Well-traveled right-handed reliever Donn Roach has been one of the surprises of the Mariners' training camp and appears set for a spot in the team's opening day bullpen.
PEORIA, Ariz. — The list of teams Mariners relief pitcher Donn Roach has suited up for the past two years reads like the stereotypical travelogue of a player caught in that frustrating netherworld between Class AAA and the major leagues.
El Paso, Iowa, Louisville, Buffalo on the Class AAA side, with 17 games in San Diego and one with the Chicago Cubs thrown in for good measure.
Toss in his latest move — signing with the Mariners in December — and Roach has been part of five major-league organizations since 2014.
But hey, Roach says, though each move meant one team was letting him go, the next move at least meant another still liked him enough to take a look.
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“I was getting claimed,’’ he said. “Someone wanted me.’’
The Mariners were intrigued by the right-hander based in part on manager Scott Servais’ association with Roach with the Angels.
And through the first month of spring training, Roach has shown enough to give some hope that maybe he can stick around for a while.
The 6-foot, 195-pounder has put up one of the best stat lines of anyone in camp — if not all of baseball — giving up two earned runs in 15 2/3 innings. He has struck out out 15 and has not walked anyone.
“He’s been a highlight from the pitching side of the camp,’’ Servais said. “Just a surprise. Didn’t know what you are getting. But he’s found something, and fortunately for us we are going to be the benefactor of that throughout the year.’’
It’s a spring that began on an off note for Roach, as he gave up nine hits and six runs (though just two earned) in 1 1/3 innings against Arizona on March 7.
Afterward, he met with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and made an adjustment to assure he was staying on top with his primary pitch, a sinkerball.
“Just make sure it’s going down,’’ Roach said.
His stock has gone up from there, as he has struck out 14 in 12 1/3 innings in five outings since then.
Servais called the game against Arizona “sort of a mess. He didn’t have his release point or anything like that. … But he kind of found it back and then had some success and confidence, and he’s just kind of taken it from there.’’
Roach also has continued to display a varied menu of pitches instead of just his go-to sinker, which Servais said also has opened eyes.
Servais said Roach was strictly “a one-pitch guy’’ when the Angels traded him in 2012 to the Padres when Servais was the team’s assistant general manager. The Angels initially drafted Roach in the third round in 2010 before Servais arrived.
“He’s matured, and he’s found the secondary pitches and he’s a different guy right now,’’ Servais said of Roach, 26.
Roach has played the role of spring surprise before.
In 2014 he made the Padres’ opening-day roster after having never played above Class AA. But after 16 games, including one start, he was optioned to Class AAA and then waived at the end of the season, setting off a whirlwind of a 2015 season.
He was with the Cubs, Reds and Blue Jays organizations last year. He started one game for Chicago, a loss to Cardinals in which he gave up eight hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Roach said he took the moves in stride except for one thing. “The only brutal part was my wife was pregnant,’’ he said.
If the strikeout numbers continue, Roach won’t have to worry about having stability this year. He acknowledges, though, that he’s more of a finesse pitcher typically, so the key will be if he can continue to get outs in other ways.
“I don’t really overpower anyone,’’ Roach said. “I just try to throw strikes, get them into swing mode and then get them to swing at some other stuff later in counts.’’
Servais marveled this week that Roach had thrown a strike on the first pitch to the past 20 batters he faced.
“He has some kind of confidence going right now,’’ Servais said.
He also can probably feel pretty confident that he will be a part of the team’s opening-day bullpen as a possible long man, if not in a more-glamorous role.
He has learned, though, to expect that just about anything might happen.
“There’s definitely opportunity,’’ he said. “But I’m just trying to take it one day at a time. … It’s an easy trap to fall into (worrying about a roster spot). It doesn’t help freaking out about it.’’