Thyago Vieira was just 20 years old when he was the closer for the Brazilian national team at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Vieira, a hard-throwing right-hander who had spent two seasons in the Mariners system and had never pitched above the Rookie level, never got a chance to close as Brazil lost all three of its games in group play. Still, it was a remarkable experience for the young pitcher, now the Mariners' No. 9 prospect.
Four years later, Vieira is close to another big career moment: his Major League debut.
Vieira, signed by the Mariners as a Minor League free agent in 2010, made his Triple-A debut with Tacoma on July 20. He retired five of the six batters he faced, striking out three and reaching 99 on the radar gun.
"For me, I looked to keep to the same plan," Vieira said of his Rainiers debut. "I never changed what I could do at Double-A. I came in here and just put it in my mind that I'm going to help the team win. I'm going to give them my best and be at 100 percent. I just wanted to make my pitches."
"I've only seen him for a day, but what I saw today looked really good," Tacoma manager Pat Listach said. "I know he had some work with our pitching coach, and our pitching coordinator was in town. They went over a few things mechanics-wise. He looked like he picked up on [it] really quick and took it into the game. He looked really good."
Vieira harnessed the control of his 100 mph fastball at Class A Advanced Bakersfield in 2016. He posted a 2.84 ERA in 34 games while striking out 53 and only walking 18 in 44 1 /3 innings.
"I learned a lot," Vieira said. "I tried to bring it with me, my aggressiveness, compete against every hitter. This year, I've learned how to control my pitches. At [Class A Advanced], you can kind of control the hitters. Up here, no. If you throw it over the middle, guys are going to hit it. Here, I try to hit the corners more and use more of my slider."
Video: Rainiers' Vieira fans Tapia to end frame
The improved command showed again this year at Double-A Arkansas, where he was 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA and two saves in 29 games. Vieira struck out 35 and walked 15 in 36 1/3 innings, but he said he knows he will have to be even more precise as a pitcher in the Pacific Coast League.
"It's really different, so I studied and prepared myself before the game," Vieira said. "Guys told me the ball likes to fly here a lot, so I tried to keep it down in the zone."
Only three players born in Brazil have ever appeared in the Majors -- Indians catcher Yan Gomes, Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando and journeyman right-hander Andre Rienzo. Vieira said he is looking forward to joining them, not just for himself, but for baseball in his home country.
"If I can make it in the big leagues, it's going to be really nice, for me and all Brazilian players," Vieira said. "Because we know we can open the door for the next guys coming. That's amazing. I want to help Brazil. I want to tell the people that hey, Brazil has talent in baseball."
Roll on Dubon: Brewers No. 9 prospect Mauricio Dubon also earned an in-season promotion to Triple-A, joining Colorado Springs last month. The shortstop has hit a solid .286/.314/.439 with two home runs and 15 RBIs in 22 games in the Pacific Coast League so far.
Sam I am: Isotopes left-hander Sam Howard is still searching for consistency since his promotion from Double-A last month. Howard is 3-2 with a 5.13 ERA in eight starts overall, alternating between good and bad outings almost every time he takes the mound.
Trade dividends: Newly acquired outfielder Tyler O'Neill went 1-for-4 with a run scored and two strikeouts in his Memphis Redbirds debut July 23. Traded by the Mariners to the Cardinals on July 21, O'Neill was coming off an unbelievable five-game stretch with Triple-A Tacoma, going 9-for-21 with five home runs and 11 RBIs.