The Mariners were expected to make several roster moves before Saturday’s game with the Blue Jays due to various reasons. But of the eight roster moves listed below, there was one that manager Scott Servais didn’t announce pregame and didn’t discuss the exact reasoning behind it.
• Ken Giles, RHP, placed on 15-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation
• Erik Swanson, RHP, placed on the paternity list.
• Andrew Knapp, C, designated for assignment.
• George Kirby, RHP, optioned to Triple-A Tacoma
• Matt Festa, RHP, recalled from Triple-A Tacoma
• Matt Brash, RHP, recalled from Triple-A Tacoma
• Jacob Barnes, RHP, selected from Triple-A Tacoma
• Luis Torrens, C, reinstated from 10-day injured list
Of that list of moves, seeing Kirby being sent down to Tacoma might be surprising or perplexing to a casual observer considering how well the rookie starter has performed this season.
But the move has nothing to do with dissatisfaction of his recent performances. Instead, it is intended to control his overall pitching workload and allow him to have more outings later in the season or perhaps even the postseason.
Kirby, 24, has made 12 starts in his debut season, posting a 2-3 record with a 3.78 ERA. In 64 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 62 batters and walked just nine.
If you add his big league innings total to the 24 2/3 innings he’d pitch with Double-A Arkansas to start the season, Kirby is at 89 innings. That’s the most innings he had pitched in a season in his professional career.
Selected in the first round of the 2019 draft out of Elon University, Kirby pitched 23 innings for Everett after pitching 90 1/3 innings in his college season. With the 2020 minor-league season canceled due to COVID-19, Kirby pitched sparingly at the Mariners’ alternate training site in Tacoma, throwing in a handful of scrimmage games.
Last season, he pitched a combined 67 2/3 innings between Everett and Arkansas. But he also missed a month due to shoulder fatigue. The Mariners are very cognizant about not overusing Kirby and risk a serious injury.
With the off day on Wednesday following the previous two-day series in San Diego and the upcoming off day on Monday, the Mariners were able to skip Kirby’s spot in the rotation and still cover the six-game road trip leading into the All-Star break with the other four starters working on normal rest.
Given the setup of the schedule and the Mariners re-slotting of the rotation, moving Logan Gilbert up to pitch on Sunday and Chris Flexen to pitch Tuesday in Washington, this seemed like a logical move. Kirby is expected to pitch in the fifth game out of the All-Star break, which would be July 26 vs. the Rangers at T-Mobile Park.
Kirby will likely still pitch for the Rainiers on regular rest, but his outings and usage will have shorter pitch and inning limits.
This sort of maneuvering of the rotation before and after the All-Star break has become a common strategy for teams.
The remaining roster moves were all expected.
Giles, 31, exited his appearance after just six pitches. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez apparently noticed the veteran reliever trying to pitch through some discomfort and signaled for the trainers and Servais. After a brief conversation, Giles left the field. Servais said that Giles has pain in the back of his shoulder.
“If you’re looking at where we are at with the schedule, you’re probably coming out after the All-Star break to see where he’s at,” Servais said. “So we hope it’s nothing more serious than that.”
Giles started the season on the injured list with a strained tendon in his middle finger. He missed the first 68 games. He’d made five appearances since coming off the IL on June 20, posting a 0.00 ERA in 4 1/3 innings.
Swanson’s wife, Madison, went into labor with the couple’s second child during the eighth inning of Friday’s game and he left the stadium immediately. Per a tweet, the Swansons, welcomed a daughter, Parker, into the world.
He can remain on the paternity list for three days before returning to the team.
After suffering a left-shoulder strain in the infamous brawl with the Angels on May 21, Torrens missed 12 games and will return to his backup catching duties. He played in a one-game rehab assignment with High-A Everett on Friday. Torrens went 1 for 4 with a two-run homer.
Barnes, 32, signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners on June 22. He made four appearances with Triple-A Tacoma, not allowing a run in four innings. He started the season with the Tigers, pitching in 22 games and posting a 3-1 record with a 6.10 ERA. In 20 2/3 innings, Barnes struck out 10 batters and walked nine. He’s made 251 MLB appearances over seven seasons.
After starting the season in the Mariners’ opening-day rotation as a rookie, Brash, 24, struggled to pitch with consistent command and was optioned to Tacoma on May 5. The Mariners decided to convert him to a reliever with the Rainiers. In 22 relief appearances with Tacoma this season, he has a 3.46 ERA with 14 walks and 41 strikeouts in 26 innings. Opposing batters have a .207/.311/.380 slash line against him.
“He’s throwing like 100 miles per hour and he’s got one of the best sliders in the game,” Servais said. “The whole key is throwing strikes. And he has been doing that as well. So I’m excited to get him back. I know he is as well. And now we’re playing the Blue Jays why wouldn’t we bring him back?”
Festa, 29, was a solid contributor in the Mariners bullpen, posting a 4.35 ERA with 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 2/3 innings. He was sent down to Tacoma on June 18 and made six scoreless appearances, allowing just two hits in 6 2/3 innings.
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