PEORIA, Ariz. — Juan Nicasio might want to be careful what he asks for.
He met with Mariners manager Scott Servais and some other Mariners stalwarts — Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Jean Segura — for dinner in the Dominican Republic this offseason. It was Servais’ first chance to meet his newly signed $17 million reliever.
“I threw out, ‘Juan, glad to have you. Excited to get you in the bullpen,’” Servais recalled. “‘Just keep in mind we might need you to get some four- and five-out appearances.’”
Servais smiled and rubbed his hands together at Nicasio’s response: “No problem. I pitch every day.”
And now Mariners might need to take him up on that. They announced Wednesday night that reliever David Phelps will miss the 2018 season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow after he tore his ulnar collateral ligament on the final pitch of his March 17 outing.
Phelps will have the surgery on Monday, performed by Dr. James Andrews, with the Mariners set to open the regular-season against the Indians Thursday at Safeco Field.
Nicasio was tied for the National League lead in appearances (76) last season between the Pirates, Phillies and Cardinals. And with Phelps out, that throws a wrench into the Mariners’ expected set-up trio of Phelps, Nicasio and Nick Vincent to bridge the finals innings to closer Edwin Diaz.
“Now it’s a little more pressure on the rest of us. And me,” Nicasio said. “(Phelps is) a guy you could throw in the eighth and seventh and now Vincent, Diaz, me — we got to go work hard every day and go fight.”
Phelps said Thursday that he entered this spring feeling healthy after ending 2017 on the disabled list because of season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur on Sept. 13.
“Part of the reason why it’s so frustrating because we have a chance to be really special out there (in the bullpen),” Phelps said. “It’s a chance for someone to step up — that’s what it boils down to.”
Servais and Dipoto have raved about the spring right-hander Dan Altavilla has put together, and Casey Lawrence has made a strong case to break onto the Mariners’ Opening Day roster as a long reliever — a case bolstered now with Phelps out.
But that Nicasio signing is looming much larger for the back end of the bullpen now.
And he makes no qualms about it — he wants to pitch wherever and whenever he can.
Nicasio broke into the Majors in 2011 as a starter with the Rockies. He tossed 157 innings for them in the 2013 season before converting somewhat to the bullpen.
But he really transitioned into a late-inning reliever just last season.
He had four saves in nine appearances after he was traded to the Cardinals.
“When I came to the bullpen I just said I like pitching every day,” Nicasio said. “I like competing every day. The last three years for me is like, ‘Every day I’m going to get to the stadium and I want to pitch.’”
Wouldn’t he worry about his arm falling off?
“Yeah,” Nicasio said. “But I don’t know. My mind is I just want to pitch.”
Servais and the Mariners take that mindset gladly. Especially if Nicasio can continue what he did last season with his 2.61 ERA in 721/3 innings of relief.
“It’s really rare to see a guy pitch 162 games,” Servais deadpanned. “But if anybody can do it, I’m betting on Juan Nicasio.
“He’s in really good shape, and he’s just wired that way mentally and physically. He’s strong as an ox. He wants to take the ball, and his thing is to be available as often as possible. I don’t know a manager alive who doesn’t appreciate that.”
M’s sign LeBlanc
Left-handed pitcher Wade LeBlanc has agreed to a deal to return to the Mariners, reported Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.
LeBlanc was released by the Yankees late Friday. The 33-year old has nine seasons of big-league service to his resume, including a 2016 stint with the Mariners, when he started eight games and had a 4.50 ERA in 50 innings.
For his career, LeBlanc is 30-35 with a 4.40 ERA as a starter and reliever. He pitched last season with the Pirates, appearing in 68 innings, all out of the bullpen, with a 4.50 ERA.
Reliever Chasen Bradford was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room for LeBlanc.
First baseman Mike Ford, the Mariners’ Rule 5 Draft pick from the Yankees in December, cleared waivers, so now he’s back in New York.
Hernandez returns in Mariners’ victory over Cubs
PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez made his first Cactus League start since sustaining a forearm injury last month, pitching 32/3 innings in the Mariners’ 7-3 spring training win over the Chicago Cubs on Friday at Peoria Stadium.
Hernandez struck out three batters, walked one and gave up one home run.
Jean Segura recorded three hits for Seattle.