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Inbox: Will Lewis play for Mariners in 2018?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers fans' questions
January 30, 2018

Seems like most of the positions are pretty well set heading into Spring Training. Do you envision many surprises coming out of camp? -- Frank J., SeattleThere always seems to be a player or two who emerge each spring. One guy I think could surprise a lot of people is

Seems like most of the positions are pretty well set heading into Spring Training. Do you envision many surprises coming out of camp?
-- Frank J., Seattle

There always seems to be a player or two who emerge each spring. One guy I think could surprise a lot of people is Marco Gonzales, who I suspect will be a lot more capable as a fifth-starter candidate than many are expecting. He was good enough to pitch in postseason games for the Cardinals at age 22, as a fast-rising first-round Draft pick before having elbow problems in 2015.
Gonzales got rushed to the Majors a little early after being acquired in late July for Tyler O'Neill, but with another year now to have recovered from Tommy John surgery and a chance to get his feet wet, I think Gonzales could be poised for a nice breakthrough.
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Reliever Shawn Armstrong, acquired from the Indians in December, is another one to watch. He's a hard-throwing right-hander who the Tribe let go for $500,000 in international slot money because he's out of Minor League options, and he wasn't a sure fit in their outstanding bullpen. But he's a 27-year-old with big strikeout numbers in the Minors and pitched 21 games for the Major League club in 2017. He'll get a good look this spring.
Unlike the past few offseasons, where there were a lot of moves that led me to believe big improvements were on the horizon, this winter has left me feeling like 2018 will just be a reboot of the end of last year. Can you convince me that's a good thing?
Butch W., Tumwater, Wash.

Perception can be a funny thing. Most general managers did very little early in the offseason, while Jerry Dipoto traded for Dee Gordon and Ryon Healy and signed free-agent Juan Nicasio, along with some other moves for further depth in the bullpen. Dipoto was the busiest GM in baseball during a very slow November and December. If he'd waited and was doing all that now, would it feel different?

The big question obviously revolves around the rotation. Again, if Dipoto had waited until this offseason to acquire Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez and Gonzales to bolster the starting staff instead of doing so last July and August, we'd be talking about the major makeover.
Those three now replace Drew Smyly, Hisashi Iwakuma and Yovani Gallardo behind James Paxton and Felix Hernandez from last season's original starting five. Smyly never pitched, Iwakuma made six ineffective starts and Gallardo had a 5.72 ERA before losing his job. So, yeah, I think the lineup is better and the rotation isn't nearly as shorthanded as last year's group wound up being.
Why did we not bring Jarrod Dyson back?
-- Patrick S., Seattle

It takes two to tango. The Mariners had interest in keeping Dyson, but he opted to see what else was available in free agency and Dipoto moved to fill the center-field job by acquiring Gordon. Dyson remains one of many unsigned veterans in what has been a very unusual offseason for free agents. It wouldn't surprise me if he ended up back with Kansas City, where he spent the first seven years of his MLB career.
Do you expect Kyle Lewis to crack the bigs this year?
-- Isaac B., Tri Cities, Wash.

No, the Mariners have made it clear that the primary goal for their No. 1 prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, is to put up a full season in the Minors and prove he's healthy after returning from major knee surgery. It's worth remembering he's only had 38 games at Class A Adavanced Modesto, so he'll either open this season back at Modesto or Double-A Arkansas. The Mariners love his potential, but they won't rush him.

How is Ryan Weber and is he still in the organization?
-- Ed Q., Storm Lake, Wash.

Weber was one of the 17 pitchers who started a game for the Mariners last season, though he lasted just 4 2/3 innings in his May debut in Toronto before suffering a biceps injury that wiped out the rest of his season. He became a free agent this offseason, and he just signed a Minor League deal with the Rays.
What's going on with the Ken Griffey Jr. statue in front of Safeco Field? Are they ever going to repair it?
-- Sandy W., Seattle

I'm told the bat that was snapped off by a vandal in October will be replaced this weekend.
How closely are the Mariners following Felix Hernandez's health and will he have any sorts of limitations this year?
-- Joe T., Springfield, Va.

Hernandez was in Miami working out with Nelson Cruz and other Mariners at a little informal camp in December and the front-office brass -- including new director of high performance Dr. Lorena Martin -- have been in frequent contact. All reports are good to date. Unlike past years, he'll begin throwing off the mound even before camp opens next month.
I don't think there'll be specific limits, but the focus definitely will be to reduce the amount of pitches and innings he's asked to throw in order to keep him healthier. The club will use the extra off days in this year's schedule to give all the starters more rest, as well as possibly employing a sixth starter at times. And manager Scott Servais won't push Hernandez as deep into games, relying more on a strong and versatile bullpen capable of eating up innings and locking down leads, if all goes to plan.

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