When it comes to the Seattle Mariners’ rotation, there are just two certainties over the final six weeks: Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will, barring injuries, make their scheduled starts.
Everything else is up in the air.
Manager Lloyd McClendon reiterated Monday that right-hander Taijuan Walker and lefty Mike Montgomery are pushing up against their workload limits.
“I think it’s safe to say this,” McClendon allowed, “Are we concerned about their innings? Yeah. Sure we are.”
The Mariners believe lefty Vidal Nuno fits best as a swingman, pitching extended innings as a reliever while drawing an occasional start. But they might have no choice but to keep him in the rotation.
Left-hander Roenis Elias, recalled Sunday from Triple-A Tacoma, figures to rejoin the rotation at some point this weekend against the White Sox in Chicago.
Elias was scheduled to pitch Sunday for Tacoma, prior to his recall, and could work in relief at some point in the current series against Oakland in order to stay sharp.
Once Elias rejoins the rotation, he should remain there through the end of the season. His workload doesn’t figure to be a factor.
Elias pitched 16 2/3 innings last season, which puts his preferred maximum at 190-plus. He is at 139 1/3 innings, counting his time with the Mariners and at Tacoma.
Lefty James Paxton, out since May 28, made his first rehab start Sunday at Tacoma, but he failed to get through the first inning before getting pulled after 35 pitches against Memphis (Cardinals) at Cheney Stadium.
The big plus, as Paxton said afterward, is he “felt great” with “no pain at all” in his middle finger. He also pushed his pitch count to 50 by going to the bullpen after leaving the game.
The downside is that building endurance requires the up-and-down cycle of pitching multiple innings. That means he is likely to require at least two more rehab starts before rejoining the big league rotation.
That projects, as a best-case scenario, for Paxton to return to the Mariners on Labor Day — or roughly when Walker and Montgomery will be hitting their preferred innings limits.
Once Paxton returns, he should remain in the rotation through the end of the season. Even then, he will be hard-pressed to finish the season with 100 innings, which means his workload must be watched in 2016.
The Mariners would like to get Walker and Montgomery to about 175 innings, which would position both next season for 200 innings.
Walker is at 156 2/3 innings. While that is more than he pitched last season (129 innings), he logged 156 1/3 innings in 2013. Clubs generally look back two years in applying a 25-30 inning maximum increase.
In short: Walker, 23, projects to get three more starts.
Montgomery’s situation is slightly different. He enters his start Tuesday at 141 2/3 innings, counting his time earlier this season at Tacoma.
While he only worked roughly 130 innings in the two previous years, he is older, at 26, and hit 150 innings in 2011 and 2012. Counting Tuesday, he probably has four starts remaining.
Right fielder Nelson Cruz extended his career-best streak of having reached base in 34 consecutive games. Cruz was hit by a pitch thrown by Oakland’s Evan Scribner on Monday. It is the longest streak this year by an American League player.
Cruz is also within reach of the franchise’ homer record for August. He has 10 home runs this month. The club record for August is 12 by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997. Alex Rodriguez hit 11 in 1999.
With six weeks remaining, entering Monday, the Mariners had a tragic number of 32 for elimination from postseason contention.
Fangraphs.com offers a better perspective in suggesting, from computer simulations, the Mariners have just a 0.9 percent chance of returning to postseason for the first time since 2001.
That breaks down as a 0.1 percent chance of winning the division, and a 0.8 percent chance of gaining a wild card. Fangraphs projects the Mariners to finish the season at 76-86, which would require a 19-19 closing run.
Single-A Everett swept the weekly awards for Aug. 17-23 in the Northwest League.
Center fielder Braden Bishop, 22, was selected as the player of the week after batting .385 (10 for 26) with two homers and nine RBIs in six games.
Left-hander Joe Pistorese, 22, was chosen as the pitcher of the week after working 7 1/3 scoreless innings in two appearances. He gave up one hit and one walk while striking out nine.
Bishop was the Mariners’ third-round pick in the June draft after a standout career at Washington. He is batting .316 overall at Everett, through Sunday, in 52 games.
Pistorese was the club’s 17th-round pick in June. He is 6-0 with a 1.43 ERA in 14 relief outings. He has 40 strikeouts and six walks in 37 2/3 innings.
It was 25 years ago Tuesday — Aug. 25, 1990 — that Edgar Martinez scored the go-ahead run when he stole home in the seventh inning of a 6-3 victory at Kansas City.
The Mariners executed a double steal against Steve Crawford with Ken Griffey Jr. stealing second base and Pete O’Brien at the plate. It was Martinez’s only steal of the season.
Tom Wilhelmsen’s return to closer duty Sunday apparently wasn’t a one-day promotion. McClendon said Wilhelmsen (and not Carson Smith) would close Monday in a save situation. McClendon also said he would continue to evaluate the situation. … Franklin Gutierrez started Monday for the 10th time (and played for the 12th time) in 13 games. He was, prior to Monday, batting .306 in that span (11 for 36) with three homers and 10 RBIs. … Oakland fired third-base coach Mike Gallego and replaced him with former Texas manager Ron Washington. The Athletics were tied with Detroit for most runners (19) thrown out at the plate.
The Mariners and Athletics continue their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Safeco Field.
Left-hander Montgomery (4-6, 4.16 ERA) looks to break an eight-start winless skid when he faces right-hander Jesse Chavez (7-12, 3.75).
Weekly player/pitcher awards for Mariners’ minor league players this season:
Lo-A Clinton, Midwest League
RHP Daniel Missaki (April 27-May 3)
Double-A Jackson, Southern League
INF Tyler Smith (May 4-10)
OF Jabari Blash (May 11-17)
Short-A Everett, Northwest League
OF Luis Liberato (June 22-28)
INF Drew Jackson (July 20-26)
INF Erick Mejia (July 27-Aug. 2)
INF Drew Jackson (Aug. 3-9)
LHP Nick Wells (Aug. 3-9)
OF Braden Bishop (Aug. 17-23)
LHP Joe Pistorese (Aug. 17-23)
Triple-A Tacoma, Pacific Coast League
RHP Chien-Ming Wang (Aug. 10-16)