Mariners reliever Hunter Strickland is “100% ready” for Wednesday’s Tokyo opener against the Athletics after being sidelined with back issues since March 3, per MLB.com’s Greg Johns. The high-strung Strickland, now 30, will apparently get first crack at the closer’s role for the new-look Mariners, who signed the righty to a one-year, $1.3MM deal after he was non-tendered by the Giants ahead of the November 30 deadline. After eight years in the minors, the then 25-year-old Strickland came out blowing smoke for the 2014 World Champion Giants, dominating early with a fastball that reached 100 mph on the regular. Multiple on-field dustups, including well-publicized boxing matches with both longtime nemesis Bryce Harper and a clubhouse wall, likely spelled the end for Strickland in San Francisco. After a 2015-17 stretch in which the 6’4 righty posted identical 0.8 fWAR totals with a K rate hovering around 8.5 per nine, Strickland endured his worst season in ’18, struggling to throw strikes, miss bats, and keep the ball in the park. His average fastball velocity, too, fell to a career-low 95.7 MPH, while heavier dependence on a changeup resulted only in withdrawal. Still, if the flamethrower can re-stoke his early-career heat, and direct much of it toward what seemed to be an ever-shriveling strike zone, the Mariners may yet have a massive bargain on their hands.
In other news from around the game’s Western divisions…
- It’s MLB or bust for the 36-year-old Jason Hammel, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Hammel’s been excellent so far this spring, striking out over a batter per inning while allowing just a single run in 8 2/3 IP, but says he has no interest in playing for the team’s chief affiliate: “I certainly won’t go to Triple-A,” Hammel said. “This is a grind. If it requires me to go home, I know my family is waiting for me and has been for a while. I’m more than willing to go home and spend time with them.” Per Grant, it appears the 13-year MLB vet will consider other franchises if it doesn’t work out with Texas, though he doesn’t necessarily seem set on a starting gig. He’ll compete for a long-reliever role in the Ranger pen with righty Adrian Sampson, and despite a career-worst ’18 in nearly every category, looks to have the inside track.
- The Rockies have predictably sent INF Brendan Rodgers back to minor league camp, tweets MLB.com’s Thomas Harding. A consensus top 30 prospect among all five major outlets (he checks in as high as #10 on MLB.com’s list), Rodgers had an outside shot to claim the team’s second base role in the upcoming season, but the team’ll look first to either Ryan McMahon or Garrett Hampson in the spot. The 22-year-old former third overall pick has impressed evaluators with his all-fields pop, though scouts seem less keen on his glovework at shortstop and discernment at the dish. In a late-season cameo with AAA-Albuquerque last season, Rodgers slashed just .232/.264/.290 with a 1.4% walk rate. Both ZiPS and Steamer, though, prefer him to any Rockie alternatives at the position, with the former projecting an impressive 98 wRC+/2.3 WAR line over a full season’s worth of plate appearances.