ST. PETERSBURG — While the Mariners were scrambling to fill his high-leverage role last week, Paul Sewald kept his arm fresh by throwing off a Little League mound in suburban Seattle. Sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, Sewald hurled into a chain-link fence at a safe distance from others in a scene that even he recognized was odd, yet humorous.
“I got a couple of looks like, ‘That looks really strange that this grown adult is throwing off a Little League mound,’” Sewald said. “But it was fun. It was no big deal. It was a friendly park. Everyone stayed away from me, and I kept away from everybody.”
Sewald’s next such throws could be back off a big league mound after the Mariners activated the reliever on Wednesday ahead of their game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. His second bout with COVID since the pandemic began came with cold-like symptoms, but nothing significant, and he said his body has 100 percent recovered.
“Absolutely, I wouldn’t say that I’m ready if I wasn’t ready,” said Sewald, who threw a bullpen session at the Trop on Tuesday. “Anybody [else] that we have is better than somebody who’s not ready.”
In a corresponding roster move, right-hander Penn Murfee was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.
The Mariners won five of the six games that Sewald was sidelined, but they gladly welcomed the right-hander back, and they hope he can pick up right where he left off after beginning the year with four scoreless outings. And the Mariners won’t have reservations about deploying him in any game’s most critical moments.
“He comes right back into the same role that he’s been with us in the past,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “There will be leverage. There always is in our games at some point. So he’ll pitch toward the end of the game like he always does.”
In Sewald’s absence, Seattle back-filled the sequences he likely would’ve been slated for with a combination of Erik Swanson, Andrés Muñoz, Diego Castillo and Yohan Ramirez. The results were mostly positive, other than a blown save by Ramirez on Saturday against Kansas City that the Mariners recovered from. Those arms now have more high-leverage experience heading into the thick of the season.
“I think, generally, that’s why we’re going to be really good this year, is that we don’t have two or three guys that you trust and then six or seven that you don’t,” Sewald said. “We trust you guys, and we’ll throw whoever we have to in whatever inning, and that way nobody gets overused and so everybody’s fresh.”
Other COVID updates
• Right fielder Mitch Haniger said he’s still experiencing cold-like symptoms after twice testing negative and clearing all protocols to return to the club on Monday. Because his body is not at 100 percent, he’s still taking part in baseball activities while his symptoms subside.
• Reliever Sergio Romo, who also was affected by the Mariners’ COVID outbreak earlier this month and is also on the 15-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation, has begun playing catch in Seattle.
• Third-base coach Manny Acta could rejoin the team in the next day or so after testing negative, the first of two required negative results.