San Francisco Chronicle
Reliever Steckenrider aims for rebound
MESA, Ariz. — A key member of the Mariners’ bullpen two seasons ago, Drew Steckenrider is in Oakland Athletics camp this spring seeking a rebound opportunity.
Steckenrider, a 32-yearold right-hander, had a career year in 2021 with Seattle, posting a 2.00 ERA over 62 relief outings with a team-high 14 saves. But he struggled in 2022, appearing in just 16 games for the Mariners with a 5.65 ERA before being sent to Triple-A, where he spent the rest of the season.
Signed to a minorleague deal last week, Steckenrider is a nonroster invitee to A’s camp but as a bullpen candidate who offers MLB experience many of the A’s relief options lack. He has made 201 relief outings in five seasons with Miami and Seattle since debuting in 2017.
“He pitched great in the second half of 2021, we saw it up close,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “And then as happens with a lot of relievers we see, they’re not able to repeat it the next year for whatever reason. He was a guy looking for an opportunity, looking to get back to where he was particularly with his off-speed stuff. And this is a really good spot for him.”
Steckenrider relies heavily on a four-seam fastball, which he threw about 65% of the time the past two seasons. MLB hitters posted just a .216/ .238/.346 slash line against it in 2021 but a .333/.360/.528 line last season in his limited outings for the Mariners, per Statcast.
“They had me working on stuff between two breaking balls at the major-league level and it’s tough to work on things at the major-league level,” Steckenrider said Wednesday. He said his traditional off-speed pitch is a curveball, but last season he was encouraged to “go more slider at a certain point earlier on. That didn’t work and it didn’t feel like I got a fair chance to really, I guess, pitch the rest of the season after getting sent out of there” to the minors.
Steckenrider said he talked to A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson and others in the organization before signing and “thought they had a good plan for me” that factored in pitch usage.
“They had some feedback on what they’d like to see from me and how they think I can improve, and I thought their thoughts and my thoughts on those things were lined up,” Steckenrider said.
“It seemed like a good fit.”
Bleday’s ‘upside’ key part in trade
Forst said the A’s spoke with the Marlins “a number of times” in the past year about outfielder JJ Bleday before acquiring him last week in a trade for pitcher A.J. Puk.
“We really like the power and there is elite plate discipline,” Forst said. “He’s really good (defensively) in the corners and … as much as we’ve talked about versatility and guys moving around, having another center-field option was very attractive.”
Puk, the A’s firstround draft pick in 2016, posted a 3.12 ERA in 62 relief outings last season and was slated to compete for a rotation job this spring, though Forst said “there was a chance he was going to still be in the bullpen.”
“It felt like a place where we could make the swap, feel like we’re still covered in depth on our side and really like the upside of the player we acquired,” Forst said.
Reliever Deolis Guerra, a nonroster camp invitee attempting a return from Tommy John surgery, has a mild lat muscle strain and is further behind than expected, manager Mark Kotsay said. … Reliever Norge Ruiz is being evaluated for a mild back strain. … Reliever Jasseel De La Cruz, also a nonroster invitee, is expected to join the A’s in camp soon after a visa delay.