Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto hopes the switch will help prevent fatigue in the surgically repaired shoulder of Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The continued search for bullpen help and depth has led the Mariners to look at internal options, both for need and practical reasons.
General manager Jerry Dipoto met with a variety of free-agent relievers Monday night and Tuesday at baseball’s winter meetings, seeking options for a bullpen that currently can point only to Joaquin Benoit and Charlie Furbush as proven contributors, with Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen recently traded.
“We’ve talked to free agents,” Dipoto said. “We’ve talked to back-end bullpen guys, middle-inning bullpen guys, and we’ve talked with situational guys.”
Dipoto also acknowledged that two of his starting-rotation candidates — left-handers Danny Hultzen and Mike Montgomery — likely will pitch in different roles in 2016.
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When pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 19, Hultzen will come to Peoria, Ariz., as a reliever.
“I’ve already spoken to him,” Dipoto said. “We are going to try a new avenue. He’s going to come to spring training with the idea we are going to deploy him as a bullpen guy and see how it works.”
It’s not surprising, considering his injury struggles the past three seasons.
Hultzen has made a total of 10 starts the past three seasons (seven in 2013 and three in 2015) because of shoulder problems. After appearing close to reaching the big leagues early in 2012, shoulder discomfort torpedoed his promising season and career.
After trying to rehab back to health in 2013 and failing, Hultzen had shoulder surgery on Oct. 1, 2013 to repair damage to his rotator cuff, labrum and shoulder capsule. He sat out the 2014 season. His comeback in 2015 began well in spring training, but fatigue in the shoulder limited him to short starts in May. He didn’t pitch again in 2015.
It’s been a frustrating run of setbacks for Hultzen, who is one of the more popular players and diligent workers in the organization.
“He’s a great kid,” Dipoto said. “I think it’s just been unfortunate that he’s had to deal with a lot of the physical issues that he has. He’s terrifically talented. He was one of the best college pitchers I ever saw. I drafted him out of high school when I was with the Diamondbacks and followed him since he was 17.
“I met with him when he was a junior at (Virginia). We picked right in back of the Mariners when they took Danny and we wound up taking Trevor Bauer with the next pick.”
Considered to be one of the most big-league-ready picks in the 2011 draft, Hultzen was taken with the No. 2 overall pick and was expected to join James Paxton and Taijuan Walker as the foundation of the starting rotation.
“I’ve told this to (scouting director) Tom McNamara,” Dipoto said. “Anybody in the league is making that same pick. It’s unfortunate that it has worked out the way it has. But as I said to Danny on the phone when I told him we were removing him from the roster: I want to see him pitch in the big leagues.”
Maybe being a left-handed reliever is the best way to get there. The conversion process won’t be quick or simple for Hultzen. Keeping the shoulder healthy will be a priority.
Montgomery’s possible conversion won’t be as difficult. He’ll come to spring training as a starter and serve as some depth and insurance against any possible injuries to the projected starting rotation of Felix Hernandez, Wade Miley, Walker, Paxton and Nathan Karns.
Montgomery had some success early after being called up last season, posting a 4-2 record and 1.62 ERA in his first seven starts, including back-to-back shutouts. But he went 0-4 with an 8.33 ERA in his final nine starts.
Because Montgomery is out of minor-league options, he would have to be on the 25-man roster or be designated for assignment. A relief role might keep him there.
• The Mariners met with free agent Mike Napoli as a possible first-base option. After struggling with the Red Sox, the veteran hit .295 with a .908 OPS in the final 35 games of the season. They’ve also had talks with the Brewers about a possible trade for first baseman Adam Lind.
• Seattle acquired right-handed reliever Evan Scribner from the A’s for minor-league pitcher Trey Cochran-Gill. Scribner went 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 54 appearances.