SEATTLE -- A month before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Mariners are looking into options on the starting-pitching market. But instead of scrambling to salvage their rotation, they're in position to supplement this season after a surprising first half.
How much have things changed for Seattle? A year ago, the Mariners went through a club-record 17 starting pitchers and none threw more 160 innings.
This season? The Mariners just passed the halfway mark and four of their starters have yet to miss a turn. Three already have surpassed 100 innings and Felix Hernandez was 4 2/3 shy of that mark heading into Saturday's outing.
Now instead of worrying about finding healthy arms, the Mariners are concerned about keeping their healthy arms fresh for the full season, particularly Marco Gonzales, as he makes his first full season in a rotation after having Tommy John surgery in 2016.
Manager Scott Servais acknowledged Saturday that the club could look to a six-man rotation in August. The Mariners have potential candidates there in Triple-A with Christian Bergman having filled in well already once and Roenis Elias, now a long reliever in Seattle's bullpen, is capable of starting.
But general manager Jerry Dipoto never shies from the trade market and could be a potential suitor for the likes of Cole Hamels of the Rangers, Chris Archer of the Rays or Michael Fulmer of the Tigers.
Servais acknowledged that the Mariners have an undisclosed innings number in mind for Gonzales, who totaled 126 1/3 last year between the Majors and Minors and is going to fly past that in a hurry if he continues at his current pace.
"I'm not going to give you the number because everybody will hold me to it," Servais said. "But there is a number we look at. We're trying to space out [starts] now as we head closer to the All-Star break and have that four-day window. And there are a couple off-days coming out of the All-Star break as well after that first series.
"So if you can get 10-12 days without pitching there, that usually helps. Then we'll take a look as we go through August. There might be a situation where it's good for us to plug a sixth starter in there to give guys an extra day or two. We're actually kicking a bunch of those ideas around right now."
Having pitchers stay healthy is a good problem, of course. The Mariners rotation is 22-8 with a 3.32 ERA in 50 games since May 8, the best winning percentage in the Majors in that span. Limiting innings when things are going well is difficult, but Servais said they'll take it seriously.
"Things can creep up on you in a hurry," he said. "We want to stay out ahead of it and be proactive instead of reactive. That's why we're looking at it now. Every one of these guys probably needs a little bit of a break. Mike Leake has been very good recently, but if you can get that extra rest period in there, it usually helps. And it's not just us. All teams are doing it."
Hernandez threw 200-plus innings eight straight years from 2008-15, but totaled just 96 2/3 last year (including 13 in rehab starts with Tacoma) and he's already at that point this season.
Leake has exceeded 176 innings for six straight years, but James Paxton has dealt with injuries throughout his career and has never exceeded 136 innings at the big league level. And Wade LeBlanc's 72 innings this year have already exceeded the 68 he totaled last year while pitching in relief for the Pirates.
"We have to look at all the guys," said Servais.