My oh my! The Rainiers team you read about a week ago is not the team that embarked on an eight-game road trip on Tuesday, July 25. That’s not a melodramatic way of saying that the team is playing differently. No, many of the players themselves are different. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, known for making a large quantity of trades, has been quite busy, making three trades in a span of just four days.
The first of those trades, a five-player swap with Miami on Thursday, July 20, had only an indirect, nominal impact on Tacoma. To make room for new acquisitions David Phelps, right-hander Max Povse was sent back down to the Rainiers. He spent just one day with Seattle in this stint, allowing two unearned runs. The latter two trades are the ones that really sent ripples through Cheney Stadium. On Friday, the Mariners sent Tyler O’Neill to St. Louis in exchange for a talented, but oft-injured left-hander, 25-year old Marco Gonzales. Two days later, they sent relievers Jean Machi and Mark Lowe – both Rainiers – to the White Sox for cash considerations.
O’Neill, the number-two prospect in the organization going into the season, per Baseball America, has struggled in his first taste of Triple-A baseball, batting just .244 after hitting .293 in Double-A in 2016. Despite his struggles, O’Neill possesses impressive power (especially considering his compact 5’11 frame) and had gone on a bit of a tear during the five-game series in Albuquerque immediately prior to the trade. He went 9-for-23 with five homers in what turned out to be his last five games as a Rainier, including a two homer, five-RBI flourish in his final game with the team. He’ll head to Memphis, St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate, where he’ll join new teammates Ryan Sherriff and Carson Kelly, both of whom made appearances in Tacoma as part of the Triple-A All-Star Game two weeks ago. O’Neill ends his Rainier tenure hitting .244 with 19 homers and 56 RBI in 93 games.
Machi, a two-time World Series champion (once with San Francisco and once with Boston), began the season on a tear as the closer for Tacoma – he allowed just one run over his first 22.1 innings, saving nine games in that span and earning the win in an additional two. Things have gone downhill for him over the past month or so, as he allowed 13 earned runs in his last 10 appearances, earning his first four losses of the season. Machi, along with first baseman Daniel Vogelbach, was one of the two Rainiers voted to the Pacific Coast League All-Star Team. He finishes his stint with Tacoma owning a 3.44 ERA over 36.2 innings, to go along with 10 saves.
Lowe struggled mightily in his third stint with the Rainiers, posting an ugly 6.23 ERA over 32 appearances. Though he still showed the ability to miss bats, with an 8.5 strikeouts per nine ratio, he allowed the deadly combo of too many free passes (4.62 walks per nine) and too many long balls (1.38 per nine). Lowe and Machi will both join Charlotte, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
Though at the time of this writing he’s yet to make any more trades, Jerry Dipoto wasn’t quite finished making his mark on the rosters of both Tacoma and Seattle. Later on Friday, July 21, he signed free agent infielder Danny Espinosa to a major-league deal, replacing Taylor Motter as the club’s utility infielder. To make room, Motter was optioned back to Tacoma.
With so much player movement, it’s easy to forget that there was actual baseball being played in Tacoma, as the Rainiers played a four-game weekend set (beginning Friday, July 21) against Sacramento. They kicked off that series with a thriller, walking off the RiverCats in the 10th. Gordon Beckham led off the final frame with a double and Tyler Smith laid down a sacrifice to put the winning run ninety feet away. With one out, Zach Shank was able to seal the deal with a walk-off sacrifice fly to left field.
The following night, the Rainiers carried the momentum from that walk-off victory into their 100th game of the season, taking an early lead on Gordon Beckham’s RBI single that drove in Boog Powell. Christian Bergman was in top form, twirling seven innings of one-run ball to earn his team-high eighth win of the season. Ian Miller, freshly promoted from Double-A Arkansas, checked in with two hits and scored a run. With the win, the Rainiers advanced to exactly 50-50 on the season.
Sam Gaviglio was able to lock down the series win for Tacoma on Sunday, July 23, earning a quality start (6.1 IP, 3 ER) and his third win of the season (3-4). Though Powell went just 1-4, he filled it up in the run production category, driving in four runs (a two-run triple, an RBI groundout, and a sacrifice fly) and scoring two.
Going for the sweep, Tacoma sent newly acquired Gonzales to the mound against Sacramento. A former top prospect for St. Louis, Gonzales has struggled with injuries that have kept him from reaching his ceiling, and which may also cap his upside going forward as he deals with the velocity loss that comes from his various arm ailments. Nevertheless, he features low-90s velocity with a plus changeup and good command, which is always an intriguing package. In his first start with Tacoma, he checked in with the bare minimum necessary to earn a quality start: six innings and three earned runs. Luckily, that was enough to earn the 4-3 win (his seventh of the season and first in a Rainier uniform) and give Tacoma the sweep.
Tacoma then began a four-game road series against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, which will be followed by a four-game tilt at Oklahoma City. The Rainiers were stung by a 14-3 loss to open the series against the Sky Sox.
Sitting at 52-51 and nine games behind Reno (61-42) in the PCL North standings, Tacoma doesn’t have much time to waste if it wants to climb back into the playoff race. Unfortunately, though the Rainiers have won five of their last six games, it’s been largely neutralized by Reno’s four-game winning streak. Fresno is also hot in the mix, sitting just one game behind Reno at 60-43.
Elsewhere on the farm: The Rainiers weren’t the only Mariner farm team impacted by trades. The Single-A Clinton LumberKings lost right-handed pitcher Brandon Miller, the Class-A Advanced Modesto Nuts lost right-handers Lukas Schiraldi and Pablo Lopez, and the Everett AquaSox lost outfielder Brayan Hernandez. Hernandez, 19, made a brief cameo with Tacoma early in June, getting six plate appearances over three games. He checked in with two hits, both singles, in five at bats during that stint.
Up with the big club: Of course, while the Mariners moves have trickle-down effects on the entire farm system, no team is more impacted than Seattle itself. In David Phelps, the Mariners acquired a hard-throwing right-hander (his average fastball this season clocks in at exactly 95 miles per hour) with a high strikeout rate (10 per nine) and a bit of a problem with control (3.83 walks per nine). While that may sound pretty much like a generic relief pitcher, Phelps has a history as an effective one (2.63 ERA between 2016 and 2017) and will help to bolster a lackluster bullpen that is tied for the most blown saves in baseball. The previously discussed Gonzales gives the Mariners a nice depth piece in the rotation. Expect to see him in Seattle before too long. And finally, the free agent signing of Espinosa gives the team a great glove up the middle to use off the bench, as well as a bit of switch-hitting pop. What better way to help your bullpen out than to give Scott Servais the option to sub in two elite, up the middle defenders (Espinosa and Jarrod Dyson) when protecting a late lead?