MINNEAPOLIS – Matt Festa’s first outing in his return to the big leagues didn’t go exactly as planned. Dropping a single homer in each of his two innings of work in a 10-4 loss to the Twins on Sunday is less than ideal.
But in those two innings, it was also clear that the Mariners’ reliever had returned as a changed pitcher with better weapons to stay in the big leagues and find success. Of his 36 pitches, 26 were strikes with nine swinging strikes.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said: “I thought Matt Festa threw the ball brilliantly except for two left-handers.”
Actually, Festa started the third innings in place of starter Marco Gonzales. He hit Gary Sanchez and Ryan Jeffers, displayed their increased fastball velocity and reworked the slider that can generate swings and misses.
That slider hit him against left-handed hitters as well. The 0-1 slider for Max Kepler broke straight into Max Kepler’s swing path and turned into deep right field in a single homer.
In the fourth inning, Festa got Carlos Correa to line up in left field for the first out. After getting up 0-2 on switch-hitting Jorge Polanco, Festa fired the ball at 95-mph on the inner side of the plate, resulting in another solo blast in right field. Festa then came back to kill Gio Ursella and Miguel Sano.
The early days of Festa spring training seemed like a long shot to make the Mariners bullpen. He was a non-roster invitee on a minor league contract and was in fact cut from camp on 29 March.
But when Casey Sadler lost the season due to shoulder surgery and Ken Giles suffered a strained tendon in his finger, and with an expanded 28-man roster to begin the season, the Mariners replaced Festa in the final places. Brought back to compete for one. 10 member unit. He fought for the last bullpen spot with right-handers Devin Sweet and Wyatt Mills until the final days of spring training.
“I was fully prepared for any decision once I’m back in the (MLB) camp,” he said earlier this week. “I was totally fine with going to Tacoma and starting there or starting here and leaping over things and helping the team win, whichever way the meeting went. Obviously, I’m happy to be with the team.” And on the opening day roster, my second roster, it’s a lot of fun.”
There was a forgotten pitcher in the Festa outfit. He made his MLB debut at Coors Field on July 14, 2018. Called into the big leagues from Class AA Arkansas, he made eight appearances in 2018 with varying success. Performances were similar in 2019 when he made the opening day roster, but took the shuttle ride from Tacoma to Seattle, making 20 appearances with a 5.64 ERA.
He was named for the assignment on February 2 of 2020 when the team claimed a waiver to Jose Siri and nearly a month later underwent Tommy John surgery in New York to fix a sick elbow.
Due to the spread of the coronavirus, FESTA’s procedure, which was performed by New York Mets team doctor Dr. David Alchek, was the last elective surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and one of the last in New York. Faridabad.
With daily physical therapy not possible due to COVID-safety guidelines, Festa was able to attend HSS two days a week. The rest of his rehab was done on him. He built a home gym and studied rehab exercises and plans on the Internet.
Festa returned to the mound in late July. He made 19 appearances for Tacoma, posting a 4–1 record with a 2.95 ERA. In 21/1/3 innings, he dismissed 31 batsmen with only three walks.
Since he was not on the 40-man roster, Festa was not subject to the MLB lockout and took part in February’s minicamp, impressing the Mariners with the increased velocity and improved sliders he began working on before being injured .
“The first thing we saw was a spike in his luggage,” Servais said. “His fastball velocity was in the 93-94 range before he was always like a 90-91 guy with no deception. The brakes on his breaking ball got better with a slightly bigger sweep than before. He has a Major There’s a little bit of league experience, but he’s a different pitcher now than the last time we saw him, which is a credit to him. He’s wagged his tail.”
And while being called into the big leagues for the first time will always rank higher, returning to the big leagues has a special meaning.
“This one I feel a lot more prepared and confident in right now,” he said. “I’m a different pitcher. I know myself and understand what I need to do to compete. He spent all that time alone in New York in the off-season, playing catch in the public school yard, against the wall. Was throwing or with my best friends who don’t play baseball. They just helped me through my throwing schedule. Working in my basement. The trip was definitely unorthodox, but it was worth the wait is. “