SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners, or maybe just the outside observers, spent the first month of the season wondering how they were going to get their starting pitchers deeper into ball games. They were one of two teams in the American League that had witnessed no more than one start of at least seven innings pitched through the first month-plus of the season.
The Mariners have pitched so much and continually so deep into games that manager Scott Servais said Saturday that they’re discussing how best to manage all these innings thresholds their starters have hit and are well on pace to surpass, even though the All-Star break is still more than two weeks away.
Marco Gonzales tossed the first complete game of his career in a 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, which means he’s thrown 1001⁄3 innings so far. He’s never thrown more than 122 innings in a season for his professional career, and that was in 2014 in the minor leagues. He’s also two years removed from Tommy John Surgery.
But Gonzales is also pitching very well. The Mariners will have to balance letting their horses run, so to speak, but also keeping them fresh.
Servais said they have an innings threshold in mind, as expected, but he didn’t want to divulge the number.
“I’m not going to give you the number I’ll look at, but yeah, there is a number,” Servais said.
But expect the Mariners to adjust their rotation a few times after the All-Star break, which runs July 16-19. They also have two off days to use in first week after they come out of it.
“If you can get them 10 days, 12 days off without pitching, that usually really helps,” Servais said. “And then we can take a look at when we go through things in August — might be a situation where it might be good for us to plug a sixth starter in there, just to give guys an extra day or two extra days. We’re actually kicking a bunch of those ideas around right now.”
He said their number could change based on eye test, but not much.
“Because things can creep up on you in a hurry,” Servais said. “All the sudden they go out there and stuff is ticking down or is not as crisp or sharp. Not executing pitches and the command gets a little bit off — that can show up. We want to stay out ahead of it and be proactive instead of reactive on that type of stuff and that’s why we’re looking at it now.
“Every one of these guys probably needs a bit of a blow. Mike Leake has been very good recently, but if you can get that extra rest period in there it usually helps them out.”
The Mariners certainly aren’t the only team looking at these formulas and innings thresholds, even if each club varies in their approach.
But maybe the Mariners will gauge it more intently considering their history. They went through 40 pitchers last year and tied a major league record in that regard because of all the injuries they suffered.
Felix Hernandez went eight consecutive seasons pitching at least 200 innings, but he threw 86 2/3 innings after two stints on the disabled list last year. Entering his start on Saturday against the Kansas City Royals, Hernandez had thrown 95 1/3 innings this season.
“Absolutely,” Servais said when asked if Hernandez has an innings threshold. “You have to look at all of the guys.”
After all those struggles to get starters deeper into games, the Mariners’ starting pitchers now have the third-most innings pitched in the major leagues, just behind the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians.
Since May 8, the day James Paxton tossed his no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays, Mariners starters have pitched more innings than any team in baseball, and it’s not even close. They’ve thrown 312 innings in that span and the Indians are next in line, having thrown 291 1/3 innings.
That had the Mariners entering Saturday with three pitchers who have all thrown at least 100 innings — Leake (107 2/3), Paxton (103 2/3) and Gonzales (100 1/3). The Mariners had only three starters pass the 100-inning threshold all of last season — Ariel Miranda (160), Paxton (136) and Yovanni Gallardo (130 2/3).
Keep in mind — the Mariners had done all of this all before the calendar turned to July, which should say how beleaguered the Mariners’ pitching staff was with injuries last season.
As Servais said, they could add a sixth starter to the rotation to preserve the staff, and they have options both in house, Triple-A Tacoma and they’ve been linked to some starting pitchers in trade talks, including most recently MLB.com’s Jon Morosi saying they were “in dialogue” with the Texas Rangers about veteran left-hander Cole Hamels.
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez was projected to open the season in the Mariners’ rotation and pitched two outings before heading to the disabled list with a right Teres Major strain. He was scheduled to toss a bullpen session either this weekend or early next week, Servais said.
They also have converted starter, left-hander Roenis Elias, in their bullpen currently, while right-hander Christian Bergman and lefty Ariel Miranda have each made spot starts out of Triple-A Tacoma with the Mariners this season. Righty Rob Whalen earlier this month was called up to pitch out of their bullpen.
They certainly have options when the time comes.
The difficult part will be actually executing that, resting one of their current starters instead of letting them run.
“It is,” Servais said. “But when they hit the wall and all the sudden you have to go a different direction with that or somebody comes up sore or whatever, that becomes a problem. You want to be out ahead of it. You would rather be there than on the backside.”