SEATTLE—When Mariners pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 19, Danny Hultzen will come with a new role: relief pitcher.
“I’ve already spoken to him,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “We are going to try a new avenue. He’s going to come to spring training with the idea we are going to deploy him as a bullpen guy and see how it works.”
It’s not surprising, considering his injury struggles the past three seasons.
Hultzen, 26, has made a total of 10 starts the past three seasons (seven in 2013 and three in 2015) because of shoulder problems.
After trying to rehab back to health in 2013 and failing, Hultzen had shoulder surgery on Oct. 1, 2013 to repair damage to his rotator cuff, labrum and shoulder capsule. He sat out the 2014 season. His comeback in 2015 began well in spring training, but fatigue in the shoulder limited him to short starts in May. He didn’t pitch again in 2015.
It’s been a frustrating run of setbacks for the 6-foot-3, 210 pound Hultzen, who is one of the more popular players and diligent workers in the organization.
“He’s a great kid,” Dipoto said. “I think it’s just been unfortunate that he’s had to deal with a lot of the physical issues that he has. He’s terrifically talented.”
Considered to be one of the most big-league-ready picks in the 2011 draft, Hultzen was taken second overall and was expected to join James Paxton and Taijuan Walker as the foundation of the starting rotation.
“I’ve told this to (scouting director) Tom McNamara,” Dipoto said. “Anybody in the league is making that same pick. It’s unfortunate that it has worked out the way it has. But as I said to Danny on the phone when I told him we were removing him from the roster—I want to see him pitch in the big leagues.”
Perhaps being a lefthanded reliever is the best way to get there. The conversion process won’t be quick or simple for Hultzen. Keeping the shoulder healthy will be a priority.
• In honor of Ken Griffey Jr.’s Hall of Fame induction, the Mariners have retired the No. 24 not just at the major league level, but with every minor league team in the organization.
• The Mariners released righthanded reliever Anthony Bass so he could pursue a pitching opportunity in Japan.