EVERETT — The Everett AquaSox pitching staff is stretched to the limit.
Everett’s roster has been whittled down to the bone, and the Sox are scrambling just to get all the innings filled.
When reliever Vinny Nittoli was shut down for the season with an elbow injury, it left Everett with just 12 pitchers on staff, which is a minuscule number for a team in the short-season Single-A Northwest League.
“Yeah, things (are stretched),” Everett pitching coach Nasusel Cabrera confirmed. “We’re short on pitchers.”
In the low minors, teams regularly use three relievers in a game, and pitchers never throw in back-to-back games. If a reliever goes more than one inning, he usually requires two days off. The Seattle Mariners, Everett’s parent club, also have instituted new rules in which pitchers who have high pitch counts in an inning must be removed.
Therefore, having just seven pitchers in the bullpen puts a serious strain on the staff.
It hasn’t helped that Everett has received so few innings from its starters. Ryan Yarbrough has been excellent, but he’s been limited to three innings in all of his starts following a heavy workload this spring at Old Dominion University. Meanwhile, Luiz Gohara’s struggles have seen him reach the fourth inning in just two of his seven starts — including pitching just 51/3 innings combined over his past three outings.
That wouldn’t be a problem if Everett was carrying 17 or 18 pitchers as it does in a typical season. However, with just 12 arms available that becomes a major issue.
“It’s been tough,” Cabrera said. “Sometimes guys should only go one inning, but I’m forced to have them go two. So it’s tough.”
The problem is so acute that the Sox have used position players on the mound an unprecedented number of times this season. Both infielder Jordan Cowan and catcher Luke Guarnaccia have made three relief appearances already this season, and they haven’t just come in mop-up duty as each has taken a loss. Cowan was held out of the lineup for Saturday’s game in Spokane specifically in anticipation of being needed on the mound, and with the bullpen required to throw eight innings in Sunday’s game, it seems likely a position player will be called into duty again later this series.
The pitching shortage seems to be a system-wide issue for the Mariners. The teams immediately above and below Everett — Clinton of the mid Single-A Midwest League and Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League — each have just 13 active pitchers on their rosters. In addition, in the past two weeks the Mariners had to promote pitchers from the Dominican Summer League and the Venezuelan Summer League to Peoria of the rookie Arizona League, which is something of a rarity midseason.
Cabrera was hoping some relief would soon be on the way in the form of new pitchers. But until then, the Sox will be forced to continue scrambling.