SEATTLE – Even with Labor Day now in the rear-view mirror, the Mariners’ rotation remains in flux. This time, though, the changes stem not from injuries but from strategic considerations.
Manager Scott Servais announced plans on Tuesday to push back right-hander Mike Leake, coming off a strong debut following his acquisition from St Louis, to Friday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Angels.
Leake had been scheduled to start Wednesday’s series finale against Houston. The duty now falls to just-recalled rookie Andrew Moore, who replaces veteran Yovani Gallardo in the rotation.
Gallardo is shifting back to a long-relief role after going 1-3 with a 6.23 ERA in eight starts since returning to the rotation.
The move underscores the importance the Mariners are placing on this weekend’s series against the Angels, another wild-card contender who also hold a 9-4 edge in the season series after a four-game sweep last month at Safeco Field.
“Mike is fine,” Servais confirmed. “It’s just (a matter of) looking at where we’re at. We’re giving him an extra day or two and then starting him in the Angels’ series. I thought it was a good matchup to go with that.”
The Angels began Tuesday trailing Minnesota by one-half game in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. The Mariners were 2 1/2 games behind the Twins.
The reason for the switch goes deeper.
Felix Hernandez and James Paxton are scheduled to pitch simulated games this weekend as the last step in their recovery from injuries – Hernandez has bursitis in his shoulder, while Paxton has a strained left pectoral muscle.
If all goes well, Hernandez and Paxton could return to the rotation during next week’s seven-game road trip to Texas and Houston.
“That will be great,” Servais said. “We’ll be glad to have them back. They will not be able to go out and throw 75-to-80 pitches right out of the chute.”
Servais suggested the Mariners are setting up Moore and Marco Gonzales to serve as a piggyback starters for Hernandez and Paxton “at least the first time out.”
Gonzales pitched four shutout innings Saturday after Gallardo lasted just three innings in a 7-6 comeback victory over Oakland.
Servais said Moore and Gonzales “are on similar paths in how we look at them. They’re a part of our future.”
Both have struggled in their rookie seasons after encouraging performances in the minor leagues.
The Mariners drafted Moore, 23, in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft, and he is 17-11 with a 2.71 ERA in 63 minor-league games over three seasons.
Moore won his big-league debut on June 22 but went 0-3 with a 6.07 ERA in his next five starts, which resulted in a trip back to Triple-A Tacoma.
Recalled in mid-August, Moore gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings in a relief appearance. That prompted another demotion to the Rainiers. He was recalled Sept. 1 when the rosters expanded.
The Mariners acquired Gonzales, 25, from St. Louis in a July 21 trade for minor-league outfielder Tyler O’Neill.
Gonzales missed all of last season while recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery but is 8-4 with a 3.02 ERA this season in 14 minor-league starts, including victories in his two starts at Tacoma after the trade.
The Mariners summoned Gonzales to the big leagues in early August after injuries sidelined Hernandez and Paxton, but he failed to last five innings in any of his five starts while allowing 17 runs and 34 hits in 20 2/3 innings.
That resulted in a demotion to the bullpen.