With Taijuan Walker making his Tacoma starts on the same days as Erasmo Ramirez made his for Seattle one could surmise that when Walker was ready, he would be called up and Ramirez sent down. In his last start Walker pitched a complete game shutout against Oklahoma City. Ramirez was sent to Tacoma, but Brandon Maurer was called up for bullpen duty. Curious, but there are three scenarios for this promotion.
One is that knowing Ramirez was going to be sent down they brought up Maurer for an extra arm in the bullpen until Walker is called up to start against Houston. A very likely possibility as the only member of the bullpen with an ERA north of 3.00 is Charley Furbush at 3.75 and he is a left handed pitcher. There is no one for Maurer, even striking out four in two innings against Boston, to displace anyone in Seattle’s bullpen, one of the best in baseball.
Another scenario is that Seattle wants to see Walker make another start. There is no need to rush him. If he makes two, even three starts in a row he would be called up. It could be that Maurer will pitch again in relief Friday against Cleveland, then get the start against Houston. Since his demotion from the Mariner rotation where he was dreadful with a + 7 ERA he has been getting work out of the Tacoma pen, so how far can he go as a starter.
A third scenario is that Maurer is being showcased for a possible trade and there might be a team or two looking for a reliever and Seattle is showing off Maurer’s arm that can throw a fastball in the high 90’s.
All three are possibilities that make sense.
It would appear that Michal Saunders will come off his rehab stint in Tacoma. I speculated in my last blog that Endy Chavez would likely go back to Tacoma. But Seattle, if he is not out of options, should send Dustin Ackley and his .220 batting average along with 4 homers and 27 RBIs to AAA. Those are terrible numbers for a power position. I had not considered him a s a possible player sent back to port, but the Mariners are better off with Chavez in left, James Jones in center, and Saunders in right. Chavez is not a power hitter either, but at least he has been productive in the leadoff spot. If Ackley still has options left, the Mariners should exercise it.
Over the winter the Mariners had a projected rotation anchored by two all-star pitchers, King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma. The third and fourth starters were to be two rookies, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, both of whom had strong showings in September of 2013. The question was who would be the fifth starter. The leading candidates were Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, free agent Randy Wolf, Blake Beavan, and Hector Noesi. Surely one of those five would step up.
But the best laid plans of mice and men, along with baseball general managers, often go wrong. Iwakuma had an injury and would miss the start of the season, Walker developed arm problems and Paxton, two starts into the season, went on the DL. Randy Wolf did not want to sign a forty day contract for the beginning of the season and the only other potential starter to step up was Ramirez.
Seattle was lucky to pick up Chris Young, released by Washington just prior to end of spring training. He is 5-2, lucky indeed for Seattle.
So Seattle was left with Felix, Ramirez, Young, and surprising rookie Roenis Elias, a 25 year old Cuban refugee who had not pitched above double A. Seattle also got lucky with Elias.
Iwakuma is back; he, Felix, Elias, and Young are pitching well. But the fifth spot remains a black hole. Maurer was 1-4 in seven starts with a horrendous 7.52 ERA before the Mariners put him into a tugboat and sent him to Tacoma. Erasmo Ramirez has been recalled and is pitching today against Atlanta. He is 1-4 in six starts with a 6.00 ERA.
Where would the Mariners be with a fifth starter who could at the least be a .500 pitcher? The Mariners are 29-28. Take away the 2-8 combined records of Maurer and Ramirez and they are 27-20. It shows how important a fifth starter is. If Felix is the ace, the pitcher who can end losing streaks, then Maurer and Ramirez are the jokers in the deck, killing chances for a win streak.
It is well known the Mariners have no number four hitter and are truly in need of a bat. But a fifth starter might be the real need.
The Mariners were hitting the ball everywhere in spring training and in the season opening series in Anaheim, the Mariners swept the Angels by hitting the ball everywhere, just like spring training. In fact they pounded the Angels outscoring them 26-8 with 18 runs coming with two outs, hitting .429 with runners in scoring position. They outhit the Angels 34-17.
There were many questions that needed answers: Would Justin Smoak finally do something this year? He was 6 for 13, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 7 rbis. Would Dustin Ackley get untracked? He was 4 for 11, a double and triple with 4 rbis. Can Corey Hart come back from his year off? He is 3 for 9 with a home run. Would rookies Abraham Almonte and Stefen Romero hit major league pitching? Romero went hitless in first game then got two hits Wednesday night, one an rbi double. Almonte is 3-13 with 2 doubles and 2 rbis. Zunino the young catcher is hitting .333 with a triple and homer. Brad Miller had a 2 homer game and is hitting .333 And that Cano guy is hitting .455.
Are the questions answered?
No, but give them credit for doing what they did in the spring. For once the Mariners are off to a good start at 3-0.
And Pitching? Erasmo Ramirez following King Felix in the rotation pitched 7 innings, 6 k’s, no walks, and 2 runs. Wednesday, lefty James Paxton, who one pretentious reporter covering the Mariners claims should be a reliever, likening Paxton to Eric Bedard, was even better, pitching 7, allowing 2 hits, walking 2, and striking out 9. Paxton is 5-0 as a starter with a 1.16 ERA. In 31 innings, 30 k’s and 17 hits. Bullpen? I say BS. Paxton watched tape of fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw and based on what he saw, changed his delivery and you can see the results.
We have yet to see the young Cuban Roenis Elias or Chris Young making his comeback. But so far, so good.
Yes there will be rough waters during the 2014 cruise, every team has them. Time will answer all questions, but for now enjoy the smooth sailing.
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.
The Mariners signed former Seattle outfielder Endy Chavez. recently released by the Kansas City Royals. Though he signed a minor league contract, even if he starts the season in AAA Tacoma, he most likely will be with the big club before long. Perhaps even on opening day, because back up center fielder Casper Wells has not hit well, and there have been rumors manager Eric Wedge was unhappy with Well’s sometimes lack of attention during games last season, like forgetting how many outs there were.
Jason Bay is not a center fielder, but has hit well and has a better chance at making the team than Wells. But if Bay struggles early as a backup, then look for Chavez to be called up from Tacoma. Chavez is labeled by the Mariners as ‘protection.” That translates as ‘we need him.’
The final spot in the rotation is also up for grabs, which has now come down to Jeremy Bonderman and Blake Beavan. How they pitch during this final week determines who gets the spot. Brandon Maurer will pitch the last game of spring training, indicating he has won at least the fifth spot in the rotation. Erasmo Ramirez has pitched well but instead of being stretched out, he is being is being held back. He will be pitching behind King Felix in his next outing and Ramirez has a 50 pitch limit. The Mariners are concerned he has a tricep problem, so he will be watched closely.
If Bonderman, who has not pitched in two years, but will throw 90 pitches in his next start, has a bad outing, the door opens for Beavan. If Beavan also falters, the Mariners may just flip a coin. That begs the question of why Jon Garland, who pitched well, was released. It may be that Garland wanted the Mariners to make a decision last week, perhaps there was something in his contract, that required that, and the Mariners did not want, or could not, make a decision and wanted to wait to see how things played out during the final week.
Whatever the reason it has come down to Bonderman or Beavan. But then the M’s may still surprise. Is Carlos Silva still pitching?
Garland’s release was a bit of a surprise considering he was pitching well. In 12 innings, he allowed 10 hits, walked 5, struck out 4, and had a 2.25 ERA. Not bad for a pitcher trying for a comeback after missing all of 2012 and only making 9 starts for the Dodgers in 2011. At 33, missing all that time, having had surgery, all may have played a part in the decision. If Maurer had not pitched well, perhaps Garland would still be around.
Blake Beavan was hammered Saturday and I don’t mean with alcohol. He has allowed 29 hits in 19.1 innings. The good news is that he has not walked a batter and struck out 12. He is a great control pitcher, he throws strikes. Unfortunately the strikes have been too good this spring, allowing 5 home runs among those 29 hits.
Jeremy Bonderman is still in camp, though he too is attempting a comeback after sitting for two years, and he has given up 8 runs in 10 innings.
There really is no one left to challenge Maurer. Though Charlie Furbush has started games before, he was effective in the bullpen last season and that is where the Mariners like him.
No official announcement has been made, but unless there is a trade hiding in the desert cactus, King Felix, Joe Saunders, Hisashi Iwakuma, Brandon Maurer, and Erasmo Ramirez have locked up the five starting jobs.
There are two types of baseball fans, those who love home runs and offense, and those who love pitching. I am in the latter camp. I love seeing pitchers dominate hitters, unless of course they are dominating my team. And I like seeing young pitchers earn their way onto a roster. And like them even more when they succeed. Nothing against Garland, but I am looking forward to seeing Maurer.
Every spring a wrinkle pops up in a teams plans. In the Mariners case it is a wave that pops up. Either way there is a player or two who exceeds expectations, impresses so much that it forces a difficult roster decision for managers. This is a good thing. You would rather have hard choices to make.
One player who could change things in the starting five of the Mariner rotation is Brandon Mauer; 15 innings, 13 hits, 15 strikeouts, and 5 walks. It is not so much the numbers, but the buzz around camp. Manager Eric Wedge has said no decision has yet been made. Mauer now has a sinker, a curve, and a slider to get outs with, other than his fastball. He looks to be more major league ready than Hultzen, now on Tacoma‘s roster, or James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, both of whom should be.
A strong buzz may not mean anything, but sometimes you can read between the lines, as if the M’s are hinting that it could become a reality. The again the Mariners may just be flirting, teasing with the possibility that Maurer could make the jump.
There are, of course, many factors to consider, but Maurer, for the moment, is at the forefront. He is in a battle with Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beaven, and Jon Garland. Consider that Garland is a non-roster invitee, so if Garland makes the team, a player on the forty man roster must be designated for assignment, or released. Garland has pitched well, though he has only one strikeout while walking five.
Though the Mariners have been on a youth movement the last two years; they did put Kevin Millwood in the 5th spot in the rotation last year because of that wonderful old saw, ‘veteran experience.’ Garland could fit the ancient Mariner role this season, but if Maurer continues to get batters out, Garland will left at the dock looking for another ship to sail on.
Is veteran experience that important, or is it an excuse organizations use because they have trouble trusting rookies pitchers? We will see in the next two weeks.