Cal Raleigh became Sunday the 53rd player used by the Mariners this season, which suggests they are either a) in a form of extended spring training, or b) the Seahawks roster during a regular-season game week.
But no. At the mid-season All-Star Game break, they are 48-43 and on the outskirts of contention for a wild-card playoff spot. They are 31-29 against teams with records of .500 or better.
In the season’s first half, they have received little to nothing from young foundational players OF Kyle Lewis, OF Jarred Kelenic and 1B Evan White. They got nothing from former All-Star LHP James Paxton and a single win from No. 1 starter Marco Gonzales. The team batting average is .216, still worst in MLB.
The tumult persisted Sunday at T-ball Park, a 7-1 clank (box), yet the Mariners took two of three from the Angels. Sunday was a bullpen start that included seven relievers throwing to Raleigh, a rookie catcher in his first major league game, who barely got on his gear before he heard, “Oh say can you see . . .”
“It was crazy, especially all the pitchers coming in,” said Raleigh, who was taken out of his start Saturday in AAA Tacoma in the second inning and told he was getting his first MLB call-up. “It was a weird day, but something I wouldn’t trade for anything.
“I was saying hey to everybody, there were some congrats, then I was like, ‘We got an hour ’til first pitch.'”
Raleigh, 24, rated the sixth-best prospect in the Mariners’ system, went 0-for-4, but made no obvious catching mistakes. After 44 games in Tacoma, where he hit .324 with a .985 OPS, a 23-game hitting streak and a strikeout rate of just 13 percent, there was nothing more to prove in the minors.
The call-up was a matter of when, not if. The Mariners will give him a hard look over the two weeks prior to the July 30 trade deadline. If he shows enough, the club may turn starter Tom Murphy, 30 and a solid, affordable major league catcher, into a trade asset.
Raleigh’s hectic day was part of a whirlwind of Seattle personnel developments that overshadowed the game (Shohei Ohtani update: Double, single, walk in four PAs).
Kelenic and fellow star youngster Julio Rodriguez were in the annual Futures Game in Denver. Batting second and playing left field, Kelenic grounded out in his lone at-bat. Rodriguez batted third and played the entire game in right field, striking out three times a drawing a walk, after which he was thrown out trying to steal third base.
But the cool Seattle moments came before the game with two surprise appearances: Ken Griffey Jr. showed up to mingle with the awed youngsters, and Rodriguez’s father, normally too scared to fly, got over it and popped in on his son in the players’ lounge.
As the Mariners and Angels were wrapping up, the annual MLB amateur draft began, also in Denver. The Mariners broke form from the past three drafts — hard-throwing college pitchers — and used the No. 12 pick overall to take a high school catcher, Harry Ford, from North Cobb HS in Kennesaw, GA. Said to be athletic enough to play outfield and even the infield, Ford, 18, is the first high school player general manager Jerry Dipoto has taken in the first round in his Seattle tenure.
“Harry is a unique five-tool player since he is a catcher,” said Scott Hunter, director of amateur scouting. “A tremendous athlete that will thrive in all areas of the game. Even though he could play center field or even second base, we see Harry as a catcher that has a chance to impact the game with not only his bat and defense but also with his legs, as he is a plus runner.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to add an athlete like this to our system.”
Sunday morning, the club delivered a pre-game jolt when its lone All-Star rep, Yusei Kikuchi, showed up on the 10-day injured list with no injury explainer, which is baseball code these days for an episode of COVID-19.
The Seattle Times reported that Kikuchi was vaccinated, but had a symptom during the week. He tested negative once, then repeated the test Sunday. After the game, Scott Servais, the deliberately vague Mariners manager, said he was “pretty confident” Kikuchi would be cleared to make his appearance in Denver.
Another bit of personnel drama developed Thursday. Hector Santiago, Sunday’s emergency starter who gave up one run in three-plus innings, had his appeal heard of a potential 10-game suspension for being the first pitcher busted for having sticky stuff in his glove, following MLB ‘s changes to its rules enforcement at mid-season.
MLB sources told the Times that four lawyers were sent from New York to the ballpark to adjudicate the appeal of the umpires’ decision to eject and suspend Santiago from a game June 27. Their decision reportedly was to be announced Wednesday. Any games lost will be an embarrassment to MLB because there was no known physical or video evidence that Santiago doctored his grip or the ball.
On Saturday, Dipoto reported the hip injury that put White, who won a Gold Glove his rookie season, on the IL May 14 was “more ominous” than expected and surgery was likely: “I wouldn’t anticipate having Evan back, perhaps, for the remainder of the year.” Dipoto was more optimistic that Lewis would return by September from meniscus surgery on his right knee.
Justus Sheffield (forearm strain, oblique strain) joined fellow starting pitcher Justin Dunn (shoulder strain) on the injured list. That is where they will find 3B Kyle Seager, who has a serious bone bruise on his left shin after a foul ball off his bat struck him during the Thursday game against the Yankees. He played through it Friday but stayed out Saturday.
To help compensate for pitching injuries, Servais indicated that after the break, he would reduce the rotation from six to five — Gonzales, Kikuchi, Chris Flexen, rookie Logan Gilbert and someone else. That’s why the threatened suspension of Santiago, 33, is kind of a big deal.
Pounding a rookie catcher in his major league debut with seven relievers with whom he barely has worked is close to hazing, if not misdemeanor assault. Then again, having gone through 53 players by mid-season and still winning 17 of the past 25, suggests that the Mariners seem to do OK after getting punched repeatedly in the head.
Welcome to Fight Club, Cal.
“We’ve got more room for growth for this club,” Servais said, “but we’ve got to stay healthy.”
Stay healthy? Too late. If the Mariners’ health requires 53 players, they should play only on Sundays.