The Mariners Have Their Starting Rotation Set

In probably the biggest Mariners-related news of the week, James Paxton was sent down to the minors to work on some things.

If you were playing along at home, you’re probably like me and expected that Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, and Walker were locks all along to make the starting rotation.  All that remained was that fifth starter job, whose competition comprised of Paxton, Nathan Karns, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and maybe some mystery person we hadn’t thought of yet.  As Spring Training progressed, Montgomery and Nuno worked their way into the bullpen fray, leaving just Paxton and Karns duelling it out.

Karns was the crown jewel of the Brad Miller/Logan Morrison/Danny Farquhar trade with the Rays.  James Paxton was part of the Big 4 from the Jackie Z era along with Walker (rotation), Danny Hultzen (perpetually injured), and Brandon Maurer (gone).  Both Karns and Paxton are young, and trying to establish themselves as permanent Major Leaguers; both have their limitations that have thus far prevented them from reaching that status.

Karns has had one full season in the Major Leagues, and he was brought along slowly, with his innings limited.  In that sense, he’s a bit of an unknown as to what he can really handle.  Paxton has had each of his last two seasons severely shortened by injuries.  He’s also a bit of an unknown as to what he can really handle, since his injuries were by no means career-threatening (indeed, they were sort of flukey in nature).

What ultimately did Paxton in was this very Spring Training battle.  He started off okay through his first three appearances, building up to 50 pitches and being mostly effective.  But, his last two starts really submarined him, giving up 7 runs each, averaging 3 innings per appearance, and being unable to throw more than 40 pitches in either start.  It’s not like Karns has been lighting the world on fire – he’s had his own meltdown issues – but at least he’s been able to get his pitch count up to the 80s and has reportedly looked more in command of his stuff.

What it all boils down to is that we know what we’ve got for at least the first couple weeks of the season.

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Wade Miley
  • Taijuan Walker
  • Nathan Karns

That’s not a bad set-up, at least on paper.  I have no reason to expect anything but greatness from King Felix.  I’ll always be wondering if I’m going to see Good Kuma or Bad Kuma in any given start.  I’m never going to have high expectations for Miley, hoping he’s able to limit damage as much as possible and at least look good in Safeco Field where he should benefit from marine layers and whatnot.  I’m giddy with excitement over Walker taking that next step into superstardom.  And, I’m just going to grit my teeth and hope for the best in any Karns start.  Let’s just say it would behoove the Mariners to keep both Montgomery and Nuno in the bullpen, as I anticipate the long reliever will be an important role on this team.

Best of all, we have Paxton waiting in the wings.  Yes, he’s got stuff to work on, but I don’t expect him to be down in Tacoma for very long.  Any one of these guys will see time on the DL, and it wouldn’t shock me if it happens in the first month of the season.  Ideally, Paxton will work the kinks out in his first handful of starts and then he’ll be ready to go once he’s called upon.

It’s not the best rotation in the world, but it’s got potential.  Probably more potential than any rotation I’ve seen since the Cliff Lee days in 2010.  But, as always, “potential” is a tricky word.  This rotation has the potential to be great, but it also has the potential to be a disaster.  I guess that’s why they play the games.

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