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MLB debut nears for Varvaro

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Anthony Varvaro is five years removed from St. John’s, but he’s just a short drive away from Seattle.

The Staten Island native has earned his first Triple-A call-up and flew to Tacoma last week just two days after pitching in his second consecutive Double-A Southern League All-Star Game. Varvaro will report to the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, which plays at Cheney Stadium, a mere 45-minute drive from Seattle’s Safeco Field.

“I could imagine I’m going to feel like I’m right there, so close, but so far,” Varvaro said. “Hopefully, I go there and continue the success I’ve been having in Double-A and even get a call-up before September.”

A chance at making his Major League debut is fairly good, especially considering Varvaro was named to the Mariners’ 40-man roster in November.

“You’re on a Major League roster, your contract changes, your salary changes, everything changes,” he said. “Your Minor League contract is pretty much wiped out. Now I’m on a year-to-year contract so if I get released off the roster, I’m open to any team, I have to go through waivers. It’s a totally different ballgame.”

While he’s completely focused on the task at hand, Varvaro is checking out what the Mariners do on a daily basis.

“You definitely keep an eye out for it because anything that happens with the big league club, you’re directly affected,” Varvaro said. “Now you’re just an injury away.”

The right-hander could get the call in September, when Major League rosters expand and can include anyone on the 40-man roster. Generally, teams either in a pennant race or completely out of it call up everyone on its extended roster.

As of the All-Star Break, the Mariners are in last place in the West, 15 games out of first. Unloading ace Cliff Lee to the first-place Rangers all but proves Seattle is looking toward the future in the second half of the season.

Varvaro is hoping he’s part of that future, but he’s not getting too carried away with how close he is to a big-league call-up.

“I realize it, but I don’t think about it,” he said. “I still have to perform every day. Even though I’m so close, if I don’t put up the numbers it’s real easy to get kicked back down.”

If Varvaro needs a reality check, he just needs to think back to June 27, 2005, when he laid on an operating table shortly after the Mariners selected him in the 12th round of the First-Year Player Draft. Tommy John surgery postponed the start of his professional career.

“It was tough, a lot of it was tedious work, a lot of it was mental toughness,” he said. “Once I got into the throwing part of the rehab, that was tough. Trying to get back mechanically was even tougher because this organization didn’t have many guys who have seen me throw. They were trying to figure out how to rebuild me.”

He also went back to St. John’s pitching Coach Scott Brown, who also worked on Varvaro’s delivery.

“My mechanics are totally different now than when I was at St. John’s,” he said. “Then I was pretty much a max effort guy and now I’m actually not max effort at all. I’m strictly out of the stretch now coming out of the bullpen. I have a nice, easy, smooth delivery, a loose arm.”

A starter his entire life, including stellar careers at Curtis High School and St. John’s, Varvaro has been transformed into a reliever the last two years, although he said he’s been told that’s always been part of Seattle’s plans. His fastball registers anywhere from 92-97 mph, he now regularly throws a change-up and a curveball is his out pitch.

“I just pitch a bit differently,” he said. “I don’t try to set batters up as much as I did when I started. I pretty much come right at you. The scouting report is pretty much out on me. If I have two strikes I’m going to go for my out pitch 95 percent of the time.”

A year ago, Varvaro went 4-3 with a 2.82 earned run average and had eight saves for the Double-A West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, earning a spot in the Southern League All-Star Game.

“I knew if I put up good numbers last year that I’d be put on the [40-man] roster,” Varvaro said. “This year being on the 40-man roster, it’s pretty much been trying to show them that they didn’t make a mistake. I’m living up to my prospect status. Last year, I played to get on and this year I’m playing to show them that I should stay on.”

Varvaro hoped he’d start the year in Tacoma, but he was back with the Diamond Jaxx. The 25-year-old has made the most of it, he has nine saves and 46 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings. A second trip to the Southern League All-Star Game insured Varvaro would finally earn his first trip to Triple-A.

Varvaro flew to Tacoma Wednesday to join the Rainiers and then it’s off to Reno for a four-game weekend series. Despite the promotion and being agonizingly close to Seattle, Varvaro is maintaining his focus. His eyes are on the prize.

“I don’t think it’s going to hit me because I feel like I should have been there,” Varvaro said. “I’ve also never played in Triple A so it will be a different experience. It’s something that has to happen especially if I’m hoping for a call-up at the end of the season. I think the way things are going with this organization I think that’s a good shot as long as I keep on producing.”

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