Mariners Tidbit 50: A Pitching Dilemma

Last night, Mike Montgomery pitched a complete game shutout, striking out 10 and walking zero.  If you want to talk about pleasant surprises and how they’re in short supply around this team, Mike Montgomery is the clear exception.  He’s been FANTASTIC since being called up to replace Paxton in the rotation!  He’s gone at least 6 innings in every start, he’s given up 2 runs or less in all but one, and in that one start he still pitched into the 8th inning while only giving up 4 runs.  He’s kept us in every ballgame he’s started, and with last night’s outing, he’s giving the Mariners a happy little problem to deal with:  who do we send down when Hisashi Iwakuma is ready to return?

Maybe what we expected Montgomery to be ...

Maybe what we expected Montgomery to be …

I should point out that Montgomery is far from perfect.  He pounds the strike zone, doesn’t walk a ton of guys, and thus far has kept the ball in the ballpark for the most part.  But, he’s not going to generate a ton of swinging strikes, and he’s dead even in his ground ball to fly ball ratio.  He’s got a leg up on the competition because he’s relatively new – a 25 year old in his first call-up to the big leagues – but once there’s a book on him, it’s easy to see how he might take a nosedive in the second half of this season (should he manage to keep his rotation spot).

Nevertheless, Montgomery has put himself in the discussion.  Unfortunately for him, the other two guys in that discussion – Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias – have also picked their games up of late.

Walker had a pretty atrocious start to this season, but he’s been nails of late.  In his last five starts, dating back to May 29th (so, pretty much across the same amount of time as Montgomery), Walker has gone 35.1 innings, giving up 8 runs, striking out 38 and walking only 3.  That averages out to about 7 innings per start, 1.6 runs per game, 7.6 strikeouts per game, and less than a walk per game.  Not too shabby.  He’s lowered his ERA over two full runs in that span.

Elias – aside from a couple slip ups – has been a Quality Start machine since being called up for Iwakuma.  He did have that breakdown in Houston two starts ago, but bounced back (against the same team no less) to go 7 innings of shutout ball, striking out 10 in his last start.  Elias has picked up right where he left off last year, and I would argue he’s been a little bit better.

All in all, it’s been an impressive effort out of the back-end of our rotation.  What they’ve succeeded in accomplishing above all else is allow the organization to not rush Iwakuma back into the fold.  They were able to let Iwakuma fully rest his injury, and give him the full run of rehab starts to build his arm back up.  Iwakuma is set to throw in Tacoma this week, and might even be another start or two away from returning, so it doesn’t sound like the team has to make a decision immediately.  But, they will eventually, and these guys aren’t making it easy.