Starting pitching has been a problem all season, but were the struggles somewhat predictable?
OAKLAND, Calif. — The cynic could see it coming. And even the most optimistic of analysts or fans still knew this was a possibility. In the sun-soaked days of spring training, when everything was possibility and positivity, even a cursory look at the Mariners’ projected starting rotation provided some level of skepticism.
Each of the five projected starters — Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo — had questions marks surrounding their expected 2017 production based on recent injuries, poor performance or both.
The M’s believed an offseason of conditioning, a renewed urgency for success and an improved approach to attacking hitters would allow Hernandez to return to a higher level of productivity. It hasn’t.
Seattle hoped Iwakuma’s 2016 season where he tied a career high with 33 starts wouldn’t be an outlier and the fatigue he suffered at the end of 2016 could be avoided with extra rests and a few skipped starts. He hasn’t pitched since May.
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Paxton was all tantalizing talent and top-of-the-rotation potential. He’d never been able to put it all together for one full season. He has this year.
Smyly was coming off a career-high 30 starts in 2016 with mixed results that included a 4.88 ERA and 32 homers allowed. The Mariners were buoyed by his 5-1 record and 3.73 ERA in his final 12 starts of 2016 and an additional year of club control. But he’d also missed much of the 2015 season with arm issues. He’ll miss all of 2017 too.
Gallardo was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career that included an early stint on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, a 5.42 ERA and decreased velocity. Could he find his success of 2015? In a word: No.
On May 10, the Mariners placed Iwakuma on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation. He joined Smyly (elbow strain), Hernandez (shoulder bursitis) and Paxton (forearm strain) on the DL, meaning that four of the five projected starters were out. And the remaining starter — Gallardo — was slowly pitching his way into a bullpen demotion.
Smyly never threw pitch for Seattle in the regular season and Iwakuma might not throw another one in a Mariners uniform.
Now the starting rotation consists of Paxton, Ariel Miranda, who has filled Smyly’s spot…