The Mariners have announced that off-season acquisition Yoshihisa Hirano has been activated off the IL after a lengthy battle with COVID-19. Hirano was the most severely afflicted Mariner with the illness—although others, like Dylan Moore, had tested positive and were asymptomatic and just had to quarantine and arrived later to summer camp, Hirano missed camp almost entirely. He started by throwing bullpens in Peoria before progressing to Tacoma last week and throwing against the players there. Hirano had thrown just five innings in the spring before things got shut down and they, uh, weren’t great, surrendering three runs in five innings with a home run and two walks (although three strikeouts), and with the lengthy layoff there will probably be some rust as he starts throwing to MLB-quality batters again, but Hirano will join Matt Magill and Dan Altavilla (!) as the longest-tenured MLB vets in the pen.
LHP Taylor Guilbeau heads to the IL with a left shoulder strain. Guilbeau’s fastball, which previously had been in the mid-90s and averaging 94.6 mph last year was all the way down to 90.3 mph this year, and the rest of his arsenal had also lost about three ticks of velo, suggesting this is an issue that’s been nagging for a while. A mechanical problem with his shoulder might have also led to Guilbeau losing the command that made him an effective reliever, as his strikeout numbers plunged to just 8.3%, bottom 3% in the league, while his walks rose from well below league-average to an unsustainable 16.7%. While some of that loss of effectiveness could be chalked up to teams becoming more familiar with the Louisiana lefty, the shift is so drastic as to suggest a greater underlying issue.
In Guilbeau’s place, fellow lefty Aaron Fletcher will get the call from Tacoma. Guilbeau, Fletcher, and RHP Elvis Alvarado were the trade return from Washington for Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias, and while we will always have a soft spot for Elias around these parts, nothing feels quite so good as snatching relievers out of Washington’s system and making them good (Austin Adams waves hello). Here’s hoping Fletcher, just 24 years old, will be the next success story. Fletcher throws a mid-90s fastball with sink, but the star attraction here is his nasty wipeout slider. It dives away from lefties, making him a particularly effective weapon against a lefty-heavy lineup, especially with the way Fletcher conceals the ball behind his body before releasing the pitch. Jarred Kelenic, when being interviewed on 710 ESPN last week, was asked if there’s any pitcher at camp he’s glad he doesn’t have to face. “Fletcher,” Kelenic said immediately. “I’m 0-for-14 against him,” because of course Jarred Kelenic keeps track. No word on if Kelenic ever managed a hit off Fletcher before he got promoted.