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Inbox: Is pitching the answer for Mariners?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers questions from fans
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

Will the return of Felix Hernandez and James Paxton help turn the Mariners' recent slide around? And is there anything that can wake up Seattle's gloves?
-- Mike V., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Clearly a healthy Hernandez and Paxton would be a big boost down the stretch. But the Mariners can't count on that too much -- neither pitcher is likely to get more than two or three starts in the final two weeks of the regular season, given they're just now getting to the point where they can start throwing off the mound in the bullpen this weekend.

Will the return of Felix Hernandez and James Paxton help turn the Mariners' recent slide around? And is there anything that can wake up Seattle's gloves?
-- Mike V., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Clearly a healthy Hernandez and Paxton would be a big boost down the stretch. But the Mariners can't count on that too much -- neither pitcher is likely to get more than two or three starts in the final two weeks of the regular season, given they're just now getting to the point where they can start throwing off the mound in the bullpen this weekend.

The current staff, which now adds Mike Leake, needs to turn things around in this upcoming nine-game homestand to give the team a chance to make a push. And yes, getting back to being crisper on defense would help as well. Nobody wants to use it as an excuse, but it did seem the club wore down at the end of August, which isn't surprising given the brutal road schedule.

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Getting back home, returning to a more normal schedule and gaining some reinforcements from September callups could be beneficial. But Seattle is also going to need to pitch better, both before and after Hernandez and Paxton return.

Will the events of this season push Jerry Dipoto to upgrade pitching at the expense of the offense next year?
-- Brian M., Olympia, Wash.

Certainly the focus of the Mariners' offseason will be on bolstering the pitching staff, particularly a rotation that has been decimated by injuries this year. Dipoto needs to find answers there, and that process has already begun with Wednesday's trade for Leake, as well as the earlier deal for Marco Gonzales.

Losing Drew Smyly before the season even started was a big blow, as he was being looked upon as a solid starter both this year and next. He's out of the picture now for 2018 after Tommy John surgery, and Hisashi Iwakuma's run appears at an end as well as his right shoulder hasn't allowed him to return.

Seattle is in a tough spot, trying to figure out how much it can rely on Hernandez in the remaining two years of his contract. And while Paxton appears to have ace potential, he's having a hard time staying healthy. But Dipoto will have some resources to pursue pitching -- Iwakuma, Smyly and Yovani Gallardo made a combined $32 million this year, and that money will be coming off the books.

Will David Phelps be on the roster next year?
-- Jeff T., Spokane, Wash.

It's pretty hard to make roster predictions this far in advance, given Dipoto's penchant for trades. But Phelps was acquired from the Marlins with the idea that he could help bolster the bullpen both this year and next. He's under team control through 2018, so unless the Mariners decide to non-tender him rather than go to his final year of arbitration, he should be back. There was even some thought Phelps might be converted back to a starter, but that seems less likely given the elbow issues that have cropped up the past few weeks.

Video: SEA@TEX: Phelps strikes out Chirinos, side in the 8th

How has Kyle Lewis looked since he's come back from his injury? What is your ETA for him to be starting in the outfield in the Majors?
-- Dylan E., Houston, Miss.

Reports on Lewis have been positive since he's returned to action for Class A Advanced Modesto the past six weeks, though this clearly is a season to get his legs back under him as he works back from knee surgery. He's not tearing up the Cal League, though he's been solid at .264/.331/.426 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 33 games. But scouts are quick to note that Lewis clearly remains the Mariners' top position prospect, and he's returned to playing center field the past 10 days after being limited mostly to DH duties initially.

The injury clearly slowed Lewis' progress, but I would think he'll move up the Minor League ladder next year, and if things go well, he could be given at least a look in the Majors at some point in 2019.

What is up with the Mariners' second-round pick Sam Carlson? He's only thrown in two games and three innings.
-- Dacota H., Longview, Wash.

It's amazing how the injury bug has not only bitten the Mariners' big league roster, but the Minor League crew as well. Carlson, the prep standout from Minnesota, has been sidelined with a strained elbow for most of the summer since his initial two outings in the Rookie-level Arizona League, though he's expected to be fine to participate in all of Seattle's offseason programs.

First-round pick Evan White is also close to returning from a hamstring issue that sidelined him after 14 games with Class A Everett, though the AquaSox's season ends Sunday.

Do you think the Mariners will try to sign Yonder Alonso in the offseason?
-- Joel H., Beverly, Ohio

The Mariners do like what Alonso provides in terms of another quality left-handed bat in the lineup and a guy still in his prime at 30, so yes, I expect them to make a push to bring him back. First base seems to be the one offensive position that has been hardest to fill for Seattle, and if these two months are an audition, initial impressions appear positive.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners