It’s been nearly a year since Seattle Mariners reliever Sam Tuivailala has pitched in a major league baseball game. Freshly acquired by the club at the trade deadline last season, Tuivailala was placed on the injured list with a ruptured right Achilles tendon in August after just five appearances.
He seemed close to returning to the Mariners early in June, fully healed from surgery, but shoulder discomfort set back his rehab for more than a month.
Monday morning, at long last, the 26-year-old right-hander was activated from the 60-day IL to boost one of baseball’s worst bullpens.
“It’s all coming together pretty good,” Tuivailala said last week while on his second rehab stint this season with Triple-A Tacoma. “Obviously we’re very close, so I’m eager to get out there and just keep working on stuff.”
The Mariners were still in playoff contention, just a few games out of the second American League Wild Card spot, the last time Tuivailala pitched in 2018. He allowed just one earned run across 5 1/3 innings in the five outings before his injury.
This season is much different, with Seattle well out of reach of the playoffs and staring down the very real possibility of 100 losses. However, Tuivailala’s return should at least help steady the Mariners in high-leverage pitching situations late in ballgames.
Tuivailala could appear for the Mariners as early as the two-game series in Oakland, which begins Tuesday. He’s made nine minor league rehab appearances since June 24 with short season Single-A Everett, Double-A Arkansas and Tacoma, including allowing one earned run on three hits with three strikeouts across 1 2/3 innings in back-to-back appearances with the Rainers on Friday and Saturday. He threw a combined 38 pitches (28 strikes).
“The biggest thing was getting his range of motion back, and loosening up that shoulder,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said last month, when Tuivailala started his rehab assignment. “He’s been working his tail off with our training staff to do the manuals to crank those muscles open, and getting the range back. He’s been feeling better, and the mound work showed it.”
Tuivailala acknowledged before his first rehab start with Everett last month that the road back has been long, and had unexpected turns.
“It’s kind of like a wave,” he said. “You’ve got good days, bad days, but I’m just excited to get back out there. My body is feeling better, so I’m just happy about it.”
In corresponding roster moves Monday, the Mariners optioned right-handers Parker Markel and David McKay back to Tacoma, leaving Seattle’s 40-man roster at 39 players, and its active roster at 24. The Mariners are carrying just seven relievers following the moves, so that extra roster spot could be filled with another bullpen arm.
Three of Seattle’s top 30 prospects — right-hander Logan Gilbert (No. 3), catcher Cal Raleigh (13) and right-hander Ljay Newsome (29) — were promoted to Double-A Arkansas from high Single-A Modesto on Monday.
Gilbert, the Mariners’ first-round draft pick a season ago at No. 14 overall, has cruised through the low minors in the past season. He opened the year as low Single-A West Virginia’s ace, and was promoted to Modesto after five starts. With the Nuts, he was 5-3 with a 1.73 ERA in 12 starts after making his debut on May 2. He didn’t allow a run over his final three starts (15 innings) with Modesto.
Raleigh is the reigning California League Player of the Week — he’s won the league’s past three weekly awards — and has blasted 15 of his 22 homers this season since June 16. His .885 slugging percentage during that span is the highest among all minor leaguers. He slashed at .261/.336/.535 in 82 games with the Nuts this season, adding 19 doubles and 66 RBIs to his impressive home run count.
Newsome has played at every level of the minors since the Mariners drafted him in the 26th round in 2015. He went 6-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 18 starts with Modesto before his promotion, striking out 124 batters and walking just nine.