Ariel Miranda made the first start of the spring, but will be pitching in relief in the regular season?
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ariel Miranda’s understanding of the English language is still a work in progress, but it’s improving daily. The Cuban native still prefers to use an interpreter for interviews to best articulate what he wants to say and also to be certain in understanding what is being asked.
But some questions and answers don’t need the aid of translation.
After looking very sharp in Saturday’s Cactus League opener — throwing two shutout innings, while allowing one hit in Seattle’s 13-3 win over San Diego — Miranda was asked about his role going into 2017.
“If you were the manager would you make yourself a starter or reliever?”
Before Mariners’ interpreter Fernando Alcala could relay the question to Miranda in Spanish, the young left-hander quickly replied: “Starter.”
It caught everyone by surprise and made Miranda chuckle at his own haste to let it be known.
“I’ve always liked starting,” he said through Alcala. “When you are a starting pitcher, you are able to control 70 percent of the game. Obviously my preference is to start, but I will do whatever they ask me to do.”
Right now, Miranda is a starter, but by the end of spring training he could be a reliever and on the opening day roster as the second left-hander in the bullpen. Barring injury or catastrophic underperformance that would lead to a different kind of “injury” and appearance on the disabled list, the Mariners’ starting rotation is set with Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo. On the organizational depth chart of starting pitchers, Miranda and Chris Heston sit No. 6 and No. 7, meaning they’d be first in line because of injury.
Miranda proved capable of being a starter last season after being acquired from the Orioles in a trade deadline deal for the unwanted Wade Miley. In 10 starts, Miranda posted a 4-2 record with 3.44 ERA. In 55 innings, he struck out 39 batters and walked 18.
“It was obviously big,” he said. “They gave me the opportunity and I had some success. Going into this year, I know that I can move forward with that.”
What the Mariners ask Miranda to do for a role may stem from what other left-handers in camp do in Cactus League games. If James Pazos, Zac Curtis or even Nick Hagadone pitch well enough that the Mariners feel confident in using them, then Miranda could remain a starter in Class AAA Tacoma.
If none of the lefties step forward, Miranda could fill that role and also serve as a long reliever. Miranda’s fate could also rest on starting pitchers like Heston, Rob Whalen and Dillon Overton. They need to show they can pitch at a commensurate level to Miranda as starters to allow the Mariners to feel comfortable enough move him to the bullpen. From a paycheck standpoint for Miranda, being in the bullpen in the big leagues is much more beneficial than starting in Class AAA.
For now, the Mariners will prepare him as a starter and insurance against injuries to their projected rotation.
“We’ll keep him stretched out,” manager Scott Servais said. “We hope we get through camp without any injuries or hiccups. If there is one, I hope he’s throwing well enough that he can step in and do that. If you just run him out there an inning at a time, then you lose the ability to do that. You can always back him off late if you decided to move him to the bullpen. So we’ll keep him stretched out.”
Another determinant factor for Miranda’s future role will be his breaking ball. He needs it for a third pitch to offset his low to mid 90s fastball and split-changeup that darts down in the zone. A better breaking ball would allow him to keep hitters more off balance and navigate through the lineup a third time. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre emphasized it last season, making a few adjustments. Miranda worked on the pitch in the offseason in Miami.
“I think so far, so good with the results,” he said. “It’s important. I’ve always had the pitch, but over the years I went away from using it. I think it’s important to add another pitch to my repertoire. You need it for being a starter. But it’s still the same for a reliever. Having that in your back pocket is going to help.”
Miranda threw just 22 pitches (14 strikes) in his outing on Saturday. But he used the breaking ball liberally and in a variety of counts.
“It felt good,” he said. “I wanted to make an adjustment with that and work on it so it can be ready for the season.
Servais was pleased with the outing.
“I thought he was really crisp,” he said. “He was on top of his game. He knows he’s in here competing for a spot and it’s good to see guys come out of the chute and get off to a good start.”
Regardless of role, Miranda is easily one of the Mariners more reliable pitchers on staff. And his role could vary throughout the season. He vows to be ready for either.
“My job is to prepare myself physically and mentally,” he said. “And whatever role they put me in I will do the job.”