to be patient.”
The Mariners signed Giles to a two-year, $7 million contract with an option for a third season Feb. 11, 2021, with the understanding he likely wouldn’t pitch in the 2021 season.
He had undergone Tommy John surgery on his right elbow to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament Oct. 1, 2020, and was in the process of rehabbing the surgery when he signed. The typical recovery from the surgery to full strength is 12 to 15 months. The Mariners didn’t try to expedite his recovery, opting to let him recover and be ready for spring training in 2022.
Giles, 31, last pitched in a game Sept. 15, 2020, with the Blue Jays. An aching elbow limited him to just four appearances for Toronto in 2020, two in July and two in September. He tallied one save while posting a 9.82 earned-run average before being shut down for the rest of the season.
In 2019, Giles was dominant when healthy, posting a 2-3 record with 23 saves and a 1.87 ERA in 53 appearances. In 53 innings, he struck out a whopping 83 batters with just 17 walks. He was considered a possible trade candidate at the 2019 deadline, but concerns about elbow inflammation lowered his market.
Mariners fans got quite familiar with Giles during his time as the Astros closer. In 2 1/2 seasons with Houston, he racked up 61 saves while posting a 2.74 ERA and striking out more than 30% of the batters he faced.
Over seven MLB seasons, Giles tallied 115 saves and holds a career 2.74 ERA while averaging 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
*** Kyle Lewis has made some progress in his lengthy recovery from season-ending knee surgery in 2021. He suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in late May and underwent surgery on June 11. It was his third procedure on the knee. A comeback attempt late in the season ended when he tweaked it running the bases.
The Mariners have been careful with Lewis this spring, understanding he wasn’t ready for full participation in workouts when he reported and that he wouldn’t be ready for opening day.
“He popped into my office a few days ago,” Servais said. “He’s feeling much better. He feels really good. He has gone through some of the outfield drills and moving around out there. The next step for him is to DH in a minor-league game. And when (you) get on base, you run the bases.”
The baserunning aspect and running without pain or fear of injury is the next threshold. The Mariners will also be quite careful in his buildup once he starts playing games.
“He’s basically a month behind,” Servais said. “We’ve been here three weeks I guess. You know, the big stuff he would need to go through, similar type of at-bats. We have to make sure he is good. It’s not just about playing. It’s what do you feel like the next day. Can you play the next day? Because now if he’s on a major-league roster, and he’s not available for you for a couple days after every day he plays, that’s not functional. And he knows that.”
*** Left-hander Roenis Elias, who is recovering from season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2021, is moving closer to pitching in minor-league spring training games.
“He looks great,” Servais said. “The fastball has got life. He’s throwing all of his pitches. I do think he’s definitely going to help us at some point probably maybe getting into May, giving him a month or so under his belt. We’ll see. It could be quicker or it could be a little bit longer.”
*** Right-hander Joey Gerber, who hasn’t pitched all spring because of a forearm strain and also missed last season due to back surgery, has resumed his throwing program but is not throwing bullpen sessions yet.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.