Arrow-right Camera
Seattle Mariners

M’s pitching options limited

Seattle Mariners logo. (S-R)
Seattle Mariners logo. (S-R)

SEATTLE – Following another less than stellar outing on Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays, where Aaron Harang never made it out of the third inning and gave up seven runs on five hits with three walks, acting manager Robby Thompson was asked if the veteran right-hander would remain in the starting rotation.

Thompson replied: “I can’t answer that right now. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still in the rotation.”

Barring an unexpected change, Harang will start for the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays.

It’s a source of much consternation for Mariners fans, who have grown weary of Harang’s unpredictability and are ready for a change. It’s an understandable premise, and one with merit.

According to numerous reports, Harang was placed on revocable waivers a week ago to gauge interest in possibly making a waiver trade if any team were to claim him. To this point, there is no information that anyone has made a claim.

Harang has had an up-and-down season. In 19 starts, he’s posted a 5-10 record with a 5.79 ERA. The Mariners are 7-12 in those starts. They are far from inspiring numbers. He does have two complete-game shutouts this season, but they also came against the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros – far from offensive juggernauts. Harang has made 14 starts against traditional American League teams, not including Houston. In those outings, he’s posted a 2-9 record and given up 59 runs in 64 2/3 innings for an 8.21 ERA.

And yet, the Mariners continue to roll him out there.

Why? They don’t have a lot of options.

It’s why they traded for him after a few weeks into the season with Erasmo Ramirez injured and Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer faltering as starting pitchers.

Now with a month and a half left in the season, the Mariners still have Harang in the rotation. They had hoped former top draft pick Danny Hultzen would assume that spot by July. But his recurring shoulder issues submarined that plan.

Let’s say the Mariners do decide to part ways with Harang in the next week or two. Whom would they replace him with in the rotation?

The kids

Taijuan Walker,

RHP, Tacoma Rainiers

The top pitching prospect is who everyone wants to see assume that spot. Walker started the year with Double-A Jackson and was called up to Tacoma in mid-June. He was dominant in first four outings, going 2-0 and allowing just two earned runs. But the league has caught up with him a little in his last few starts. He has a 3-2 record in eight starts with a 3.73 ERA. If you look at his numbers, Walker has only had one start longer than five innings with the Rainiers. Still, Mariners fans want to see the future now. But the Seattle front office can’t make a decision with Walker based on what fans want to see. They need to do what’s best for the young phenom. He turned 21 years old on Tuesday and has less than three full years of minor league experience. The Mariners fully expect him to compete for a starting spot next spring. Does calling him up now help or hinder that timeline? It’s also instructive to remember that Walker has an innings limit this season. He’s thrown 125 innings thus far, which is just short of the career-high 126 2/3 innings he threw last season. The Mariners likely won’t let Walker exceed 150 innings pitched this season. So he has about three to four more starts left this season.

James Paxton,

LHP, Tacoma Rainiers

The third member of the now little-used “Big 3” moniker. The hard-throwing left-hander is in the midst of his first full season at Triple-A. It’s been anything but consistent. Paxton, 24, has posted a 7-9 record with a 4.42 ERA in 22 starts and one relief appearance. He’s struck out 113 batters in 118 innings pitched with 44 walks. Paxton has struggled to find economy of pitches and efficiency in outings. Of the 22 starts he’s made, he pitched more than five innings in just seven of them. There was a stretch in July where Paxton posted four straight quality starts, including two complete games and a shutout. The talent is there. He’s also going to run into an innings limit issue. He threw a career high 106 1/3 innings last season despite knee issues. He probably only has a handful of starts remaining this season.

The retreads

Blake Beavan,

RHP, Tacoma Rainiers

Beavan started the season in the rotation and lost his spot to Harang. Changes to his mechanics in the offseason left Beavan struggling to find his command with his offspeed pitches. He scrapped some of those changes after being sent to Tacoma in April. He pitched a few months in long relief for the Mariners, where he had middling success. Beavan was sent back to Tacoma to get stretched out as a starter in July. He’s 1-3 with a 6.17 ERA in six starts since being sent down The Mariners know what Beavan is and isn’t as a starter. He’s made 43 big league starts over three seasons and has a 16-18 record with a 4.53 ERA. He’s a big guy who will pitch and give you innings. They won’t all be good, and they won’t all be bad, but he’s shown the ability to pitch a minimum of six innings in most outings.

Brandon Maurer,

RHP, Seattle Mariners

After a brilliant spring training, Maurer started the season in the big league rotation, skipping the Triple-A level and jumping all the way from Double-A Jackson. In hindsight, it was a mistake. Maurer looked overwhelmed at times, posting a 2-7 record with a 6.93 ERA in 10 starts before being sent to Tacoma. Left-handed hitters brutalized him, hitting over .300 and posting a 1.000 on-base plus slugging percentage against him. With Tacoma, he posted a 3-4 record with a 5.21 ERA in 10 starts. He has been pitching long relief for the Mariners the last few weeks, but could get stretched out quickly if needed. Maurer, who battled elbow issues early in his career, threw a career high 137 2/3 innings last year. He’s only at 105 1/3 innings this year, so an innings limit isn’t as big of an issue.

The long shot

Tom Wilhelmsen,

RHP, Tacoma Rainiers

Remember when he was the Mariners’ closer? He’d come out of the Safeco Field bullpen with the cool Jimi Hendrix entrance music blaring and highlights of him striking out hitters with his 98 mph fastball and knee-buckling curveball. You should remember – it was this season. After a brilliant start to the season, Wilhelmsen pitched himself out of the closing job – twice. Lost fastball command and dwindling confidence turned him into a shell of the pitcher who picked up 17 saves in 17 opportunities to start the season. Now he’s in Tacoma trying to find both. There is some thought that Wilhelmsen’s personality may not fit the high-stress, ultra-pressure, late-inning relieving role as once believed. The Mariners won’t give up on him. There’s too much talent. And while they won’t commit to moving him to a starting role, it’s an idea that’s been bounced around before in the organization. People forget that Wilhelmsen was a starter when the team first signed him. He’s made 42 minor league starts, including 12 in 2011 with Double-A Jackson. Besides the fastball and curveball, he has an improving change-up for the important third pitch that all starters need.

Click here to comment on this story »