Tacoma Rainiers drop series; Casali completes his rehabilitation mission
On the afternoon of August 2, Curt Casali parked his car at the Triple-A Sacramento team facility. Then while rehabilitating a right oblique stump with the River Cats, Casali’s phone rang – it was Giants manager Gabe Kapler.
San Francisco had dealt both Casali and left-handed pitcher Matthew Boyd to Seattle for a pair of prospects in the final hour of the trade deadline. Suddenly he was a Mariner.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Casali told reporters. “But a nice surprise.”
Casali would continue to nurse the oblique injury with the Triple-A Rainiers, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in the hours following the 33-year-old’s acquisition.
Tacoma’s next stop on the Pacific Coast League circuit? That would be a six-game set in Sacramento.
Casali would not get on a plane yet.
“(Curt) grabbed a lot of major league games,” Tacoma manager Tim Federowicz said Sunday. “He has a lot of experience under his belt. I know [Mariners catcher] Cal Raleigh will be able to lean on him a bit and can just talk about certain situations.
Appearing in parts of nine major league seasons, Casali was Detroit’s 10th-round selection in the 2011 MLB Draft. He made his debut for Tampa Bay in 2014 before stops at Cincinnati (2018-20) and San Francisco (2021-22), good for 447 career games.
Casali joined the Rainiers for five games to complete his rehab mission, first in Sacramento from Aug. 5-7. He was 3 for 10 with a three-game walk against his former organization and then grabbed a pair of games midway through Tacoma’s home series with Las Vegas last week.
“It was an interesting time to be traded for sure,” Casali admitted. “But I’m happy to be here and hopefully I can contribute in any way.”
Casali was returned to the major league roster on Wednesday to make his debut with the Mariners. He’ll catch in Seattle to give Raleigh ample rest, given Tom Murphy’s season-ending shoulder surgery and Luis Torrens’ recent designation for assignment.
Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters that Casali will face opposing southpaws and be a regular fixture when day games follow night games.
“He behaves like you would expect from a veteran receiver,” Servais told reporters on Friday. “He’s been around. He played in several teams. He was traded. … He has already spent a lot of time studying our launchers and how they work.
“I sort of apologized in advance. I can’t speak for all the managers (Curt’s) who played for, but I was a receiver, and we tend to be the most critical of the guys who play the position you played. I will ask questions, I will challenge you sometimes. Don’t take it the wrong way. I’m just trying to learn (about) you, and for you to learn what’s important to us. … You don’t have to keep this guy.
Casali’s response to Servais: “I love it.”
On Wednesday, he caught seven innings from Tacoma’s three-hitter combination in a shutout win over Las Vegas. Starter Chris Mazza went five scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, and four relievers from Rainier capped a 3-0 victory.
“It was really special,” Federowicz said. “Our offense has improved and we have a lot of really good hitters here right now. But our pitchers too… they’ve really been our backbone over the past few weeks.
Casali’s presence in the big league adds an element of familiarity: the former Reds wide receiver formed a relationship with new Seattle ace Luis Castillo over the course of three seasons. They’re back together on the Mariners, hoping to break a 20-year playoff drought.
“I think that’s probably the main reason he’s here,” Federowicz said with a laugh. “If I had to guess, that’s probably why.”
Until Seattle’s series opener with Texas on Friday, Casali had yet to see any of Seattle’s pitches “up close,” but knew how “nasty” it was. He’s thrilled to witness a rotation featuring former Cincinnati teammate Castillo, as well as a young bullpen boasting the league’s best ERA since June 21, entering the weekend.
“I’ve seen a lot of great things,” Casali said while reporting to the big league club. “There are a lot of young guys in this clubhouse. There’s a lot of energy, which is really cool. Looks like the city is really behind the team.
Casali made his Mariners debut on Sunday, going 0-2 with a second-inning walk.
“I’m really good friends with Adam Frazier. We practice every day during the offseason in Nashville,” Casali continued. “Diego Castillo, I played with him in Tampa Bay. Jake Lamb, I was in the fall league with. I definitely have guys I’m friends with and can help me out if I have any questions. It’s a big help.
LOTS OF OFFENSE, BUT TACOMA LOSES FOUR OF SEVEN
A three-hit combo from Tacoma’s pitching team sure helped, but Evan White carried Tacoma to victory with a two-run homer in the third inning of Wednesday’s 3-0 win, his first outburst. over a year at all levels.
White underwent surgery for a sports hernia in March, only to suffer a setback during his rehab with Tacoma in June. His appearances with the Rainiers in the middle of the homestand mark the 2020 AL Gold Glove winner’s first playing action in about two months.
“I’m sure it was quite a relief,” Federowicz said of White’s home run. “He goes about his business every day. It took him a long time to come back. I’m glad he’s back playing, and it’s still great to have that glove there too.
The day before, Las Vegas had exploded for 16 hits and 10 runs in Tuesday’s blowout 10-4 victory.
After Wednesday’s shutout, Tacoma scored a dozen points and beat the Aviators again Thursday, 12-8. The Rainiers beat Las Vegas with 16 hits, including a seven-run sixth inning.
Outfielder Jarred Kelenic drove in three runs and infielder Abraham Toro added two hits. Outfielder Taylor Trammell doubled and singled twice.
“Our offense has improved a lot over the last week, and they’re putting together good at bat after good at bat,” Federowicz said. “We consistently produce in these situations, and (it) leads to wins.”
Las Vegas escaped with a 5-4 win on Friday, scoring all of its runs in the seventh inning. They swept Tacoma in a doubleheader on Saturday — by scores of 9-4, 5-3 late in the night — and before Sunday’s series finale, they had won the seven-game series.
“They had a good team, but they were very aggressive,” Federowicz said of the Aviators. “We preach a lot about getting in the zone early, so sometimes it just doesn’t get to us. They were aggressive and knew how to find the gaps.
Tacoma salvaged a game on Sunday, and in convincing fashion, to boot.
White hit a second home run for the week — a two-run shot in the third inning — and the Rainiers responded with nine runs for a win in the series finale. Konner Wade threw six one-point innings and Tacoma improved to 50-61.
Kelenic was 1-for-4 on Sunday, tackling Jonathan Villar with a seventh-inning brace that pushed Tacoma’s lead to eight.
“He just wants to start playing again, to get into it regularly,” Federowicz said. “Working on some adjustments he might need to make, just (coming back) having fun and playing to win.”
▪ Matthew Boyd made his season debut in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against Las Vegas, twirling a scoreless seventh frame. Acquired by Seattle on trade deadline day, the former Giant retired his first pair of batters in Saturday’s appearance and incorporated a new change that Federowicz could only call “nasty.”
“He looked great,” Federowicz said of Boyd, who underwent flexor tendon surgery in September 2021 and hadn’t played a game since. “He always had that sneaky fastball. … It’s good to see him back on the mound.
▪ Five arms on Double-A Arkansas combined for a no-hitter Friday night, shutting out Northwestern Arkansas in a 6-0 win.
Prelander Berroa, Seattle’s No. 24 prospect, kicked off the no-no with five scoreless innings before Blake Weiman, Jake Haberer, Rob Kaminsky and Braden Shipley each posted no-hitter frames in relief.
The performance was the club’s second no-hitter, after Connor Jones pitched a seven-inning no-no on May 26.
“Berroa set the tone in a big way,” Travelers pitching coach Sean McGrath told MiLB.com’s Jacob Resnick. “We’ve worked well in the bullpen all year, so most of these guys are in good positions. Nerves were mounting as the withdrawals went by, but it was definitely exciting.
Tacoma is given a bye on Monday before starting a six-game set with Triple-A Albuquerque on Tuesday. The series caps off a 13-game home season.