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Mariners place RHP Penn Murfee on IL, call up RHP Juan Then from Double-A

Round and round on the reliever carousel we go

Seattle Mariners v San Diego Padres
Juan Then, seen here looking at the Mariners offense he’ll be tasked with supporting
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Mariners have placed RHP Penn Murfee on the 15-day IL with inflammation in his right elbow (retroactive to May 4), and called up RHP Juan Then from Double-A.

Then was originally signed by the Mariners back in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic, but was traded away in the deal that brought [gritting teeth so hard it accidentally re-invents Greek art] Nick Rumbelow to Seattle in 2017. This bottom-tier Dipoto trade also saw JP Sears go to the Yankees; Sears is now a starter with the Athletics who just twirled six innings of shutout ball against the Mariners in Oakland on Wednesday. The Mariners then made an unconventional move and re-acquired a player they’d traded away, asking for Then back as the return in 2019 when the Mariners sent Edwin Encarnación to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Think of Then’s time with the Yankees like a study abroad opportunity. However, Then had to battle his way back up at full-season ball in the Mariners’ system, including fighting through an elbow injury that knocked out most of his 2022 season.

Then has only pitched in seven games in Arkansas so far this season, giving him a grand total of 19 innings pitched at the Double-A level since 2022, but he’s been consistently solid over those appearances, striking out around 30% of batters faced while walking about 7%. But perhaps you are looking at his ERA north of 4, historic command issues, and that innings count and thinking, hmm, what are we doing here, Mariners? You are not alone! I am also thinking this! Well, Then is already on the 40-man roster, which gives him a leg up on any of the various options like Riley O’Brien in Tacoma who would have to be added to the 40-man. We’re seeing the Mariners be very aggressive with the players who have spots on the 40-man; outfielder Jonatan Clase, also on the 40, was just promoted to Double-A this week despite spending just 21 games at High-A, a much more aggressive tack with prospect promotion than we’re used to seeing from the Mariners, especially for a player as young as Clase, who won’t turn 21 until the end of this month. Then is just 22 and similarly un-tested in the high minors, but the Mariners seem willing to roll the dice and give Then an opportunity to prove himself at the highest level of the sport while Murfee is on the shelf.

What will help Then be successful is his raw stuff: a fastball that usually hangs out around 95-96 but can reach up into the upper 90s with late movement, combined with a slider that’s a legitimate whiff-getter.

The Mariners bullpen, while boasting many strengths, doesn’t have a ton of extreme swing-and-miss guys with Sewald, Gott, and Topa all living more in the contact-management zone than the whiff-getting zone. Then will hopefully give them another reliever in the Brash/Muñoz vein in situations where strikeouts are desirable, providing he can manage his control at the big-league level.

Per Ryan Divish, the Mariners seem optimistic that Murfee’s elbow inflammation is minor, but Murfee has been walking batters at an obscenely high rate this season—almost 17% of the time—which can sometimes be symptomatic of an injury. No matter what, some time off can give Murfee, who has been used very heavily out of the ‘pen this season, some much-needed rest and time to hopefully recalibrate his command.