Long-awaited reinforcements begin arriving Friday for the Mariners prior to their series opener against Oakland at Safeco Field.
Are they too late?
A five-game skid torpedoed a once-promising trip through four cities and left the Mariners limping into September at 66-68 and trailing Minnesota by four games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
The Mariners must also now leapfrog four other clubs just to get to the Twins.
It’s a tall order.
The Fangraphs.com computer projection, prior to Thursday’s games, showed the Mariners with only a 5.3-percent chance of reaching postseason. Baseball Prospectus (3.5 percent) and FiveThirtyEight.com (4.0) were even less optimistic.
The Mariners sought to circle the wagons in early August after injuries again shredded their rotation by forcing James Paxton and Felix Hernandez to the disabled list.
The plan/goal/hope was to navigate a brutal August schedule, which included just seven home games, through a heavy reliance on a revolving bullpen and a surge in offensive production.
Their thinking: Just stay in the postseason hunt until September, when the rules permit rosters to expand to 40 players. Those additions would ease the strain on that bullpen and, if Paxton and Hernandez return, the rotation could firm up.
Less that a week ago, the plan appeared to be working. A 2-1 victory over the Yankees on Aug. 25 boosted the Mariners to 66-63 and had them just one-half game behind the Twins.
Then two losses in New York and three in Baltimore.
“We’ve come up short,” manager Scott Servais said after the Mariners blew a four-run lead Wednesday in an 8-7 loss to the Orioles. “There have been different reasons for out losses. Some of it has been lack of offense.
“Today, we had plenty of offense. It’s been different areas. You can’t really pinpoint one specific thing other than we have asked a lot of our bullpen.”
That bullpen, at least, is in line for some relief prior to Friday’s game. The Mariners are expected to summon at least a couple of additional arms from Triple-A Tacoma.
“We’ll make some moves like we did last year in waves,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “You’ll see a small group arrive on Sept. 1. As the Tacoma season draws to a close, there will be a few more.”
The Rainiers’ season ends Monday.
The anticipated arrival Friday of veteran right-hander Mike Leake, acquired Wednesday from St. Louis, also figures to turn one of the current starting pitchers into a long reliever.
Reliever Dan Altavilla should return next week, although he could be back as soon as Friday if the Mariners chose to place reliever David Phelps on the disabled list. Phelps left Wednesday’s game because of a renewed elbow injury.
Altavilla was optioned to Tacoma after an appearance Sunday in New York and must remain in the minors for 10 days unless he is recalled to replace an injured player.
The Mariners have five other pitchers at Tacoma who are on their 40-man roster: Ryan Garton, Sam Gaviglio, Andrew Moore, Max Povse and Thyago Vieira. Two others on the 40-man are at Double-A Arkansas: Zac Curtis and Chase De Jong.
That status is notable because the Mariners have no openings on their 40-man roster. That means if they want to promote, say, veteran reliever Ernesto Frieri from Tacoma, they must make a corresponding space-clearing move.
Such a move would also be necessary to activate Evan Scribner from the 60-day disabled list. Scribner is on a rehab assignment at Tacoma after missing nearly the entire season because of an elbow injury.
“Certainly, we need to add to our pitching staff,” Servais said, “by getting a few more guys in the bullpen. Some of the (current) guys are tired. They’re hanging a little bit right now. So we’ll welcome additions there.”
Servais indicated the Mariners expect to activate outfielder Jarrod Dyson from the disabled list prior to Friday’s game. Dyson hasn’t played since Aug. 16 because of a strained right groin muscle.
Outfielder Leonys Martin should also rejoin the club at some point, but that will require a corresponding space-clearing move. He was designated for assignment Aug, 23 and sent to Tacoma on outright assignment after clearing waivers.
Another recall candidate is first baseman/designated hitter Dan Vogelbach, who struggled this season during two previous big-league tours but is batting .290 at Tacoma with 17 homers and 83 RBIs in 123 games.
Utilityman Shawn O’Malley is another possibility, although he’s recovering from a concussion in the latest in a season-long series of injuries.
Servais said the Mariners would likely add a third catcher, noting that, “Most clubs usually do.” Doing so would also require a 40-man move since no minor-league catchers are currently on the roster.
While Tuffy Gosewisch had a brief call-up earlier in the year, Mike Marjama looms as a more-likely candidate. He was an all-star in the International League before the Mariners acquired him in an Aug. 6 trade from Tampa Bay.
Marjama must also be added to the Mariners’ 40-man roster prior to Nov. 20 unless the club wants to risk losing him in the Rule 5 Draft.
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