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Gaviglio relishes first trip to majors

Ashland native Sam Gaviglio was shagging balls during batting practice while with Triple-A Tacoma in Washington earlier this month when he was approached by Denny Hocking, a coach for the Rainiers.

“I was on the field at Tacoma and was scheduled to start on a Thursday,” he recalled. “I got a call on a Tuesday. Hocking was standing on second and said go talk to my manager.”

The Ashland High graduate checked in with manager Pat Listach, who informed Gaviglio that he was headed to the major leagues for the first time.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Gaviglio officially joined the parent Seattle Mariners on May 10 in Philadelphia and then made his major league debut out of the bullpen the next day in Toronto against the Blue Jays.

He went two innings and allowed one run on two hits with four strikeouts. The young righty threw 30 pitches and 25 for strikes.

“It was my first big-league outing. It was a dream come true. It finally came and I wanted to make the best of it. I wanted to attack hitters,” he said.

The right-hander made his first start in the big leagues against the Chicago White Sox on May 18 and allowed three hits and no runs in five innings. He threw 75 pitches and 47 were strikes.

“They had me as the long guy (out of the bullpen),” he said. “I got my two innings in Toronto. They told me I was going to make that start. It had been two weeks since my last start in Las Vegas (with Tacoma). I stuck with my routine.”

Gaviglio then started for the second time Wednesday at the first-place Washington Nationals, who lead the National League in team batting average and several other categories.

He went six innings and allowed six hits and five runs (only one earned) with two walks and one strikeout while getting tagged with the loss in a 5-1 decision.

The Nationals scored four unearned runs in the first inning after leadoff man Trea Turner reached on error by the Seattle shortstop.

They also got a three-run homer in the first from Anthony Rendon, who went deep for the second night in a row.

“I was leaving the ball up,” said Gaviglio, who made five starts for Tacoma before being promoted. “I got away from my game plan there in the first and it showed.”

Does he think he will get another chance to start?

“Hopefully,” he said. “I need to be better than that coming out of the first inning.”

“I thought he hung in there,” said Scott Servais, the Seattle manager and a former Major League catcher. “He left the ball up to Rendon and it cost him. The Nationals have a very good offense, no doubt. They make you work.”

That left the pitcher with a 0-1 record and 1.38 ERA in his first three big league games.

Servais said Gaviglio should get other chances to start for Seattle. The Mariners have been hampered by injuries, including those to starting pitcher Felix Hernandez.

Servais was the director of player development with the Texas Rangers when Tanner Roark was a pitcher in the minor league system there. Roark was the starter for the Nationals against Gaviglio on Wednesday.

Servais said Gaviglio compares favorably to Roark, who won 16 games last year for Washington and is a former reliever.

“The key is to throw the ball over the plate,” said the manager.

Whether he starts or comes out of the bullpen, playing for the Mariners has been surreal for Gaviglio.

“My dad is from south Seattle and I always grew up watching the Mariners,” he said. “As you get older you see how things work out, and the road to get to the big leagues, it is a pretty hard process.”

But he has overcome the odds.

David Driver is a freelance writer from Maryland and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com

Seattle starter Sam Gaviglio (44) throws a pitch against the Washington Nationals in Washington on Wednesday. [MANUEL BALCE CENETA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]