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Mariners' rotation loaded with upside, depth

After injury-plagued 2017, health of top starters will be key
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- A Mariners team that needed a club-record 17 starting pitchers to get through an injury-plagued 2017 season has plenty of rotation options returning for the upcoming season.

The question is whether those returnees are enough to pitch Seattle into the postseason, as general manager Jerry Dipoto has chosen thus far to add only to his bullpen instead of a rotation he feels is better than most people are giving it credit for following a few key late-season additions in '17.

SEATTLE -- A Mariners team that needed a club-record 17 starting pitchers to get through an injury-plagued 2017 season has plenty of rotation options returning for the upcoming season.

The question is whether those returnees are enough to pitch Seattle into the postseason, as general manager Jerry Dipoto has chosen thus far to add only to his bullpen instead of a rotation he feels is better than most people are giving it credit for following a few key late-season additions in '17.

Ten of the 17 starters used by Seattle will be back for 2018, a group that started 112 games and combined to go 32-33 with a 4.38 ERA. But the four returnees expected to inherit the top spots in the rotation were a combined 22-14 with a 3.50 ERA, and two of those -- Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez -- were in Seattle only for brief stints after being acquired via trade.

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Mariners might stack up:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
James Paxton, LHP
Felix Hernandez, RHP
Mike Leake, RHP
Erasmo Ramirez, RHP
Marco Gonzales, LHP

STRENGTH
Paxton emerged as one of the premier left-handers in the Majors last year and is a legitimate No. 1 starter as long he can avoid the injury bug that has hampered his first few seasons. Hernandez no longer warrants ace status, but he has the guile and pitchability to be a solid MLB starter if he can get back on track. Leake, an August addition, adds much-needed stability. The 29-year-old righty has made 30-plus starts for six straight seasons and put up a 2.53 ERA in five starts after being acquired from the Cardinals.

Video: SEA@OAK: Hernandez tosses six innings of one-run ball

QUESTION MARKS
The health of Paxton and Hernandez looms large again. If Seattle gets full seasons from those two, a lot of concerns will be quelled. The Mariners also are counting on Leake and Ramirez to pitch as well as they did in the final two months of '17, while Gonzales -- now a year removed from Tommy John surgery -- figures to get first crack at the No. 5 spot since he and Ramirez are out of Minor League options. Gonzales was a first-round Draft pick and fast-rising prospect with the Cardinals before his injury, but will need to show he's now fully back after posting a 5.40 ERA in 10 outings (seven starts) after being acquired in July and getting rushed to the Majors to help a short-handed staff.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Dipoto insists he's good with the current rotation heading into camp, but it's always possible the Mariners could add another contender to the mix. The bottom of the rotation might change as well once Spring Training gets going. Ariel Miranda and Andrew Moore figure to challenge Gonzales, though both have Minor League options and thus could open the season in Triple-A Tacoma, if needed. Miranda helped hold things together for much of '17, when he earned a rotation spot only because of the spate of injuries. In fact, he wound up starting a team-high 29 games and went 8-7 with a 5.12 ERA that soared when he wore down late in the year.

It's also possible Gonzales or Miranda could shift to the bullpen in a long role, though the Mariners likely will want to keep some rotation help on the ready in Tacoma after going through so many starters a year ago.

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

Seattle Mariners