Because of an almost-comical amount of injuries, extended usage and some ineffectiveness, the result has been a parade of pitchers moving on and off the 25-man roster this season.
Can you name all 40 pitchers who have appeared in a game for the Mariners this season?
The average fan might get 20 to 25 of the 40, tied for the most pitchers used by a team in a season in major-league history.
The very-average Mariners beat writer could get 30 to 35 if given enough time and motivation.
How about the Mariners’ pitching coach?
“Absolutely not,” joked Mel Stottlemyre Jr. “There are times when I can’t even spell my own name. I still can’t spell Rzep’s (Marc Rzepczynski’s name). To be honest, I don’t think I could. Not even if I sat down with a piece of paper.”
Perhaps one of the relievers who shuttled between Class AAA Tacoma and Seattle for much of the season could do it?
“No, I can’t,” said rookie Emilio Pagan. “I think if I had a sheet with like 100 names, I think I could pick out the 40 guys.”
So let’s try the starting catcher, because he probably caught at least 85 percent of them?
“Probably not,” said Mike Zunino. “Definitely not off the top of my head; that’s a pretty tall order right there. If I started listing them on paper, maybe, yeah, I might be able to.”
And the man responsible for the constant roster moves that made it possible to reach 40?
“I’m pretty sure I could,” said general manager Jerry Dipoto, who has an unusually high recall of baseball information. “I might have to think hard. There were some in there that were a little obscure”
Try it yourself. Even with a list, you’ll probably find at least three of four names you don’t recognize or remember.
A record no one wants
By using 40 pitchers, the Mariners tied the big-league record set by the Texas Rangers in 2014.
To steal a line from “A Few Good Men” … “one more and they get a free set of steak knives.”
Impressive? That’s not the word manager Scott Servais would use. This was out of necessity.
“I don’t know how impressive it is,” he said. “It’s actually disheartening that you have to go through that many to get through a season. Just knowing you can never plan for that.”
And the Mariners didn’t plan for it. Going into spring training, they were quite proud of the pitching depth behind their projected starting rotation of Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo and a projected bullpen that was anchored by Edwin Diaz, Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent and Steve Cishek.
But because of an almost-comical amount of injuries, extended usage and some ineffectiveness, the result was a parade of pitchers moving on and off the 25-man roster this season.
“It’s something you can never plan for,” Servais said.
Well, what can you plan for?
“Genuinely, we projected to use 10 or 11 starters because that’s about the league average in a normal year into today’s time of baseball,” Dipoto said. “With the actual number of pitchers, we don’t actually project a number. We are trying to go 16 to 18 deep, understanding your pitching staff runs from your top starter to the callups you’ll make as the season goes along. We’ve definitely doubled down on how many we’ve needed. And we did what we had to do to get through it.”
It took a perfect storm of injuries, some underperforming and a modified philosophy regarding starters to reach 40.
“I don’t know how perfect it was,” Stottlemyre said wryly.
But it was something the Mariners had to weather.
“It’s something I do not wish on anybody,” Servais said. “But we’ve hung in there and we keep doing it.”
Indeed, the 2014 Rangers, who set the rather dubious record, finished 67-95. The Mariners have hovered around .500 for much of the second half of the season and have been in the hunt for the second American League wild card.
“It’s actually kind of impressive to see so many guys come in and out and see where we are still at,” Zunino said. “It’s something you’d expect to see from a team a lot farther out of it than we are. It just shows the quality guys we’ve brought in there and how well we’ve been playing behind them.”
Injuries, and more injuries
This snowball that turned into an avalanche of arms started with injuries. The first flakes fell in spring training when Drew Smyly, Cishek and Shae Simmons, all projected to play major roles, got hurt.
Seattle’s pitchers have had 16 disabled-list stints. Felix Hernandez, James Paxton and David Phelps have each had trips to the DL.
Smyly did not throw a pitch for the Mariners this season. He was never the same after pitching 42/3 dominant innings in the World Baseball Classic. He returned to Mariners camp with arm fatigue and elbow discomfort. The Mariners held out hope that he would return after the All-Star break and help push them over the top.
It never happened. Smyly’s lengthy comeback attempts ended with a diagnosis of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and season-ending Tommy John surgery that will keep him out most of next season as well. Acquired in the offseason to be their No. 3 or 4 starter in the rotation, Smyly may never pitch for the Mariners.
A month into the season, the rotation was decimated. On April 25, Hernandez, who also pitched in the WBC, exited his start against the Tigers early with shoulder discomfort. He was placed on the disabled list the next day with bursitis.
“I don’t want to mention the WBC, but it got a couple of our guys,” Stottlemyre said. “It ramped them up, and at the time of the year they were in a different place than what they were used to being in.”
This is historic. Our top four starting pitchers have accounted for 17 percent of innings pitched this season; the league average is 40 percent” - Jerry Dipoto
On May 5, Paxton joined Hernandez on the disabled list after experiencing tightness in his forearm. Five days later in Philadelphia, Hisashi Iwakuma was placed on the disabled list with shoulder discomfort. That meant four of Seattle’s five projected starters were on the disabled list.
Like Smyly, Iwakuma was done for the season. Paxton was the first to come back on May 30. He dominated the next two months before going back on the disabled list Aug. 11 with a pectoral strain.
Hernandez returned June 22, making eight starts and posting a 3-2 record and 4.08 ERA before the shoulder bursitis returned and put on the DL on Aug. 5.
The team’s projected four top starting pitchers — Paxton (1242/3), Hernandez (802/3), Iwakuma (31) and Smyly (0) — have thrown a total of 2361/3 innings this season. And they’ve missed a combined 424 games.
“This is historic,” Dipoto said. “Our top four starting pitchers have accounted for 17 percent of innings pitched this season; the league average is 40 percent.”
Of course, it’s fair to wonder why Dipoto gambled on starters like Paxton, Smyly and Iwakuma, who have prolific injury histories.
“Even without the injury history with those guys, the quality of their depth was a concern in spring training,” said an opposing MLB scout. “You have to give them credit for going and getting guys to fill that depth. I think they saw that depth was an issue by trading for some guys to give them depth they thought they might need.
“But I think the biggest issue is at the end of the day the best quality of your starting pitching depth comes from within your system. “You need to rely on that system to fill that depth. When you don’t have those guys, you are forced to rely on retreads like Bergman and some fringy prospects like (Rob) Whalen, and usually you are going to get below average production from them. It all goes back to the fact that their farm system is weak at the upper levels.
The opposing scout also said the team’s lack of prospects made making deals difficult.
“It’s hard to acquire big league level starting pitching.” the scout said. “Because of the injury risk on Smyly, the Mariners were able to acquire him at a bit of discount. They couldn’t do much else with where their system was at..”
So many starters
Naming the 40 pitchers the Mariners have used might be nearly impossible, but naming the 17 pitchers who have started for Seattle this season is nearly as challenging. The 17 is the most by any team, with the Twins second with 16.
Since 1956, only three teams have used more than 17 starting pitchers, including the 1967 New York Mets, who used a modern-day record 20 starters. Of that group, none won more than 76 games and the combined win percentage was .432.
Ariel Miranda, who was supposed to be the No. 1 starter in Tacoma’s rotation before Smyly got hurt, has made the most starts this season with 29 and hadn’t missed a scheduled outing until the Mariners gave him a break a week ago.
Yovani Gallardo, projected as the No. 5, never went on the disabled list. But he was so ineffective that he was demoted to the bullpen on two occasions.
The Mariners found adequate replacements in right-handers Sam Gaviglio (3-5, 4.62 ERA) and Christian Bergman (4-5, 5.00 ERA), and recently acquired lefty Andrew Albers (5-1, 3.09 ERA). But others, such as Chase De Jong, Dillon Overton, Rob Whalen and Chris Heston struggled.
Symbolic of the team’s injury issues with their rotation was the shortened outing of right-hander Ryan Weber on May 13 in Toronto. Called up to replace Iwakuma in the rotation and making his first start as a Mariner, Weber was in the fourth inning of what seemed to be a decent start, having allowed one run on three hits.
But following a pitch to Ryan Goins, Weber grabbed at his bicep, having felt an awful stabbing pain. He was removed from the game, placed on the disabled list and never threw another pitch again in this season.
“I’ve been part of clubs where we struggled either rotation or bullpen-wise and you bring pieces up and send them down and try to find the right mix, but nothing to the extent of this many guys getting hurt,” Stottlemyre said.
A change in thinking
When Paxton and Hernandez were on the disabled list together early in the season, the Mariners changed their philosophy on how starters and the bullpen would be used. Because they were carrying an eight-man bullpen, they would keep a fresh long reliever at all times. If that long reliever was used, no matter how well he pitched, he was rewarded with a trip back to Class AAA Tacoma.
The Mariners’ objective for their starters was to get through the opposing lineup two times. Then they would reassess their chances at victory based on inning and score.
“It was actually a decision with me and the staff,” Dipoto said. “I’d talked to Scott about it a number of times. We all got in a room and talked it through. Whether it be as coaches or farm directors, we’ve all been through player development. Often times, that’s how we manage a minor-league games. “
It seemed like a desperate move. Dipoto used a different adjective.
“I think because of how many of our starters went down, we had to come up with a creative solution,” he said. “If we would’ve just tried to toe up our sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th best starters for the bulk of the year, I don’t think we would have survived.”
So guys like Gaviglio, Bergman and others made starts while long relievers like Emilio Pagan, Casey Lawrence and Dillon Overton took turns riding the shuttle from Tacoma to Seattle.
“We were using a replacement starter virtually four out of five games,” Dipoto said. “It required doing something creative because we were going to use our long guy more than the normal team was going to need their long guy.”
When Pagan tossed four shutout innings against the Nationals, allowing one hit and striking out four on May 23, he knew what awaited him after his best outing as a big leaguer — a cross-country flight back to the Rainiers.
“Going up and down, it’s a definitely a play on your emotions and on your morale,” he admitted, “It’s tough, but we knew the situation we had as a team and an organization. You know when the big club has a lot injuries and holes to fill they are going to fill them. I wasn’t going to hang my head on getting sent down. I was in the big leagues. I got a chance and it went good. I was just hoping for another one.”
The method raised eyebrows around the league. Opposing scouts have wondered how the players or the players’ association viewed the roster manipulation.
“I remember joking with Pagan after one time if he left the car and the air conditioner running at the airport,” Stottlemyre said. “Guys have had an awesome attitude and an understanding of it. I think they also understand that they probably wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity if everyone had stayed healthy. It presented opportunity for some guys. A guy like Pagan, as an example, has taken advantage of that.”
The philosophy also meant presented other ramifications. There was not always relief for long relievers and middle relievers having poor outings, He would have to “wear it” and pitch through it no matter how bad it went.
The Mariners tried to avoid using pitchers like Vincent, Rzepczynski and Diaz in games with a deficits of more than a run or two. It led to some drubbings and to pitchers getting pounded.
“If we wound up on the wrong side of a lopsided game, we were going to punt for field position,” Dipoto said. “We did that a fair amount through the middle of the summer. At the time, we devised this plan for just a way to survive.”
Survival wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t fun for fans to watch. It looked pretty hopeless at times.
“Some of those beatings we took were very valuable to our season and allowed us to get to here today,” Dipoto said. “It didn’t seem like it at the time. We just wouldn’t have survived. There were more than a couple of grumbles in the middle of it, like ‘how can we keep doing this?’ At the end of the day, what we did preserved the ability to win games when we had the chance to win them because we weren’t burning Nick Vincent, Steve Cishek, and later David Phelps or Edwin Diaz in games that we were down.”
When Hernandez and Paxton went down again in August, the Mariners took it a step further. In Class AAA Tacoma, the group of starting pitchers were all limited to three to four innings per start and pitched on three days’ rest instead of four to prepare for the long relief role with the Mariners.
Middle relievers in Tacoma at the time, such as Dan Altavilla and Ryan Garton, couldn’t be used on the same days in case they were needed to be called up at a moment’s notice. The roster shifting was even more intensified until September roster expansion.
“There were some guys that really wore it,” Dipoto admitted. “We didn’t have much for alternatives. We had to use everybody. We also set an all-time record for using number of pitchers in the Pacific Coast League by a wide margin. The impact the DL had on our pitching staff, all the days lost, the ability to keep floating, it required a little bit of creativity.”
The 41st arm who didn’t pitch
After being queried about being able to name the 40 pitchers, Pagan had a trivia question of his own.
“Can you name the one pitcher who was called up this year that didn’t pitch?” he said.
The answer is right-hander Ryne Harper.
And while back-up catcher Carlos Ruiz and utility infielder Mike Freeman qualify for the 40 pitchers used, each throwing an inning of mop-up time, Harper did not throw a pitch.
He was called up on May 28 and joined the team at Fenway Park. Awed by his surroundings and opportunity, Harper’s hands and voice shook as he talked about his path to the big leagues. Three days later, he was optioned back to Tacoma. He didn’t even get used in the Mariners’ 10-4 win over the Rockies at Coors Field.
Harper, a 37th-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Austin Peay University, had a 1.89 ERA when called up.
“It’s too bad,” Pagan said of Harper not getting to pitch. “That guy just gets people out.”
|17 players have started games this season for the Mariners, tied for second-most ever in a season:|
|Ariel Miranda||29||8-7; 4.87||Did not miss a scheduled start until last Sunday|
|Yovani Gallardo||28||5-10, 5.72||Only pitcher from projected rotation not to go on the DL|
|James Paxton||22||12-5; 3.03||When healthy, he’s easily their best pitcher.|
|Felix Hernandez||15||5-5; 4.57||Longtime ace had two stints on the DL with shoulder issues.|
|Sam Gaviglio||11||3-5; 4.62||He didn’t clear waivers and is in Royals rotation|
|Erasmo Ramirez||9||1-3; 4.22||Midseason return has gone better than expected.|
|Andrew Moore||8||1-4; 5.40||Was called up sooner than expected and struggled.|
|Christian Bergman||8||4-5; 5.00||Called up four times; understood his role and reliable when needed.|
|Hisashi Iwakuma||6||0-2; 4.35||He’s given everything he’s had to the organization over six years.|
|Marco Gonzales||6||1-1; 5.87||Trade to get him was unpopular among M’s fans.|
|Andrew Albers||5||5-1; 3.48||Solid pickup up in August, he understands what makes him effective.|
|Chase De Jong||4||0-3; 6.35||He relies on command because of lack of stuff.|
|Mike Leake||4||3-0; 2.13||Veteran, acquired in trade, works fast, throws strikes and gets outs.|
|Dillon Overton||1||0-0; 6.38||Designated for assignment by M’s in midseason and recently by Padres.|
|Rob Whalen||1||0-1; 6.14||He left Class AAA Tacoma after bad game to contemplate future.|
|Chris Heston||1||0-1; 19.80||Claimed by the Dodgers and then by the Twins. Ended the season the DL.|
|Ryan Weber||1||0-0; 2.45||In his first start as a Mariner, he felt pain in his biceps and never pitched again.|
|Source: Baseball reference. Comments by Ryan Divish|
|A lot of relief|
|Here are the 23 players who have not started but who pitched in relief|
|Nick Vincent||66||3-3; 2.87||M’s best reliever this season — reliable and effective in one-inning stints.|
|Edwin Diaz||62||3-6; 3.47||His first full season as a closer has had some ups and downs.|
|Marc Rzepczynski||61||2-1; 3.77||Veteran specialist did his job against lefties more often than not.|
|James Pazos||56||4-5; 3.57||His first full season had more ups than downs .|
|Tony Zych||45||6-3; 2.66||Ends a second straight season on the DL, but was valuable set-up man.|
|Dan Altavilla||38||1-1, 4.33||With a high 90s fastball, the results should be better.|
|Emilio Pagan||30||1-3; 3.52||A huge surprise considering he wasn’t invited to MLB spring training.|
|Steve Cishek||23||1-1; 3.15||Veteran side-armer was traded to Rays, where he has a 1.37 ERA in 21 games.|
|Casey Lawrence||21||1-0; 5.85||A midseason waivers claim, he’s ridden the shuttle to Tacoma and back..|
|David Phelps||10||2-1; 3.12||Acquired at midseason, he was effective before elbow issues.|
|Ryan Garton||9||0-0; 5.60||Acquired from the Rays at the trade deadline, he’s been effective in short bursts.|
|Evan Scribner||8||0-2; 11.05||For second straight year, he spent most of the season on the DL.|
|Evan Marshall||6||0-0; 9.39||Showed some promise until his hamstring exploded.|
|Shae Simmons||6||0-0; 0.00||Often-injured, his high 90s fastball and biting slider could make him a good set-up man.|
|Casey Fien||6||0-0; 15.00||Main reason the M’s lost to Angels with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.|
|Jean Machi||5||1-0; 1.17||Traded to White Sox, and was sent to Class AAA.|
|Zac Curtis||3||0-0; 0.00||Lefty specialist spent most of year in Class AA before being claimed by the Phillies.|
|Max Povse||3||0-0; 7.36||The 6-8 right-hander bounced between starting and relieving this season.|
|Cody Martin||1||0-0; 13.50||Another versatile right-hander, he was called up as 26th man in a doubleheader.|
|Carlos Ruiz||1||0-0, 9.00||The veteran backup catcher pitched one inning of relief in Minnesota.|
|Mike Freeman||1||0-0., 9.00||Utility infielder, now with the Cubs, pitched one inning of relief in a blowout vs. the White Sox.|
|Thyago Vieria||1||0-0., 0.00||The hardest thrower in the organization is still very raw.|
|Tyler Cloyd||1||1-0., 0.00||Plucked out of the independent leagues, he got a win in his only big-league appearance.|
|Source: Baseball reference. Comments by Ryan Divish|