Rainiers Round-Up; We’re Off To Arizona

March 19, 2018

We have a big week ahead here on the blog, as I make my annual spring training trip. I’ll be watching the minor league games, checking out some of the new players in the organization who could be Rainiers on April 5.

You can expect reports from three days of Triple-A action on the back fields of the Peoria Sports Complex. The first report will go up either early Tuesday evening, or late Wednesday morning.

In the meantime, let’s get caught up on everything that happened the past few days.

There have been a few more roster moves:

Optioned To Tacoma

  • Catcher: David Freitas

Reassigned To Minor League Camp

  • Right-handed Pitchers: Shawn Armstrong, Mike Morin, Art Warren
  • Outfielder: John Andreoli

Additionally, left-handed reliever Sam Moll has been lost on waivers to the Toronto Blue Jays. We’ll scratch him off our potential Rainiers roster.

Rainiers related reports from the last few exhibition games:

On Thursday the M’s took down the A’s, 6-2. Taylor Motter hit a grand slam. And while he definitely won’t be with the Rainiers, we should note that Edwin Diaz struck out the side on nine pitches – an “immaculate inning.”

The Mariners edged the Rangers on Friday, 9-7. Dan Vogelbach continued his monstrous spring training, launching a homer (he even hit it off an established major league left-hander in Matt Moore). Rainiers shortstop Zach Vincej also went deep with a solo homer. Kirk Nieuwenhuis returned to action and went 1-for-4.

Saturday the Mariners mutated into split quads and played two games, winning both. A 4-1 victory over the Angels was decided in the ninth inning, when infielder Zach Vincej hit a bases loaded triple to snap a 1-1 tie. Casey Lawrence pitched four scoreless innings and now has a 0.75 ERA on the spring. In the home game against the Angels, Marco Gonzalez and the major league relievers combined on a three-hit shutout in a 7-0 win. The Mariners hit three homers, including another by the red-hot Dan Vogelbach, but Ryon Healy returned to action which makes it hard to see how Vogelbach can crack the opening day roster – this is becoming a story to follow; Vogelbach is forcing his way into the picture.

The less said about Sunday’s 16-3 loss to Cleveland, the better. Rob Whalen started and had his first rough outing of the spring. Eugene Helder – who served as an emergency fill-in for Tacoma a couple of times last year and figures to play at Class-A Clinton this season – got into the late innings and hit a single.



New Rules For Extra Innings

March 15, 2018

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is on a mission to shorten games and improve pace of play, and Minor League Baseball has been a testing ground for him.

First we installed the pitch clocks, and they worked very well to quicken games – until the umpires stopped enforcing the rules in 2017.

Now we have a new rule for 2018: if a game reaches extra innings, a runner will be placed at second base to start the inning. The runner will be the final batter from the previous inning.

This rule has recently been added in international competition, including last year’s World Baseball Classic.

The initial response to the rule change via social media was overwhelmingly negative. It absolutely infuriates baseball traditionalists; we’re changing a 125-year-old rule here.

There are reasons that it makes sense in the minor leagues.

For one, the player development people with the teams love it. They don’t want to tire out relief pitching prospects with over-worked minor league bullpens, or risk injury when a position player comes in to pitch in the 12th inning.

In recent years, longer extra inning games in the PCL have been decided when teams bring a position player (usually the utility infielder) in to pitch. This typically happens if we reach the 12th or 13th inning.

For purposes of competition, is it better to have a game decided by which team’s utility infielder can walk fewer batters, or by starting innings with a runner at second base and a real pitcher on the mound?

Personally, my biggest concern with the runner at second base rule is that the extra innings strategy will get boring. Bunt the runner to third, intentional walks to set up force outs – essentially, the extra innings will all begin with the bases loaded and one out. Especially the bottom of the extra innings, if the game is still tied.

The new rule puts an end to the marathons. It’s hard to image a game reaching even the 12th inning with a runner at second base to start each frame. The 100-or-so of us who were still in the ballpark at 12:45 AM for the conclusion of the Scott Savastano Game will never see anything like that again.

Will we miss the marathons? I suspect not. It seems that once 11 pm rolls around the ballpark empties out, and when we are still playing at midnight it’s in front of 100-200 diehards. Most people have to go to bed sometime.

One suggestion that was not addressed in the rule change announcement: are we doing this in the playoffs, too? I hope not.

There were additional changes made in regards to pitch clock settings, including limiting pitchers to 15 seconds between offerings when there is nobody on base.

This will only happen if the umpires enforce the pitch clock rules. We’ll find out in April if the umpires are actually going to make the players do this.

Also, we’ll be counting mound visits just like in the majors: six per game, for each team, with a few exceptions.

Here’s the official announcement with the details of the new pace-of-play regulations.

The Rockies beat the Mariners on Tuesday, 8-7. Rob Whalen continued his excellent spring, pitching five innings and allowing one run while striking out nine batters. Gordon Beckham had two of the Mariners 14 hits; he’s hitting .400 in the Cactus League.

Yesterday Mike Marjama homered to help the M’s defeat the Giants, 5-4. Taylor Motter had three hits, and Christian Bergman pitched 2.1 innings.

Big weekend at the ballpark: the first S2 game is Friday, and a good crowd is expected. Then the Rainiers annual Preseason Party is Saturday at Cheney Stadium, starting at 2:30. Come on out!


First Rainiers Players Identified

March 13, 2018

Hey guys, we’re back. The Pac-12 Tournament was once again highly entertaining, both inside and outside the arena, and now we have some catching up to do here on the blog.

The Mariners made quite a few roster moves over the past week, and the 2018 Tacoma Rainiers are starting to take form.

We get two types of moves at this time of year.

If a player is on the Mariners 40-man roster when he is cut from big league camp, he is optioned to a specific minor league team. While that team can change between now and opening day, it usually doesn’t. So if a player is “optioned to Tacoma,” we can pretty much count on him to be with the Rainiers on April 5.

Players who are not on the 40-man roster – the guys who were “invited to major league spring training” – get a different designation when they are sent out of major league camp. These players are “re-assigned to minor league camp” and their ultimate minor league team will be determined later this month.

The following moves were recently made:


Left-Handed Pitcher: Sam Moll

Right-Handed Pitchers: Chase De Jong, Andrew Moore, Max Povse, Nick Rumbelow

Outfielder: Cameron Perkins


Right-Handed Pitchers: Ryan Garton, Johendi Jiminian, Ljay Newsome

Outfielders: Andrew Aplin, Braden Bishop, Junior Lake, Ian Miller

Infielders: Matt Hague, Rey Navarro

Catcher: Joe DeCarlo

Two additional moves were made, one of which was a surprise.

Reliever Shawn Armstrong was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Tacoma. This was done to make room for Ichiro on the 40-man. Armstrong remains in major league camp and would have to be re-added to the major league roster if he makes the team.

The surprising move was the release of major league reliever Tony Zych, who has been quite good when healthy. Those last two words are the key: the M’s were not confident Zych would be healthy soon, so the move was made. Zych was a fun guy to have around when he was on the Rainiers and hopefully he’ll return to the majors with another team soon.

Several of the players who were “re-assigned to minor league camp” are proven Triple-A players. Garton, Aplin, Lake, Miller, Hague, and Navarro are all strong candidates to break camp with Tacoma in April.

Here are some Rainiers-related results from the last week’s worth of exhibition games.

Yesterday the White Sox topped the Mariners, 4-2. Starting pitcher Marco Gonzales left the game after a line drive struck his right (non-throwing) hand – luckily, it’s just a contusion. Seattle had just five hits, one of which was a double by Mike Marjama.

Sunday saw the Reds score four runs in the ninth and top the Mariners, 6-5. It was a tough outing for potential Rainiers reliever Mike Morin. Danny Muno hit two doubles and scored two runs, and Casey Lawrence pitched two scoreless innings to continue his strong spring.

Possible Rainiers catcher Mike Marjama hit an inside-the-park three-run homer to help the Mariners to a 5-2 victory over the Reds on Saturday. Christian Bergman pitched three scoreless innings.

The Giants defeated the Mariners on Friday, 10-7, despite a pair of unlikely home runs by Dee Gordon. First baseman Dan Vogelbach went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a homer – he’s really swinging the bat well this spring.

Rough day for the M’s hitters on Thursday, when they struck out 12 times in a 4-0 loss to the Giants. The Mariners had just four hits, and two were by potential Rainiers outfielder John Andreoli.

The A’s beat the Mariners on Wednesday, 7-3. Dan Vogelbach hit two doubles, and Danny Muno came off the bench and went 2-for-2. Sam Moll pitched a scoreless inning from the bullpen.

And finally, last Tuesday the M’s lost to the Rockies, 3-2, with a bizarre play occurring in right field. Several relievers pitched scoreless ball, with Casey Lawrence striking out the side in the ninth inning.



M’s Sign Ichiro; Rainiers Opening Day Tickets On Sale Wednesday

March 6, 2018

It was a big day in Mariners land yesterday, with the team announcing that Ben Gamel is out for four-to-six weeks with a strained oblique, and the reports that the M’s have addressed the situation by signing Ichiro Suzuki.

The oblique is a serious injury in baseball, for both hitters and pitchers. In my experience, players tend to be out for longer than the initial reports. Gamel will certainly require a minor league rehabilitation stint once he is healthy.

As for the Ichiro signing, what can you say? The man is a legend, and he’s returning to his U.S. home. He’s also 44-years-old and coming off a season in which he served as a pinch hitter and fifth outfielder for the Marlins.

We can’t expect much in terms of production from Ichiro, but it will definitely be fun to have him around. What happens next is the key question – which Larry Stone addresses in the second link down below.

One of the reasons an outfielder needed to be signed is that the main depth piece the M’s signed during the offseason is also injured: Kirk Nieuwenhuis is currently out with a hamstring problem. He has big league experience and was brought in specifically to be ready to fill in for an injured player – and instead he is on the shelf himself. Not sure how long he is out for.

Let’s check and see how some potential Rainiers did in the last few exhibition games:

Dan Vogelbach had a big moment on Friday, launching a three-run homer off lefty reliever Boone Logan in a 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Marco Gonzales pitched an encouraging three scoreless innings, and was followed by mostly major league relievers. Gordon Beckham went 2-for-2 and bumped his numbers to 8-for-11 on the spring for a ridiculous .692 batting average.

In a night game on Saturday, the M’s knocked off the Angels, 4-2. Potential Rainiers did most of the pitching: Rob Whalen started and pitched three innings, allowing one run. Max Povse delivered two scoreless innings out of the bullpen, while Johendi Jiminian and Mike Morin each worked a scoreless frame.

Sunday saw James Paxton have a rough outing, but the Mariners offense erupted for a 10-7 win over the Texas Rangers. Mike Ford hit a three-run homer, Junior Lake had three hits, and Ian Miller drove in three runs. Andrew Moore pitched three scoreless innings out of the bullpen.

Monday was a rare spring training off day.

The Rainiers are putting Opening Day tickets on sale starting Wednesday at 10:00 AM.

Tacoma opens at home this year: Thursday, April 5th, a 7:05 pm game against Sacramento.

Only Opening Day goes on sale Wednesday. The rest of the individual games will go on sale on March 17, in conjunction with the annual Preseason Party.

You can get tickets over the phone by calling 1-800-745-3000, online via http://www.tacomarainiers.com, or in person at the Cheney Stadium box office.

Here’s a life tip from your friendly blogger: if you are in the neighborhood, save money on service fees by getting your tickets in person at the Cheney Stadium box office. They are open weekdays from 10 AM to 5 PM.

This is the only post of the week, because I’m going on my annual preseason vacation to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament. Stat guru Ken Pomeroy gives my Cal Bears a 0.02% chance of winning it. That’s not two percent; that’s two one-hundredths of a percent. It’s been a rough year in Berkeley.

Once my team is out of it – which could be at 5 pm on Wednesday – I’ll jump on the UW bandwagon. They need at least two and probably three wins for NCAA Tournament consideration. That’s actually possible and is something to root for.

We’ll get caught up on all of the latest Rainiers news with a new post on Tuesday.



Rainiers Players Seeing Action In Cactus League

March 2, 2018

The exhibition games continue down in Arizona, and lots of potential Tacoma Rainiers players are getting in on the fun.

Typically a Mariners starter will play just the first few innings of these exhibition games, and then we’ll see players who might play in Tacoma this season come in for the rest of the game.

Also, the M’s stars don’t play every day. Robinson Cano, for example, isn’t going to play every game in spring training. That means plenty of at-bats are available for the back-up infielders.

Here’s a quick recap of this week’s games, with an emphasis on possible Tacoma players.

On Tuesday the Padres beat the Mariners, 11-6. Christian Bergman and James Pazos had rough outings on the mound, but likely Rainiers outfielder Ian Miller had two hits and scored a run. In a split-squad game out in Surprise, the Royals beat the Mariners 14-9. Gordon Beckham hit a homer, but he made his first two outs of the spring – he opened the Cactus League with five consecutive hits.

Cleveland beat the Mariners on Wednesday, 4-2. Ariel Miranda started and allowed one run over three innings. Possible Rainiers catcher Tuffy Gosewisch homered in the ninth inning, his first dinger of the spring. Veteran reliever Ryan Cook, who has missed the last two seasons following elbow surgery, pitched his first inning of the spring.

Yesterday the Royals rallied in the late innings and edged the Mariners, 4-3. After Mike Leake pitched three scoreless innings, potential Tacoma hurler Casey Lawrence worked three innings and allowed one run. However, possible Rainiers Chase De Jong and Chasen Bradford let a 3-1 lead slip away in the eighth and ninth innings. More importantly: Chase & Chasen? Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt Hague had RBI singles early in the game, but Nieuwenhuis left the game with a tight hamstring.


  • We’ve reached a point where if a Mariners starter pitches two innings in a spring training game without getting hurt, it’s news. James Paxton pulled off the trick.
  • It’s starting to look like the M’s got lucky with the Felix Hernandez injury – it’s possible he may miss just one start. This link includes the latest major league injury updates.
  • It’s not just major leaguers who are dealing with injuries in spring training. Several likely Tacoma players are also missing workouts and games, Ryan Divish reports.
  • Reliever Ryan Cook has been through it all over the last two years, and his inning of relief on Wednesday was a milestone.
  • Dan Altavilla has changed the grip on his slider and it appears to be much improved. Details in this story.
  • Matt Calkins wrote about Dan Vogelbach, who is playing without pressure this spring.
  • For Baseball Prospectus subscribers, the Mariners are listed as one of three teams that should sign Jake Arrieta.
  • Is the MLB baseball juiced? Those nerds over at 538.com have performed a study, and they have an answer.
  • PCL news from Fresno: the team has sold. The new owners are committed to staying in Fresno and extended their stadium lease through the 2036 season. And right out of the gate, the new owners are promising $5 beers.

Injury Scares Temper Excitement Of First Spring Games

February 27, 2018

Baseball games! We just had a weekend of baseball games!

Hold the enthusiasm for a minute, Mariners fans, because the games were somewhat terrifying.

Injuries keep coming, although it seems that the M’s caught a few “lucky” breaks.

The scariest moment came yesterday, when Felix Hernandez was smoked by a line drive – which hit him near the elbow of his pitching arm. Fortunately, the X-rays came back negative, and Felix is listed as “day-to-day.” However, he’s still in pain and he’ll be treated with caution. The most current update is the first link down below.

Another scare came when Dan Vogelbach was drilled in the foot by a pitch on Friday. He remained in the game at the time, but later that night it swelled up and he was wearing a walking boot the next day. Again we got somewhat fortunate: it was simply a deep bruise, and in fact Vogelbach is back in the lineup today as the designated hitter – so he only missed three games.

With Ryon Healy (progressing nicely!) and Erasmo Ramirez (no recent updates) still on the shelf, it’s been a rocky camp for Seattle.

Here’s a rundown of the first four exhibition games:

In the Cactus League opener on Friday the Mariners beat San Diego, 3-2. Kyle Seager had a couple of hits and a nice defensive play. Potential Tacoma starters Andrew Moore and Christian Bergman each pitched two scoreless innings.

On Saturday the White Sox rallied late to beat the Mariners, 5-3. Taylor Motter and Gordon Beckham each had two hits, but the White Sox took the lead with a pair of runs in the eighth inning against reliever Mike Morin.

The pitching shined on Sunday, when the Mariners shut out the Dodgers, 2-0. Marco Gonzales, Juan Nicasio, Edwin Diaz, Rob Whalen, Chasen Bradford, and Sam Moll combined on a two-hit shutout.

Monday was scary, when Felix Hernandez was hit in his right forearm by a line drive and left the game in obvious pain. Fortunately, X-rays were negative. Potential Rainiers third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean hit a grand slam in what turned out to be a 9-9 tie with the Chicago Cubs.

Here’s someone to root for: former Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen is attempting a comeback, and the Chicago Cubs are giving him a chance.

The Mariners first round pick in 2011, Hultzen had two major arm surgeries and eventually parted ways with Seattle. He has not pitched since 2016, and the last time he was fully healthy was in 2013 – and when he was healthy, he was really good (4-1, 2.05 ERA in six starts for Tacoma and on the brink of the majors at the time of his injury that year).

According to the Chicago Tribune, Hultzen finished his degree at the University of Virginia while resting his arm. It would be pretty neat if Hultzen was with the Iowa Cubs when they visit Tacoma in June.



Sorting Out The Tacoma Bullpen Candidates

February 23, 2018

It’s time for our final spring training positional preview, in which we look at the 2018 Tacoma Rainiers bullpen candidates.

We’ve done these previews for at least five years now, and the bullpen section is always kind of silly. There are just so many players who could end up being in the Rainiers bullpen.

It starts at the top, with the big league club, and there is always a spring training battle for a spot or two (or some years, three or four) in the Seattle bullpen.

Mix in the injury issues that often crop up with pitchers, and you begin to realize how fluid the whole situation is.

I think it’s easiest to lump the relievers into groups. These are my generalizations and may not reflect the opinions of Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto.


These relievers appear to be locks to make the big league bullpen, if healthy.

  • Edwin Diaz
  • Juan Nicasio
  • James Pazos
  • David Phelps
  • Marc Rzepczynski
  • Nick Vincent
  • Tony Zych

If they go with an eight-man bullpen, which they probably will, they’ll add one more.


  • Shawn Armstrong
  • Marco Gonzales

These two cannot be optioned to Tacoma without going through waivers, giving them a leg up to make the big league team. Gonzales is battling for the fifth starter role in the rotation, but if someone beats him out he’ll end up in the bullpen (hard to imagine the M’s prized trade acquisition getting DFA’d). Armstrong was acquired from Cleveland and is under pressure to make the big league team; spring training results will be particularly meaningful for him.


  • Ariel Miranda

Miranda is competing for the No. 5 starter role, but what if he doesn’t get it? The M’s will have to decide if they want him working as a long man in the major league bullpen, or if they prefer to have him starting games in Tacoma. The recent injury to Erasmo Ramirez may affect Miranda’s situation.


  • Dan Altavilla
  • Chasen Bradford
  • Sam Moll
  • Mike Morin
  • Nick Rumbelow

These relievers are all on the 40-man roster, and as far as I can tell have minor league options remaining. Each of them has appeared in the majors – Morin has three years of service – and each of them will be given an opportunity to show their stuff in the Cactus League. Each of them will pitch for Tacoma if they don’t make the big league team.


  • Ryan Cook
  • Ryan Garton
  • Johendi Jiminian

Very different backgrounds here, but all three have been invited to big league camp. Cook is an established major leaguer coming off of major elbow surgery; not sure where he stands physically right now but he’s been out for two years. Garton spent time in the majors with Tampa and Seattle the last two seasons, and figures to be a Rainiers reliever unless he dominates in Arizona and makes the big club. Jiminian has limited Triple-A experience and could go to Tacoma or Double-A Arkansas – but the organization is curious to see how he looks at the highest level in spring training.


  • Christian Bergman
  • Casey Lawrence

These are good Triple-A starters and returning Tacoma Rainiers who have previously pitched as starters and long relievers when in the majors. Both are non-roster invitees to big league camp.


  • Pat Light

Light finished the 2017 season with Tacoma and remains in the organization. He’ll report to minor league camp next week.


  • Matt Festa
  • Art Warren

This duo is joined at the hip. They both had breakout seasons at Class-A Modesto in 2017. They went to the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League as a pair, and reports were positive. They have been invited to big league camp. Might a strong Cactus League showing by one (or both) result in a leap over Double-A and an assignment with Tacoma? Stay tuned and find out.


  • Darin Gillies

Nobody ever talks about him, but the Arizona State product has a career 2.97 ERA since being selected in the tenth round of the 2015 draft. Gillies had a 3.32 ERA in 59 innings last year at Double-Arkansas and could be in line for a promotion.


  • Scott Kuzminsky

The Puyallup High School graduate toiled for three years in independent leagues before the Mariners rescued him late last season. He appeared in nine games – seven with short-season Everett, and two for Tacoma. He has only one month of affiliated experience, but his age (26) is Double-A or Triple-A appropriate.

That’s our look at the Rainiers relief candidates – and I apologize if I missed anyone, which is always a possibility in this large category.

The exhibition games started today. We’ll be back with a new post on Tuesday to see what we learned from the first four Cactus League games.


  • Ryan Divish has a fun story on local product Matt Hague, who we expect will play for Tacoma this year. The Kentwood High School and UW product grew up idolizing Edgar Martinez, and now Edgar is his hitting coach in spring training.
  • Divish also caught up with Hisashi Iwakuma. It sounds like ‘Kuma is working very hard on this comeback, and we may see the final stages of the process at Cheney.
  • Potential Rainiers outfielder Braden Bishop (maybe mid-season if he does well at Double-A?) has done massive work raising money to help fight Alzheimer’s disease. Matt Calkins has the story.
  • Pitcher Rob Whalen revealed that he left the Rainiers last year due to depression. He has gotten help, and is back in spring training. Good story from Greg Johns.
  • The Mariners made the Junior Lake signing official and he is now a Potential Rainier.
  • Greg Johns looks at a couple of dark horses to make the Mariners opening day roster.
  • The Mariners have not announced who the opening day starter will be, so the Seattle Times columnists had a mini-debate. Matt Calkins said it should be their best pitcher, James Paxton. Larry Stone writes that Felix Hernandez has earned the assignment.
  • Looks like the Mariners are going to open the 2019 season with a couple of games in Tokyo against the A’s.
  • Umpires get promotions, too: longtime PCL umpire Stu Scheurwater is now a full-time major league umpire.