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Elias odd man out

Lefty could come in handy as innings pile up

Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker earned a spot in the Mariners rotation with 18 shutout innings over five spring starts. (Associated Press)
Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker earned a spot in the Mariners rotation with 18 shutout innings over five spring starts. (Associated Press)
By Bob Dutton Tacoma News Tribune

PEORIA, Ariz. – So lefty Roenis Elias looks like the odd-man out in the Mariners’ spring game of rotation roulette. After a promising rookie season, Elias figures to open this season at Triple-A Tacoma.

Right-hander Taijuan Walker certainly earned his spot in the five-man unit by pitching 18 scoreless innings in his five spring starts. He allowed just six hits while striking out 19 and walking four.

None of this is official yet. More importantly, it might not matter much in the long run. Elias appears likely to log lots of time this season at the big-league level.

Club officials won’t come out and say it, but signs point to the Mariners employing what amounts to a modified six-man rotation over the next six months in order to be ready to handle a seventh month.

Yep, the Mariners are thinking postseason.

That’s not surprising. The Mariners are generally viewed in the industry as a legitimate postseason contender. And club officials don’t hide the belief that they are in win-now mode.

That means not only planning for October but taking measures to avoid a repeat of last season’s late September fade.

And since the Mariners appear well-stocked in starting pitchers – hey, there aren’t many rotations throughout either league that Elias wouldn’t make – they want to play to that strength.

The likely solution is a modified six-man rotation – modified in the sense that they won’t just roll six starters through cycle after cycle. But Elias could shuttle regularly between Cheney Stadium and Safeco Field.

Walker has never thrown more than 156 1/3 innings in a professional season. That high mark was two years ago. Last season, he worked just 120 1/3 innings.

Standards vary, but clubs tend to get antsy, in terms of injury risk, when a pitcher goes more than 40 innings beyond his previous season. Going more than 40 innings beyond their career high is another red flag.

Lefty James Paxton threw 169 2/3 innings in 2013 but was limited last year by a strained back muscle to 87.

But do some math: Making 30 starts and averaging six innings gets you to 180 innings. That might be the limit this season for both Walker and Paxton.

Elias provides the Mariners with a viable alternative if, occasionally, they want to skip Walker and Paxton in the rotation. (Players sent to the minors can’t be recalled for 10 days; effectively that’s one missed start.)

M’s fall to Giants

Mike Zunino hit two home runs and Kyle Seager added a third for the Seattle Mariners, but the San Francisco Giants rallied from a four-run deficit in the top of the ninth inning with minor leaguers Saturday in a 9-8 victory in Peoria, Arizona.

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