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Mariners select RHP Austin Adams from Tacoma, Dan Altavilla returned to Double-A Arkansas

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Mariners replace reliever who struggles with command with...other reliever who struggles with command

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another roster move, and another new face as Jerry Dipoto continues to scramble to find relievers who can get outs in major league games. This time, it’s RHP Austin Adams’s turn. Note that this is not Austin Davis Adams, who plays for the Twins and is the default Wikipedia result when you google “Austin Adams,” but Austin Lance Adams. These two need to play rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets to be Austin and who has to take Davis/Lance, in my opinion. Adams takes the place of Dan Altavilla, who had been throwing well in Arkansas but seemed to melt in the rain on the mound in Fenway. However, this roster move doesn’t necessarily lead to an upgrade in command.

Austin Lance Adams has been a Mariner for all of two weeks; after the Nationals DFA’d him on April 30, Seattle sent A+-level LHP Nick Wells—currently out for the season with a broken wrist—to Washington in exchange for Adams. (The Mariners also sent some cash along.) With Wells out of the organization, that’s the last of the players the Mariners received when they traded Mark Lowe to the Blue Jays in 2015. The other two players were LHP Jake Brentz, later traded by the Dipoto regime for Arquimedes Caminero, and LHP Rob Rasmussen, who actually played for the Mariners in 2015 before being DFA’d and retiring in 2016.

Adams started his career with the Angels, who traded him (along with RHP Kyle McGowin, who yesterday was ejected from a Triple-A game and had his glove confiscated) to Washington in exchange for Danny Espinosa. The Nationals have given Adams cups of coffee over the past three seasons, but he’s never pitched more than five major-league innings in a season. Adams is a two-pitch reliever with a mid-90s-and-up fastball and a nasty slider, but his issue is command. In many ways, he’s reminiscent of Connor Sadzeck, another slider-fastball pitcher with big stuff and poor command. It will be interesting to see if the Mariners have Adams flip his pitch mix the same way they had Sadzeck lead batters off with his slider. In watching Adams’s appearance with the Nationals back on April 20, I noticed he did lead with his fastball, which registered 95+ but came in well inside on right-handed hitters. His slider had the opposite problem:

juuuuuust a bit outside

Unsurprisingly, Adams walked this batter after falling behind 3-0, sending 95 straight down the middle twice, and then missing low with his slider. He also hit a batter in this inning, and threw two more wild pitches, allowing a run to score. As the appearance ground on, Adams tried recovering some fastball command by taking something off, throwing it more in the 92-93 range at the bottom of the zone, but continued to miss; by the time the inning mercifully concluded, Adams had thrown 33 pitches, just 16 of them for strikes. The issue here might not be pitch mix alone, as Adams made Sadzeck look like Greg Maddux in this inning, command-wise.

Adams pitches with a lot of emotion—he lost his mom in 2017, and before he pitches, writes “mom” in the dirt on the mound—and he’s probably not as wild as he looked in this one inning, his audition for a spot in a porous Nationals bullpen. He was very good in his appearance for Tacoma on Star Wars Night, in which he bailed out a struggling R.J. Alaniz to get the final out of the 8th and then worked a 1-2-3 ninth.

Adams is particularly good at throwing the slider to the back foot of lefties; here he is striking out Reno’s Juniel Querecuto, older brother of Mariners prospect Juan Querecuto:

The slider doesn’t have a huge velocity difference from the fastball: it’s 88-90 vs. 94-96 on the fastball. But the two pitches look very similar as Adams delivers them, leading batters to be late on his slider, and the slider has a big bend which can also freeze batters.

Adams is another upside play in a year where the Mariners can afford to take chances on big velocity/poor command arms. It will be interesting to see what pitching guru Brian DeLunas and company can do with arms like Sadzeck and Adams. If they can make a successful backend reliever out of even one of their dart throws, the Mariners are set up for future success out of the bullpen with (relatively) young, cheap, controllable arms. At the very least, it’s an interesting storyline to track in a season that’s quickly becoming thin on entertainment.