Ready to talk some baseball? The News Tribune is kicking off its five-part positional preview today on the Mariners with a look at the starting rotation.
It figures to be one of the club’s strengths.
Fronted by longtime ace Felix Hernandez, the unit posted the American League’s third-best ERA in 2014 even though Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker opened that season on the disabled list and James Paxton missed four months because of a strained back.
Veteran right-hander Chris Young, the AL’s comeback player of the year, departed through free agency, but the Mariners replaced him by acquiring lefty J.A. Happ from Toronto in a trade for outfielder Michael Saunders.
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The rotation is deep, balanced and offers a nice blend of proven veterans and high-ceiling youngsters who have already logged big-league time. It’s a nice mix.
Manager Lloyd McClendon says he views the rotation as having just one opening. He also says Happ will be in the unit. That sets up a front four of Hernandez, Paxton, Iwakuma and Happ.
The guess here is Paxton draws the No. 2 slot over Iwakuma in order to provide the Mariners with a right-left-right-left balance.
If Paxton stays healthy, and the others pitch to career norms, it should be a formidable unit.
The projected competition between Walker and Roenis Elias for the final spot figures to be the camp’s biggest story line.
Elias pitched well this past season as a rookie, making the jump from Double-A Jackson and would, on many other clubs, be a lock for the middle of the rotation.
But Walker has long been viewed as the organization’s top pitching prospect and flashed signs in September of realizing that potential.
A point to note: Erasmo Ramirez is still just 24 years old, but he’s out of minor-league options. It’s hard to see him cracking the rotation, barring multiple injuries, but he’s also unlikely to clear waivers. He could be a candidate for a long relief job.
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Since either Walker or Elias will likely open at Triple-A Tacoma, the rotation can absorb, aside from Hernandez, one major injury.
Club officials are anxious to get a look at lefty Danny Hultzen, who appears healthy after missing much of the past two years because of major shoulder problems.
Hultzen will, almost certainly, be on an innings limit this season, but if he approaches his pre-injury form — he was the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 — he could provide a boost down the stretch.