TOKYO — If a save situation arises in one of the first two games against Oakland in the Tokyo Dome later this week, Mariners manager Scott Servais won’t have to hesitate about the health of Hunter Strickland before giving him the ball in the ninth inning.
“There shouldn’t be any restrictions,” Servais said.
The nagging tightness in Strickland’s lower back that was an issue a week before the team embarked for Japan is now gone. He was a full participant in the workout Saturday in the Tokyo Dome and said he felt “100 percent ready to go.”
But that week of sitting out was less than ideal in the process.
“I was a little frustrated,” he said. “You never want to be down, but we tried to play it smart, and obviously the season means a lot more than a couple games this spring.”
Strickland threw a bullpen session Tuesday in Arizona, pitched in the Mariners’ B game Wednesday morning and is expected to appear in the first exhibition game against the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday in the Tokyo Dome. He’ll get two days off and be ready for the opening game against the Athletics on Wednesday.
While a 12-hour flight doesn’t seem good for a sore back, Strickland pointed out that the Mariners weren’t flying in a commercial jet or crammed into small economy level seats. The team charter was fitted with full pod level chairs that completely stretched out with plenty of room.
“It’s definitely a long time, but come on, these seats lay all the way down,” he said. “We are pretty spoiled with that. Yeah, I’m all right.”
Strickland will anchor a bullpen that is an unknown in terms of its overall makeup and success level. Even his projected success as a closer is an uncertain. He had 14 saves last season, but a tantrum and a punched door led to a broken right hand and an extended stint on the disabled list. He’s vowed to be more in control this season. The Mariners have asked him to also amend his pitch selection in situations and not be so heavily reliant on his mid-90s fastball. He has the potential to be a weapon in the back end of the bullpen and a possible trade chip in July.
Seattle took advantage of the 28-player roster for the two games in Tokyo by bringing 10 relievers to Japan. Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto will trim that number down to eight when they open the rest of the regular season against the Red Sox at T-Mobile Park on March 28.
The ten relievers on the trip:
- Dan Altavilla, No. 53, RHP
- Shawn Armstrong, No. 37, RHP
- Chasen Bradford, No. 60, RHP
- Brandon Brennan, No. 65, RHP
- Roenis Elias, No. 55, LHP
- Matt Festa, No. 67, RHP
- Cory Gearrin, No. 35, RHP
- Zac Rosscup, No. 59, LHP
- Nick Rumbelow, No. 52, RHP
- Hunter Strickland, No. 43, RHP
Of the group, the four candidates who could be optioned to Class AAA Tacoma are Altavilla, Festa, Rumbelow and Bradford, who all have options. Altavilla has the best stuff of the group and Bradford has shown the ability to pitch multiple innings.
“We’ve got some relievers who we want to get one more appearance,” Servais said of usage in the two exhibition games against Yomiuri. “Relievers won’t pitch back-to-back days in the exhibition games. We’ll get some guys out there. The guys that pitch (Sunday) will have a couple of days off and the guys that pitch (Monday) will have one day off.”
The Mariners preliminarily were scheduled to have a workout Tuesday in the Tokyo Dome, but they decided to cancel it in favor of a rest day.
When will Wade pitch?
While many of his fellow pitchers got to play some catch, take some pitching fielding practice and then leisurely shag fly balls during batting practice, left-hander Wade LeBlanc had a full work day.
Because he isn’t going to start a game on the Tokyo trip, LeBlanc threw an extended bullpen session during the workout Saturday. He shrugged off any difficulty stemming from this modified schedule.
“I’ve been a swing man and long reliever that didn’t pitch for 12 days,” he said. “I’ve kind have done everything so you learn how to stay ready. You learn how to simplify things, your mechanics and keep your warm-up ready so that whenever they do call your name, you are ready.”
LeBlanc will throw a “light, touch and feel” bullpen session Monday before the Mariners’ second exhibition game against Yomiuri.
“And then I will be ready if they need me,” he said.
He will serve as a long reliever in both of the games against Oakland.