March 20, 2014 in Sports

Questions remain for Mariners rotation

Bob Condotta Seattle Times

PEORIA, Ariz. – The Mariners begin the regular season March 31 in Anaheim, Calif., against the Angels.

Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon knows who he will send to the mound that night – Felix Hernandez.

After that, though, it’s a bit of a jumble, even with the regular season less than two weeks away.

Asked Wednesday if he’d like to have a better idea of exactly how the rotation will look, McClendon said, “Yeah, I would,” then responded that other than Hernandez, nothing is set.

Some of that answer, though, might just be McClendon’s apparent desire not to tip his hand.

There’s little doubt that James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez will be two other members of the rotation when the season begins. They have each pitched well this spring, typifying a group of starters that has generally performed well.

The intrigue rests with the last two spots, a situation that exists largely due to injuries that will leave heralded rookie Taijuan Walker and last year’s No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma unavailable for opening day.

The good news is that each continues to make positive strides in recovery, enough so that each is expected to return to the rotation by late April.

Iwakuma was cleared Tuesday to take off a splint on his injured finger and could begin throwing soon. Walker, meanwhile, threw a 40-pitch bullpen session Wednesday as he recovers from shoulder bursitis, this time mixing in a few curveballs. Afterward, Walker said his arm felt “really good” and that he was “pumped about that.”

So was McClendon, who said Walker threw the ball “extremely well” in an “encouraging” session.

Still, the Mariners will need other pitchers to fill the four and five spots in April (though six off days from April 7 to May 6 will mitigate some of the need). Veteran Scott Baker is probably the leader for the No. 4 spot, but holdover Blake Beavan, minor-leaguer Roenis Elias and nonroster invitee veterans Randy Wolf and Zach Miner are contenders for that and the No. 5 spot.

Wolf says regardless of how it turns out that the rotation should be a strength.

“I’ve always said you never get excited about numbers in March,” Wolf said. “But there’s a lot to be excited about with the talent that is here and the arms that are here.”

Now, to figure out how it all fits.

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