Last week, we covered some of the key position players (1st base and outfield) and standouts of the spring. This week, we wanted to talk about some of the key pitching battles going on, as well as some pitchers who have particularly stood out. There is competition for the 5th starter position, and a number of questions still to be answered in the bullpen.
The 5th starter competition started as a 3 man battle between James Paxton, Mike Montgomery, and Nate Karns. After a couple unimpressive outings, Montgomery was moved to the bullpen and will be filling the badly needed long relief role.
Who gets the 5th spot?
This has left the competition between Karns and Paxton. Nate Karns was acquired in the off-season in a trade with Tampa Bay. He has been roughed around a couple times early in the spring but has settled in nicely of late. At this point he appears to be in the driver’s seat for the spot, as Paxton has struggled a bit so far (10.80 ERA in spring training).
James Paxton to the minors
Paxton is in a bit of a prove it year, having struggled with a series of unrelated injuries throughout his major and minor league career. He will need to prove he can stay healthy over a full season. He did not win the 5th starting spot and will start the year in Tacoma. Inevitably someone will get injured and Paxton will get his shot this year. His ceiling is still as a 2 or 3 in a big league rotation, so it will be interesting to see how he responds this season.
Nate Karns wins the final spot
Karns had a decent outing recently, but in 22 innings (in spring training) he has an ERA of 5.73. He does have 17 strikeouts though, showing the promise that made M’s management believe in him. Karns had better watch-out though as his keeping the position is predicated on showing improvement.
A rogue’s gallery in the bullpen
The bullpen is a bit of a rocky situation. The Mariners acquired Steve Cishek to serve as the close. He had a rough year in Florida last year but is looking to bounce back. If he stumbles, they also acquired veteran closer Joaquin Benoit to serve as the set up man. After that things get a bit murky.
Who will be our LOOGY?
Charlie Furbush is coming back from an injury, but when healthy is one of the better LOOGY’s (Left Handed One Out GuY) in the league. In the interim, Vidal Nuno will be the main LOOGY guy until Furbush is healthy. Nuno was acquired in the ill-fated Trumbo trade last June.
Keep an eye on the newcomer
Rookie Tony Zych is another player who has really impressed this spring. He was called up late last year and put up an impressive 2.45 ERA and 2.04 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in 13 appearances. He will be looking to fill that 7th and sometimes 8th inning role.
And the rest
The rest of the bullpen will consist of middle relievers Joel Peralta and the rather scary Mayckol Guaipe. Last year starter Mike Montogomery will be the long guy/spot starter if needed heading into the season.
The bullpen as outlined is a very high risk/high reward type of setup. Almost all of the faces are new except Furbush, and several of the guys are reclamation projects. The Mariners are betting a lot in this part of the team that the natural year to year variance of relief pitchers will see this group be at least adequate. There is a lot of potential upside here, but only time will tell if this bullpen will live up to that potential.
All in all, the pitching staff for the Mariners looks average to slightly above. They will be looking to their improved lineup a lot this year to take them over the top if they want to make the playoffs. As long as the pitching doesn’t implode and is just adequate, this could be a good season for the Mariners.