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June 11, 2012 at 9:41 AM

Look for Mariners to call up another rotation arm from Class AAA shortly

Interesting weekend for the Mariners, beginning with that combined no-hitter on Friday and ending with more offensive futility at Safeco Field. The Dodgers aren’t the easiest team to score runs off of, so I’d hesitate on the home-ballpark panic for a bit and see what happens the rest of this homestand.
Apprecitate all of you who wrote in from around the country to share your stories, from all fields — including several working in the sports world — about my blog post last week on the M’s incredibly front-loaded travel schedule this season. The point wasn’t to compare it to military life, or life growing up in an impoversihed Bangladesh slum, or any of the other struggles on this planet that would top both of those on the hardship level. There are countries that don’t have soldiers continuously engaged overseas, or slums as awful as third-world nations. Doesn’t mean their citizens can’t have bad days, weeks or months, or that they have to “suck it up” because somebody thinks they can one-up them on the difficulty scale. The point of the post was to demonstrate that this season has been difficult on the Mariners compared to other teams and that travel life isn’t all glamor.
The overwhelming majority of you figured that out right away and many of you had your own experiences you could relate with. So, thanks again.
Back to the Mariners, just a couple of weeks ago they had a starting rotation that was performing consistently well. Amazing how quickly things can change on a major league mound. Right now, the Mariners are facing a bit of a hurdle they’ll have to overcome short-term and getting there will likely require at least one arm called up from Class AAA.
The catalyst for this was Blake Beavan’s two-innings-and-out in yesterday’s loss to the Dodgers. Mariners manager Eric Wedge gave his obligatory post-game party line about how the team doesn’t make rash decisions when it comes to mound changes going forward.
The last time Wedge used that line was right after Brandon League blew a save on the last homestand. By the next day, League was out as closer. So, if I’m Beavan, I’m feeling nervous this morning.
The difference between this outing by Beavan and some prior ones can be found in terms of the innings he delivered. Or failed to deliver.
MLB starters need to go at least five innings and when they can’t — it hurts the team in ways that can often be felt for days. Exacts a big toll on the bullpen and Seattle’s relief core was already going to be put to the test in coming days.
That’s why I’d expect to see Erasmo Ramirez called up shortly, perhaps even later today.
Photo Credit: AP

The Mariners are already uncertain about whether Kevin Millwood can make his next start because of that groin injury. Even if Millwood is healthy enough to go, his ability to make it beyond five innings will be questionable.
There is also Felix Hernandez, who goes tomorrow. The Mariners could have put Hernandez on the 15-day disabled list last week, retroactive to June 1, and called up somebody from AAA then and there. Instead, they had Hector Noesi pitch on short rest in Anaheim and we all know how well that turned out from a mound perspective. The upside is, the Mariners will be able to bring Hernandez back after just 11 days instead of 15.
Most teams would go the DL route for a pitcher needing 11 days off, but the quirky timing of two off-days in the schedule and Noesi’s previous early departure from a game enabled Seattle to roll this particular set of dice. And the M’s got away with it, thanks to an offensive bailout against the Angels.
But there will be questions about how far Hernandez can go. As well as how effective Noesi can be. Noesi has had very good stuff at times and looked really effective in some outings. But he continues to be plagued by terrible pitch execution at key moments in games, especially when ahead 0-2 in the count.
Take all of those concerns, put them together and this team looks like it may need a little more Hisashi Iwakuma and Charlie Furbush out of the bullpen. Even if the Mariners don’t go with one of those two as a replacement starter in coming days — as many fans are now suggesting as a route for the team to employ — you’ll want to limit the number of potential instances where they’ll be needed in any given week. You can’t have a starter go four innings on Wednesday, then another do the same on Thursday without depleting your bullpen for another week to come.
That’s where Ramirez comes in. Not merely because Beavan imploded early yesterday. But because of the overall context facing this rotation.
Right now, you need a guy you can be reasonably sure will deliver innings. Class AAA innings don’t mean a whole lot relative to the big leagues, other than the fact you can usually lop an inning or two off the top of any AAA start before translating it to a big league outing. But still, if the eight good innings Ramirez can throw in AAA means only six decent ones in a major league game, that’s still a step up from what Beavan has offered lately. Right now, Ramirez is the most ready AAA starter to make the big league jump.
As for Beavan, he has to develop another pitch — in this case, a curveball — that he can consistently use in a game. Beavan threw a handful of curves yesterday, but not enough to keep anyone off-balance. He’s essentially a fastball-slider guy and hasn’t been spotting the fastball well enough to win at this level.
Beavan was throwing the curve much more effectively early on, as well as towards the end of last season. But it needs work. In the context of this rotation, that work probably should continue in the minors.
It was one thing to roll the Beavan dice every five days when the Mariners had pretty good feelings the other four. Now, with the entire rotation in a bit of a mess, the lack of secondary stuff for Beavan — mentioned by Wedge post-game — becomes a serious issue that can’t be ignored any longer.
Is Beavan done as an effective fifth starter? Not at all. But he has to improve because what he’s delivered lately is not effective fifth-starter stuff. Give him another pitch to keep hitters guessing with and he’s back to being an asset. The curveball is already partway developed, but needs more time and consistency.
Unfortunately for him, this rotation doesn’t have time. Problems need to be addressed.
The M’s could pull a Noesi with Beavan and use him for multiple innings in an upcoming game if a starter bows out early. But again, if he’s only a two-pitch guy, that’s like repeatedly banging your head against a wall and hoping not to get a headache.
The other route is to use today’s off-day to reset the rotation, get Ramirez up here and have him fully prepared to start either Wednesday or Thursday. There are no Super Two arbitration issues with him since he broke camp with the Mariners this spring. No reason not to make use of an in-house asset, as long as you feel he can deliver at least five or six innings on a big league mound.
So, we’ll see what route the Mariners opt to go. They pushed the limits with Hernandez and it didn’t cost them a loss. But choosing to do nothing again this time would be pushing their luck on a variety of starting pitcher and bullpen fronts.
And if they guess wrong, it could cost them far more than just one ballgame.

Comments | Topics: Hisashi Iwakuma


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