SEATTLE -- After a long and relatively quiet offseason, Spring Training arrives for the Mariners this week with a couple of questions still looming. The biggest, at least in the minds of most fans, is whether Seattle has enough quality starting pitchers among the group scheduled to report on Wednesday
SEATTLE -- After a long and relatively quiet offseason, Spring Training arrives for the Mariners this week with a couple of questions still looming. The biggest, at least in the minds of most fans, is whether Seattle has enough quality starting pitchers among the group scheduled to report on Wednesday in Arizona at the club's Peoria Sports Complex.
With that in mind, much of the focus this spring figures to zero in Marco Gonzales, Andrew Moore and Ariel Miranda -- three of the young rotation candidates who will be looking to show they're ready and capable of being part of the solution.
Pitching depth proved problematic in 2017. Drew Smyly hurt his elbow during the World Baseball Classic, Hisashi Iwakuma lasted just six starts before being sidelined with a right shoulder issue and Felix Hernandez spent three months on the disabled list with his own right shoulder situation.
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Hernandez and James Paxton, who was limited to 24 starts himself last season, are the only two returnees from 2017's expected rotation. Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez, both of whom were added via trades late last season, are penciled in as the third and fourth starters.
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If those four stay healthy -- which is always a big if over the course of a seven-week camp and six-month season -- then Gonzales figures to get the first shot at the No. 5 spot, since he is out of Minor League options.
While the 25-year-old Gonzales struggled in his brief time with Seattle, posting a 5.40 ERA in 10 outings after being acquired from the Cardinals in late July, general manager Jerry Dipoto thinks the former first-round Draft pick out of Gonzaga has big upside.
Gonzales was only a year removed from Tommy John surgery last season, so he was still building up his arm strength and limiting the use of his cutter when Seattle acquired him for outfielder Tyler O'Neill.
But the southpaw was a fast-rising prospect -- pitching in postseason games for the Cardinals at age 22 before his elbow issue arose. Dipoto noted that most pitchers don't fully bounce back until the second season after Tommy John surgery.
"We're very bullish on what Marco's going to be," said Dipoto. "He's athletic. He throws strikes. He has an out pitch in his changeup. Is he a fly ball guy, who's going to give up a couple of homers here and there? Yes. But he's more of a neutral pitcher, who's going to get [opponents] to hit it on the ground. We're very excited about what he can do."
Because Moore has Minor League options and wouldn't be exposed to waivers if he's sent down, he's more likely to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma, barring injuries to others. But Dipoto is quick to note the 23-year-old was also put in a tough spot last season. The Mariners rushed him to the Majors, due to the ravaged rotation and saw him post a 5.34 ERA in 11 outings -- including nine starts.
"Andrew blew through the system at every level," Dipoto said of the 2015 second-round Draft pick out of Oregon State. "He was pitching very well last year at Triple-A, and we brought him to the big leagues at 23 years old with very limited experience.
"His first outing was awesome. Then, he took a step back. He got punched in the nose. But he learned from it. He's very smart, one of the hardest workers we have."
Moore will now get a chance to show just how much he learned -- as will Miranda, who comes to camp flying under the radar for a guy who led the Mariners in starts (29) and innings (160).
Much like last season, Miranda will likely only make the rotation if others get injured -- plus he also has Minor League options. But the 29-year-old Cuban is a competitor, and it's easy to overlook that he was 7-4 with a 3.82 ERA through June before wearing down in his first year as a full-time MLB starter. He posted a 7.23 ERA over his final 14 outings.
"For maybe two-thirds of the season, [Miranda] did all that we could ask," said Dipoto. "He basically took our pitching staff and put it on his shoulders. He was the only surviving member of the rotation for a considerable amount of time -- and the fact that he wore down, I consider that more the result of injuries and our [own] doing, [rather than any] failure by Ariel Miranda."
So when the Mariners' pitchers and catchers take the field on Thursday for the first time this spring, there will be some familiar young faces looking to build on what they learned under very difficult circumstances in 2017. And history says they will likely be called upon to pitch in again at some point this season, perhaps sooner than expected.