Roach opening eyes in push for bullpen spot

Roach opening eyes in push for bullpen spot

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Donn Roach is a man who looks for opportunity in the midst of challenging circumstances, so perhaps it's not surprising that the 26-year-old right-hander has opened eyes in Mariners camp as he competes for a bullpen berth made available by injuries and attrition.

There seems to be a surprise candidate for a 25-man roster spot every spring, and Roach -- who was waived and claimed three different times in the previous 16 months while bouncing from the Padres to the Cubs to the Reds and finally the Blue Jays -- has emerged as one of this year's stealth contenders for the Mariners by posting a 1.32 ERA with 13 strikeouts and no walks over 13 1/3 innings in six relief outings.

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Viewed as a potential starter in Triple-A Tacoma when he signed a Minor League deal in December, Roach has worked himself into the bullpen conversation with his performance and ability to throw strikes, which has been a steady mantra of the new administration.

"He doesn't have a huge history of striking people out, but it's how he goes about it," manager Scott Servais said. "He was 8-for-8 with first-pitch strikes yesterday. He turned the whole game, there's no doubt. Some guys pitch their way off the team and some guys pitch their way on to a team. Some guys just open your eyes up. He's done a lot of good things in this camp."

Roach threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, allowing just one hit, in Thursday's 10-8 win over the Rockies after replacing starter Taijuan Walker in the fourth. He needed just 21 pitches, while throwing 17 strikes, to continue his recent run of success.

"I feel great right now," said the Las Vegas native. "I feel like I'm able to do what I want with the ball. It's been fun. [Throwing strikes] has always been my game. I don't really overpower anyone. So I try to force contact, throw a lot of strikes and get them in swing mode. Then I'm able to get them to swing at some of my other stuff later in counts."

Roach attributes some work with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre as helping maximize his chances.

"I made some mechanical adjustments with Mel early in camp after I had a pretty bad outing my second time out," Roach said. "It was pretty rough, but I made some adjustments and it's helped a lot. Just minor adjustments, getting on top of the ball and since I throw all sinkers, make sure it's going down. And I think my [velocity] jumped a little, too, with the adjustment. It's just been easier to do what I want with the ball."

Roach has been a starter most of his pro career since getting drafted by the Angels in the third round in 2010, though he made the Padres in 2014 as a long reliever to start the season and posted a 4.75 ERA in 30 1/3 innings over 16 appearances before being sent to Triple-A after two months.

His only other big league experience was a spot start for the Cubs last year on June 27 when he gave up eight hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Cardinals. But he was 7-2 with a 2.33 ERA in 15 starts for the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa club and the Mariners signed him in December, looking to improve their Triple-A rotation depth.

But with Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook sidelined by lat injuries and several other right-handed relievers dealing with physical or performance issues, Roach has risen up the ranks. And while it's quite possible the Mariners will make a move to add other bullpen candidates in the next week as other teams trim their rosters, he's certainly shown he deserves consideration.

"There's definitely opportunity," said the 6-foot, 195-pounder. "I'm just trying to take it one day at a time with where I'm at. Just really trying to focus on the adjustment I made and stay where I'm at pitching-wise."

Roach has been around long enough to not get caught up in counting roster spots or overanalyzing the competition and says his wife, Brooke, and family know better than to play the "what-if?" game as well.

"It's an easy trap to fall into sometimes," Roach said. "I'm sure we've all done it before in the game. It doesn't help to think about it on a daily basis. My wife and parents do a great job of just letting me play and see what happens."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.