PEORIA, Ariz. — What seemed like an eternity now seems even longer for Ken Giles.
After barely pitching in the shortened 2020 season, missing the entire 2021 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but feeling strong this spring, the veteran reliever was called off due to a strain to the tendon of the middle finger of his throwing hand.
Giles was seen wearing a splint on his throwing hand, immobilizing the finger, and manager Scott Servais later confirmed the injury during his pre-game media session on Friday afternoon.
“He had a problem about three or four days ago,” Servais said. “Something didn’t feel right in his middle finger when he was just playing catch and throw long. It was like the day after he threw or two days after he threw a game. They did check with an MRI He was seen by specialists (Thursday) He doesn’t need surgery or anything like that, but he’s probably been “pitching free” for a few weeks and we’ll see where it will go from there.
Giles was understandably upset with the situation.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s almost 2 and a half years without competition. It doesn’t matter how I start, that’s how I end the season. As long as I finish the season healthy, I think it’s a win-win. I just have to be patient. And believe me, I’ve waited a lot of patience over the past 500 days, so I think I can handle it a bit longer.
Giles is the second reliever expected to fill a major role in the bullpen to suffer a significant injury. Reliever Casey Sadler was lost for the season due to shoulder surgery.
“I have no idea when it happened,” Giles said. “It’s hard to describe. It is pain or stiffness. It’s not really when I’m grabbing a baseball, it’s more like when I’m trying to spin my breaking ball. I knew there would be no surgery because I could move my finger just fine.
Giles looked dominant in his last outing on March 25. His fastball hit 95 mph and he showed much better control of his slider, while working a scoreless inning that featured a soft single and three strikeouts.
“It was probably the best I’ve ever felt in the last two years,” he said. “For that to happen, it’s overall frustrating. I finally got my timing. I felt like I was getting stronger and I had a lot more room for improvement, especially as the season approached. I knew it would be fine in a gaming environment, but you have to take it slow. I must be patient.
The Mariners signed Giles to a two-year, $7 million deal with an option for a third season on Feb. 11, 2021, with the understanding that he likely wouldn’t pitch in the 2021 season.
He had undergone Tommy John surgery on his right elbow to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament on October 1, 2020, and was in the process of rehabilitating the operation when he signed. Typical recovery from full strength surgery is 12 to 15 months. The Mariners haven’t tried to speed up his recovery, opting to let him recuperate and be ready for spring training in 2022.
Giles, 31, last pitched in a Sept. 15, 2020, game with the Blue Jays. A sore elbow limited him to just four appearances for Toronto in 2020, two in July and two in September. He had one save while posting a 9.82 ERA before being retired for the remainder of the season.
In 2019, Giles was dominant when healthy, posting a 2-3 record with 23 saves and a 1.87 ERA in 53 appearances. In 53 innings, he struck out 83 batters with only 17 walks. He was considered a possible commercial candidate at the 2019 deadline, but concerns about elbow inflammation dragged his market down.
Mariners fans got quite familiar with Giles as he got closer to the Astros. In two and a half seasons with Houston, he racked up 61 saves while posting a 2.74 ERA and striking out more than 30% of the batters he faced.
Over seven MLB seasons, Giles had 115 saves and a career 2.74 ERA while averaging 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
*** Kyle Lewis has made some progress in his long recovery from season-ending knee surgery in 2021. He suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in late May and underwent surgery on June 11. It was his third knee surgery. A late-season comeback attempt ended when he tweaked it by running the basics.
The Mariners have been cautious with Lewis this spring, understanding he wasn’t ready to fully participate in practices when he showed up and wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day.
“He came into my office a few days ago,” Servais said. “He feels much better. He feels really good. He participated in some of the outfield exercises and moved there. The next step for him is to DH in a minor league game. And when (you) arrive at the base, you run the bases.
The baserunning aspect and running without pain or fear of injury is the next threshold. The Mariners will also be very careful in his preparation once he starts playing.
“He’s basically a month late,” Servais said. “We’ve been here three weeks, I guess. You know, the big stuff he would have to go through, the same type of batting attacks. We have to make sure it’s good. It’s not just about playing. This is how you feel the next day. Can you play the next day? Because now if he’s on a major league roster and he’s not available to you for a few days after every day he plays, that’s not functional. And he knows it.
*** Southpaw Roenis Elias, recovering from season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2021, is closing in on the pitch in minor league spring training games.
“He looks great,” Servais said. “The fastball has life. He throws all his shots. I think he will definitely help us out at some point, maybe maybe in May, giving him about a month under his belt. We’ll see. It might be faster or it might take a little longer.
*** Right-hander Joey Gerber, who didn’t pitch all spring due to forearm strain and also missed last season due to back surgery, has returned to his program to launch but does not yet launch pen sessions.