Problems On The Mound, But Also Promise At The Plate For The Mariners

May 12, 2017

The Mariners are in Toronto this weekend for a series with the Blue Jays. The team has been doing well lately, despite temporarily losing almost all of its starting pitchers to injuries.

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel told 88.5's Kirsten Kendrick he's not too worried about it.

'This Is Nuts'

Thiel said four of the five Mariner starting pitchers are on the disabled list.

"This is nuts," he said, adding that he's never seen anything like this. "Nothing in my experience nor in the experience of general manager Jerry Dipoto.

"He said Sunday when I talked to him at the ballpark, 'I've never been through anything like this.' And he's been an executive now for a dozen years and he was a big league relief pitcher for eight years.

"You know, this just doesn't happen. You don't lose 80 percent of your starting rotation."

The Injuries

Thiel joked, "For those listeners who haven't kept track of the MASH unit here: Drew Smyly had a shoulder problem out of spring training and he's been on the disabled list the whole spring. And then Felix Hernandez had bursitis in his shoulder. James Paxton has a sore forearm. And, just this week, Hisashi Iwakuma went down and he's got a shoulder problem.

"They're all in various stages of recovery. I think Iwakuma might be the most serious because a shoulder problem when you're 36 and with all the hard miles he's put on both in Japan and in America, that might be a long-term issue.

"So, the Mariners have called up all kinds of young people, of whom we know not."

The Replacements

"It's really kind of a mix of newcomers," Thiel said.

"The Mariners traded for Chase De Jong with the Dodgers at spring training so he's new to the franchise. Dillon Overton is another guy who came from Oakland. He's now up here. Christian Bergman is another trade acquisition. The one holdover from last year's team that Mariner fans might be familiar with is Ariel Miranda from Cuba.

"And the fifth member of the rotation is the one guy [original starter this season] who survived calamity. I think they need to put him in bubble wrap. That's Yovani Gallardo, who I said earlier in one of our commentaries he has a ways to go to be average.

"That's really what the Mariners are hoping for out of these five guys is just averageness. And that's asking a lot to be a Major League pitcher. Because that means you are going to contribute 150-175 innings and none of these guys [has] that history."

The Offense

Thiel noted that "average" may be all the Mariners need from their starting pitchers, if their stellar offense continues.

"That's been remarkable," he said.

"The Mariners, heading into the Toronto series, had won six games out of the past seven. Reached .500 for the first time this year.

"It's hard to explain how that could be, but the offense does have big answers. They averaged seven runs a game in that seven-game streak. And they've also really played well in the field and run the bases well.

"Jean Segura, the shortstop, is leading the American League in batting. Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano are 1,2 in RBIs. And Kyle Seager, now, is coming around.

"[Relative unknowns Taylor Motter and Ben Gamel] have really done well. And they're waiting for the real star to come back — rookie Mitch Haniger, who's been out with an oblique muscle strain. 

"The one guy that they don't have anymore is Mike Zunino, who was sent down to Triple-A because his bat just was not working."

Can They Keep This Up?

"Great offense is really hard to sustain over the long term, especially in today's baseball," Thiel said.

"I don't think they can sustain this but if they manage to stay close to .500 until they can get Paxton back, until Felix comes back, I think they've got a real shot.

"This offense is as Dipoto projected. It's going to be very efficient, very effective and they score a lot of runs without having to hit home runs, which is the opposite of the Mariner team a year ago.

"So, if one or two of the young guys can come through and deliver five-to-six innings on the mound, the offense could take them to the playoffs."

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You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.