There are two pitchers trying to make the Mariners pitching staff and neither is likely to make it, though one will end up in Tacoma. Another pitcher is a spring invitee, not on the 40-man roster, and if he shows anything at all he could be in Tacoma as well.
As to the first pitcher, look for a healthy Danny Hultzen. Remember him, the Mariners number one pick a few years ago. He was 9-7 in his first season in the minor leagues in 2012 and in 2013 was 5-1 in seven starts before going down with an arm injury and has not pitched since then. He could even end up in a lower classification, but no matter where he lands he is starting his journey back to the majors. In 32 minor league starts he is 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 159.2 innings, allowing 109 hits.
How his injury will affect him is anyone’s guess, but it is always good to have extra arms as pitchers have more injuries in todays game than ever before. Which brings us to another pitcher, the one not on the 40-man roster, though in 2013 lefty Joe Saunders was part of the Mariner rotation, but at 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA he was not a fan favorite. The 33-year old is 89-86 with a 4.37 career ERA. His winning record is misleading. In 2008-2009 he was 33-14 for the Angels. He is not that pitcher anymore. He is trying to make a comeback after starting 8 games for Texas in 2014 going 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA and then pitching 3.1 relief innings for the Orioles giving up five runs. In addition he made four minor league stops, three in AAA and one in AA and did not fare well there either.
Saunders is good against lefties with a career .243 batting average against, so maybe he will be fighting for a lefty relief spot. If he does end up in Tacoma, he is-as they say-insurance.
But for me Joe reminds me of the past when he and Aaron Harang were giving up runs like cheap nylons. I like the new Mariners thank you, not the beleaguered ones.
One Mariner who has already been benched is Abraham Almonte, but two others are on the verge of losing theirs.
Almonte lost his job because at the time of the benching he was leading the league in strikeouts and batting below the Mendoza line at .198. He also struggled in the field making two errors in one game. Michael Saunders who replaced him is hot, hot, hot. 8 for 18 batting leadoff with 4 rbis. As long as he hits, he plays.
Brad Miller may find himself in Tacoma soon. He is hitting .188 and the Mariners offense is such they can’t afford to keep that average in the lineup. Though Nick Franklin could return, the Mariners may take a look at Chris Taylor, batting .361 at Tacoma with 11 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, 16 rbis, and 5 steals. He has made only three errors in 26 games. He was a team mate of pitcher Danny Hultzen at Virginia.
Franklin is doing well in Tacoma, hitting .324 with 4 homers and 15 rbis, but I feel the Mariners would like to see what Taylor can do at the major league level.
Another problem is Charlie Furbush who is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA. Fifteen hits in 9.1 innings allowing eight runs will get any pitcher in a doghouse, even a lefty. Lucas Luetge could be recalled, but he has not fared well either. Unless they want to bring up a righty from Tacoma, Furbush will stay on the Good Ship Mariner.
Dustin Ackley is batting .241 with one homer and 12 rbis. Traditionally left field is a power spot and Ackley has little. It could be, that like Justin Smoak, Ackley has settled into a .240 hitter. I doubt the M’s will make change here unless Dustin drops further down, but without help in Tacoma he will probably platoon with Cole Gillespie. The M’s do like James Jones .313 in Tacoma. If Dustin falters look for a Jones call up.
And lastly, when either Taijuan walker or James Paxton is ready it is adios Brandon Maurer. No explanation needed here.
Despite the Mariners beating Toronto 9-7 Wednesday, what the Mariners need to fix in 2014 was apparent in the first two innings. It is not Aaron Harang and the seven runs he gave up in his two innings of work, but what he represents, that being what Jack Zduriencik has done the last two seasons.
Jack has looked for that veteran pitcher to be a fifth starter. It has been a move of desperation, indicating that young arms in the minors are not ready, and that Jack was unable or unwilling to make a trade for a better option.
In 2012 it was Kevin Millwood, 37 years old, in his last season in the majors. His 4.25 earned run average was not bad, but his 6-12 record was, as well as the fact he averaged slightly less than six innings a start. This season the sacrificial fifth starter is another ancient Mariner, though two years younger than Millwood, at 35. Harang is averaging 5.4 innings per start, allowing two homeruns per nine innings. His record is 5-10 with a 5.79 ERA.
Unless, the Red Sox, Yankees, or Blue Jays are in town; or there is a bobblehead giveaway; or you are season ticket holder, why would anyone go when Millwood or Harang were pitching. Maybe if you are a masochist.
The Mariners must get away from the Millwoods, Harangs, Bondermans, etal. Pitchers on the downside of a long career, or coming off devastating injuries.
At the moment Seattle should have King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma as solid starters, both of them All-Stars. Joe Saunders will have a spot with another year on his contract. Erasmo Ramirez is pitching well at the moment, so he will be in the mix. So too should Danny Hultzen and perhaps Taijuan Walker. Maybe even Brandon Maurer.
I hope Trader Jack has learned his lesson and will stay away from broken down war horses in 2014. They are not working out.
When the Mariners picked up Aaron Harang shortly before the season began he had not pitched in close to two weeks. But now he has six starts from the watchful eyes of the crows nest and you don’t need binoculars to see he is a disaster. The batting average against him is .317, his earned run average is 8.58, and his won-lost record is 1-5.
The Mariners with a still woeful offense can not afford throwing away games with a starting pitcher who can not keep his team in the game. In his six starts he has gone 28.1 innings, less than five innings per start. That taxes the bullpen, which outside of Tom Wilhelmsen, Oliver Perez, Carter Capps, and recently recalled Yoervis Medina, are struggling.
The question is who would fill Harang’s spot. It would have been, were he not on the DL, Danny Hultzen with a 3-1 record and 2.78 ERA. In Tacoma they have another veteran pitcher on the downside of his career in Jeremy Bonderman. He is 2-3, 3.79 with more hits than innings pitched. Not an improvement. One of the Mariners big four young guns, James Paxton is 2-3, 4.35. Andrew Carraway is 4-1, 3.19 and would be worth a look. So to would Blake Beavan, who was sent down earlier this season for being ineffective, his numbers being similar to Harang’s. But he is 2-2, 3.70 and pitching better. And what happened to Hector Noesi? He was effective in an emergency start for Harang when he had a back problem.
There are options here and the Mariners must make a choice. They came within one game of .500 before losing five straight. Three were tough losses in Cleveland, but Mariner fans want to see improvement, want to see success before summer when they are more likely to attend games. The Mariner front office have more patience than Mariner fans, but replacing Harang is a solid baseball move. If it isn’t working, fix it.
Back in the day, the day before even my day, there was a favorite saying for the Boston Braves. It was “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain.” The catchy rhyme was meant to indicate the Braves had two starting pitchers who could win, the other two starters being unreliable. If there were two days of rain, Spahn and Sain could pitch again.
The Mariners have two starters that can be relied on. Hernandez and Iwakuma and three . . . does anything rhyme with Iwakuma? How about Felix and Hisashi and three. . . no, nothing working here. Names have gotten more complicated, less poetic.
But the point is that the Mariners other three starters are troublesome. Joe Saunders is Jekyll and Hyde. His career at Safeco is 8-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 12 starts. On the road he is awful. In Toronto, before he was yanked, he did not have one swinging strike. When the Jays swung they hit the ball, and hit it hard. But he must pitch on the road this month because that is where the Mariners will be spending most of their time.
Brandon Maurer is a rookie, has shown good stretches and bad stretches. He is in a learning process, making adjustments on the fly. He has pitched well enough to put up with his bad moments. The fifth starter, Aaron Harang had three starts where he looked like an A-Ball pitcher, but was solid in his last outing. Perhaps he is rounding into form, but don’t expect much from the number five starter.
If a change is made anywhere, and at the moment it is unlikely, Hector Noesi, the long man in the bullpen is the likely starter. Jeremy Bonderman, a veteran pitcher now in Tacoma is not that much different than Harang. Jimmy Paxton, one of the Big Four young guns, is 2-2 with a plus five era. Taijuan Walker in Jackson is still too young. Danny Hultzen, who was 3-1 with a sub two era is on the DL and needs time to rehab once he is healthy.
One name to watch is a pitcher recently moved up from Jackson to Tacoma. James Gillheeney, a 25 year old lefty who in four starts at Jackson was 2-0 1.21, then promoted to Tacoma is 2-0, 2.84 and in 35 innings has yet to give up a home run. The question is, because his record since 2009 when he was drafted in the 8th round out of North Carolina State, is less than stellar. He pitched well after his promotion to Jackson in 2012. So the M’s will watch him to see if he has it figured out.
But for now, it is Hernandez, Iwakuma and . . .
When Michael Morse blasted a pitch by former Mariner Jason Vargas in the bottom of the 8th giving the Mariners a 2-1 lead and The Bartender, Tom Wilhelmsen, got the Angels, 1-2-3 in the 9th for his 8th save, the Mariners won their first series of the year, taking three of the four games against the Angels. In doing so, despite an 11-16 record, they moved past the Angels into third place in the American League West.
If only . . .if only. . . the Mariner were not 2-4 against the Astros. I mention this because taking away those six games Houston has played against Seattle, the Astros are 3-16. They are terrible, but for some reason-and Mariner fans hope it is temporary-the Astros are holding the Mariners down. If say, the Mariners were 4-2 against them instead, then they would be 13-14, hovering around the .500 mark.
Ackley and Seager are both hot and the homer by Morse may mean his broken pinkie is feeling better. They will need to stay hot with the Baltimore Orioles coming to town, as they tend to give the Mariners fits.
Winning three of four is good, but another problem is facing the Mariners. Pitching. Joe Saunders has struggled, is 1-3 with a plus six ERA and Aaron Harang in three starts has been pounded like a new nail. Waiting in the wings was Danny Hultzen, off to a great start in Tacoma, but shoulder problems, as in the rotator cuff, have him sidelined. He is not to throw for two weeks, then do rehab for two weeks, and then reassess his arm and shoulder .
With two veteran starters struggling like A-ball pitchers, and with Hultzen sidelined, the Mariners may be stuck with Saunders and Harang. But Hector Noesi has looked good in long relief for the M’s since being recalled from Tacoma. If the Mariners give up on Harang, then Noesi should take his spot with Harang getting released to the pitchers graveyard.
While the starting rotation works itself out, the Mariners must continue to hit, and get Jesus Montero untracked. I would mention Justin Smoak getting hot, but that is like believing in the Easter Bunny.
The Seattle Mariner organization have a pipeline to the University of Virginia Cavaliers. The how or why is a mystery, but they have drafted six players from that college over the last few seasons. The question is how many will be future Mariners and which will be land lubbers.
But Andrew Carraway is another matter. He was drafted in 12th round of the 2009 amateur draft, but at 26, (27 in September), and with 99 games, 85 starts in the minor leagues, he is running out of time to make a splash. He has a 33-20 win-lost record, but with a 4.10 ERA. He gives up more hits than innings pitched, 515 in 502 innings. However, he does not walk many batters. Hultzen, Jimmy Paxton, and Taijuan Walker, are ahead of him, so perhaps a long relief role may be his best bet.
John Hicks, 23, was Hultzen’s catcher at Virginia. He was drafted in the 4th round the same year as his the star pitcher. In 159 minor league games he has hit .312 with 17 homers and 105 rbis. Mike Zunino is ahead of him, so if Hicks does well, he could be trade bait material, or perhaps the Mariners second catcher.
The Mariners also have drafted three infielders out of Virginia. Chris Taylor, shortstop, is 22. He was a 5th round pick in 2012. He hit .328 at Everett in 32 games, then at Clinton hit .304 in 12 games. Steve Proscia, 21, was drafted in 7th round of the 2011 draft. In 2012 at High Desert he batted .333 with 24 homers and 94 rbis. That is a hitters league, so numbers must be adjusted to reality. In a short stint at Jackson, the AA farm team of the Mariners he hit .211. Both have a chance to move up the ladder.
But the same can not be said of Keith Werman, an undrafted free agent. He is 23 and at 5’7″ and 150 pounds, he looks like he is in high school. He hit a combined .256 his rookie year in 2012 (30-117) and had no extra base hits.
So how many will make the big league come in the years to come? I will guess three will play for Seattle, maybe four.