Young starters make big strides on mound
Fame can be fleeting. Ditto with spots on a major league roster.
Witness the situation with Sam Gaviglio, the 27-year-old right-hander who toiled in the minor leagues for 5 1/2 seasons until a call-up from Seattle in May.
I went to Safeco Field for a pair of games last week to write a piece on Gaviglio and fellow former Oregon Stater Andrew Moore, who had formed two-fifths of the injury-riddled starting rotation for the Mariners.
Gaviglio had been solid in his first 10 starts, going 3-3 with a 3.48 ERA. The Mariners went 6-4 in his starts. To that point, his ERA was the best in the majors for a rookie, ahead of the New York Yankees' Jordan Montgomery at 3.62.
On Wednesday, I met with Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., who fairly gushed about both ex-Beavers. I asked Stottlemyre how long he felt Gaviglio would stick with the club.
"I hope he sticks a long time," Stottlemyre said. "I love everything Sam does. He's selfless. He keeps it simple. He works his butt off. He's trying to get better. He's very coachable. As his coach, I really appreciate what he brings and what he has to offer to our club and our rotation. I'm one of his big fans."
On Thursday night, Gaviglio had his first stinker as a major leaguer, yielding nine hits — including a pair of homers — and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 7-4 loss to Oakland.
The next day, Gaviglio was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.
But that's not the end of the story. Gaviglio seems likely to get another call-up soon — perhaps after his next scheduled start with the Rainiers following the All-Star break. If not, it's still a tale of perseverance and accomplishment for the Ashland native.
And for Moore, the North Eugene High grad, it's been a quicker route to The Show, with some impressive early dividends.
Gaviglio wasn't even in Seattle's major league camp during spring training as he entered the final year of his minor-league contract.
"I didn't even know who he was during spring training," Stottlemyre says. "No disrespect to him, but he really wasn't on the radar map in terms of depth and guys we could go to at the major-league level if you run into injuries. I didn't know who Sam was. I very quickly found out there's a lot to like."
Gaviglio pitched for Oregon State from 2009-11, earning first-team Freshman All-America honors and then second-team All-America laurels as a junior. Moore, who pitched at OSU from 2013-15, remembers as a middle-school kid watching Gaviglio hit a home run to help Ashland beat North Eugene in the playoffs one year.
"I still have a bone to pick with him on that one," Moore jokes. "I watched him pitch at Oregon State a lot. When I was at Oregon State and he was in the pros, he spoke to our (pitching) group. I pulled him aside and had a few questions for him. He's a great dude to follow along the Beaver lineage."
A fifth-round draft pick by St. Louis after his junior year in 2011, the Mariners acquired Gaviglio in a trade in 2015. Gaviglio, who pitched for eight teams at six levels through his first five-plus years in pro ball, wasn't sure about his future after going 8-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 17 starts with Tacoma in 2015.
"I felt like my career was at a crossroads at that point," the 6-2, 195-pounder says. "But I tried not to focus on that. I did a lot of thinking during the offseason when I was home in Ashland. Who knows how long your career is going to be? I just decided I was going to try to have some fun and enjoy it."
Gaviglio played both Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, going 5-5 with 4.15 ERA in Jackson, Tennessee, and 3-2 with a 3.71 ERA in Tacoma. Before this season, he accepted an invitation to pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic in March. In his lone appearance, he allowed five hits and two runs in 4 2/3 innings of an 11-10 loss to Venezuela. Italy led 5-2 when he left the game.
"Being with Team Italy got my season started earlier, being in good competition," Gaviglio says. "That really helped."
Fate then smiled on Gaviglio. Injuries began to take a toll on Seattle's pitching staff. The Mariners have used 13 starting pitchers this season and a major league-high 30 pitchers overall. At one point, they had four of their five projected starters on the disabled list.
When Seattle called on Gaviglio on May 11, "it was a dream come true since I was a little kid," he says. "My dad is from the Seattle area. I grew up watching the Mariners. Being (with the M's) has been everything you expect it to be."
During his time in pro ball, Gaviglio has been among the leaders every season in getting ground-ball outs. That proved true during his time with Seattle, too.
"The main thing he does is attack the zone and use his fastball that can gets outs on the ground," Stottlemyre says. "He's really good at hitting both sides of the plate with his sinker. Everything plays off of that.
"He has four pitches that are all pretty good. When one's not working, he does a good job of using another. He doesn't give in to hitters. He keeps the ball in the park. He does a lot of good things. There are things he can still work on, but he's working to get better and making an adjustment on the fly. There's no panic. He knows who he is and knows what he needs to do to get better. We like him a lot.
"We use this term a lot, but he really knows who he is, what his weapons are and what he needs to do. It's impressive for a guy who is young in terms of major-league experience. It's an unforgiving league, and he has done so well."
Gaviglio's fastball tops out in the low 90s.
"In this industry, people sometimes get caught up with 'stuff,'" Stottlemyre says. "He's not going to wow you. You're not going to walk and away and think, 'That kid's electric.' But you watch him game after game and what he offers to his club — which is keep you in games and give you a chance to win."
Gaviglio appreciates Stottlemyre's belief in him.
"Mel did a wonderful job when I came up," he says "He didn't try to change me. He took his time to learn me as a pitcher. He's been real positive, helping me fine-tune things."
Moore, who turned 23 on June 2, has had a much faster track to the majors.
In his three years at OSU, Moore carved a 27-9 record with a 2.10 ERA. He matched the school single-season win record as a freshman in 2013, going 14-2 and helping the Beavers to the College World Series. Moore was a first-team All-American and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.
After being chosen by Seattle in "Round B" after the second round of the 2015 draft after his junior year, Moore was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 14 games (eight starts) with Everett in the short-A Northwest League.
Last season, Moore was given the franchise's Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award, beating out such players as Edwin Diaz, Dan Altavilla and Ryan Yarbrough.
Moore was in big-league camp during spring training but started the season with Double-A Arkansas, going 1-2 with a 2.08 ERA. He was promoted to Tacoma, where he was 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA, 48 strikeouts and eight walks in nine starts.
In his major league debut on June 22, Moore got the win in a 9-6 victory over Detroit, allowing three runs on six hits with no walks and four strikeouts in seven innings. He became only the fourth player in franchise history to go seven innings and record a win in his first big-league game.
In his three starts with Seattle, Moore is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA. He became the third Mariner pitcher to go seven-plus innings in his first two games. Moore faced 69 batters before walking a batter, the longest streak to begin a career in franchise history.
"It's what we've seen out of Andrew Moore since the day he put on a Mariners jersey," Seattle manager Scott Servais said after Moore's second career start. "The people at Oregon State saw the same thing. He just has a way about him. He has a mound presence — very in-charge, just attacking all the time. His stuff is not going to wow you, but I can't say enough about the way he gets the job done.
"Andrew has been very impressive. He's going to win a lot of games as a Mariner."
Mike Zunino, who has caught Moore in all three starts, also has come away impressed.
"He's doing a great job," Zunino says. "You find few pitchers who come out of college so polished. You know what you're going to get. He throws all four pitches for strikes. He knows how to move the ball around the strike zone to slow guys on. You don't see many guys who learn that so quick.
"He's not going to throw the heavy fastball or that wipeout slider, but he's going to keep guys off balance, and he's capable of going deep into games every time out."
Moore says he's having the time of his life.
"It hasn't really sunk in too much, being up here in the major leagues, but I can tell you, it's been fun," he says. "It's a totally different thing than the minors. Having all the extra added supplies and amenities is cool. It's something everyone dreams of. It's even more than I could imagine."
Moore's coaches and teammates have been impressed with the way he has pitched through turbulence and displayed poise under pressure.
"That's something that has improved over the last couple of years," he says. "In college, there were a few times when stuff would start to go bad and I would try to increase the pace and go faster. That's where things can spiral out of control.
"My coaches the last couple of years have stressed when you feel that coming, step back, take a deep breath. As simple as it sounds, it makes a huge difference. They've been really good about making sure I'm controlling the tempo and working at the pace I want to — quick and aggressive, or if I have to, step back and slow down a little bit."
For a while, shortstop Tyler Smith — who played at OSU from 2010-13 joined Gaviglio and Moore with the Mariners. Smith was called up on June 2 and sent back down to Tacoma on June 21.
"To have three guys on a 25-man big-league roster from Oregon State?" OSU coach Pat Casey asks rhetorically. "It's really, really cool. I'm happy for those guys. So proud of them. I know how hard each of those worked to make it happen."
Jeff Sakamoto, the Mariners' Northwest area scout, says it's no coincidence.
"Those guys are just tough," says Sakamoto, a Portland resident who played catcher for one year under Casey at OSU in 1999. "Our former director of amateur scouting, Tom McNamara,, loves the Beavers. When you draft a guy out of Oregon State, he knows how to play. If you can play for Pat Casey, you can play at the pro level.
"I love 'Case'. He's a tough guy. He demands excellence. He will not let you take a play or a practice rep off. He's hard to play for, but if you can play there, you can play anywhere."
Moore's fastball has improved to where he'll top out in the mid-90s on the radar gun, but he's not a flame-thrower. That didn't bother the Mariners.
"We knew the character and work ethic and what type of guy he is," Sakamoto says. "What really impressed me when he was at Oregon State was his ability to command the fastball. On the days when he didn't have his best stuff, he'd always give you a competitive start. He found ways to win games.
"I give Tom McNamara a lot of credit. A lot of teams had Andrew as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. We took him (after) the second round. We thought he was going to be a big-leaguer pretty quickly."
Gaviglio and Moore are of the same ilk, both as pitchers and as people.
"They are both quiet guys," says Nate Yeskie, the pitching coach for both players at OSU. "When they were with us, they weren't ego guys at all. They showed up and did their work. Their teammates respected that. Sam said hardly a word his first year. Andrew was given a little more freedom with the personalities around him. Both had a very good sense of awareness of what their body was doing and how to stay healthy. They were extremely well-liked by teammates, and subsequently, very easy to coach."
Yeskie pitched at Nevada-Las Vegas. The year after he signed a pro contract, Stottlemyre took over as pitching coach for the Rebels. For a couple of years, Yeskie would work out with him in the offseason. When Stottlemyre took over as the Mariners' pitching coach last year, Yeskie was able to share knowledge of him with Gaviglio and Moore.
"I thought it would be a great relationship," Yeskie says. "I know what Mel is looking for. He doesn't have to look too far when it comes to those two kids."
"They have somewhat different styles," Stottlemyre says. "Sam sinks it and gets outs at the bottom of the zone while Andrew rides it and gets outs at the top of the zone. Sam is a little more of a pitch-maker. He'll live on the edge. He won't give in to hitters. Andrew just comes at you. He's like that little bulldog that keeps gnawing at your ankles and not letting up.
"While their stuff is different, they do it the same way in terms of attacking, getting into good counts. They don't back down. They're not afraid. That's an important intangible for guys to survive at this level. They both are fairly polished young starters in the big leagues who know themselves very well. I've yet to see any panic with either one of them."
Mariners broadcaster Bill Krueger played baseball with Casey at the University of Portland before embarking on a 13-year major-league pitching career. He sees many similarities in Gaviglio and Moore.
"Neither is overpowering, but they both throw a lot of fastballs, which is interesting," Krueger says. "You'd think hard throwers would throw more fastballs. Sam is throwing nearly 60 percent fastballs with an average velocity of under 89. But in this league, it's all about being able to command the fastball and being able to pitch to both sides of the plate.
"Sam is more of a three-quarter-angle guy who sinks the ball. Andrew is more of a classic power guy, over the top, who pitches more at the top of the strike zone, has good command on both sides as well. They have different ways to get people out.
"If they were to continue doing what they're doing right now, they'll have unbelievable careers. Andrew has the higher ceiling. He has a little bigger arm, a little more equipment. His ability to pitch in all different parts of the strike zone, where he can pitch down with his changeup and rise the ball up, is powerful."
Krueger finishes with a thought on the program run by his friend and former teammate.
"What Pat has done at Oregon State has been extraordinary," he says. "Nationally, he's getting acclaim as one of the greatest coaches in the game today. Jack Riley had a solid program before him, but never one that would be talked about competing on the level of USC or UCLA or Florida State or Texas, with the cold weather.
"Pat went out and found scrappy players, guys who weren't on everybody's top list, blended them into teams that could win, and he found some pitching. That's what allowed him to turn the corner. He found enough pitching with the competitive edge to pitch in the (Pac-10/12) and get a toe up. And once he won, he is so driven, he still has the nuts and bolts/grinder guys who want to get better, but he's also been able to fish in deeper water for better players. They see the success and are smart enough to think, 'I want to go some place where the coach is going to push me and make me better.' Kids are smart today about that kind of thing.
"Pat is probably feeling a little blue about this past season, because the Beavers went into Omaha No. 1-ranked after a record-breaking season and came up short. Even so, it is an incredible story. I'm so impressed."