Dipoto is delighted with the way the Mariners have slogged through an ungodly run of adversity, which includes having four starting pitchers go on the disabled list. Yet he is adamant that he doesn’t need to make a trade to boost the rotation, at least not yet.
Jerry Dipoto laughed involuntarily when I asked him Thursday if, all things considered, he was happy for the Mariners to be sitting at the .500 mark following a two-game sweep of the Phillies.
It was the “all things considered” that warranted the gallows-humor reaction.
“I hate to laugh, but I’m laughing at our own pain,” he said.
You know the Mariners’ misery index: Four of their five prospective starters are on the disabled list, along with a slew of relievers, along with their best offensive player for the first three weeks, outfielder Mitch Haniger. They also lost shortstop Jean Segura, who as of Thursday finally had enough plate appearances to qualify as the American League’s batting leader, for two weeks because of a hamstring strain.
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In that light, and mindful of the Mariners’ dreadful 2-8 start, it’s no wonder Dipoto is indeed delighted with the way they have slogged through an ungodly run of adversity to finally reach the break-even point.
“We have to count that as an achievement based on all we’ve had to handle,” he said.
But he’s also realistic enough to know that the formula the Mariners have used to weather the storm during the attrition of one starter after another won’t work forever.
“It’s almost impossible to envision it being sustainable over the course of the season,” he said. “But there’s no other alternative. We can’t complain. We’re playing with the hand we’ve been dealt.”
It has meant cobbling together a rotation out of a rotating crop of Tacoma hurlers and trying to slug their way to victory. What gives Dipoto solace — and is keeping him from jumping into the trade market for an arm — is the hope that all four ailing starters eventually will be back. Barring setbacks, he foresees James Paxton and Felix Hernandez returning to the mound for the Mariners by the end of May, at the most conservative, or perhaps earlier.
Until then, the Mariners will continue to see how far they can get with the likes of Chase De Jong, Christian Bergman and Dillon Overton logging significant innings around the more-established starters, Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda (who was targeted for Tacoma at one point until Drew Smyly went down in spring training).
“It might not be a traditional view of a starting rotation, but right now the way we’re looking at it, we have seven guys stretched out as starters that we’re relying on to pitch innings every five days,” Dipoto said. “Once we get through five days, we reassess where we are.
“I’m sure the other 29 teams would agree, if your four top starters are on the DL for any length, there are no simple answers. You go into an emergency, fail-safe situation. Every game we win now is a team effort. We understand we’re not going to win because we shut teams down for five straight days on the mound.”
Yet Dipoto is adamant that he doesn’t need to swing a deal to boost the rotation, at least not yet.
“We’re going to ride it out,” he said. “This is why we have players in our system. We owe it to these guys to give them an opportunity. They were our first line of defense. We just didn’t expect them all to be in the big leagues at the same time.”
It’s not that there are no trades to be made this early in the season, mind you. It’s just that the price tag would be exorbitant — prohibitively high if you’re counting on the return of your starters, as the Mariners are. The hope is that Smyly is five to six weeks from returning from his elbow injury. The wild card is Hisashi Iwakuma, who was to have undergone an MRI exam on his shoulder Thursday.
“It’s a common notion that you’re paying a premium at the trade deadline,” Dipoto said. “You’re probably paying a double premium to go earlier. You have to talk someone into believing their season is not worth salvaging. That’s a tougher conversation.”
If it’s a seller’s market at the July 31 trade deadline, to pull off a deal in mid-May would be “a potential ransom situation,” Dipoto said. “We’re not in position to blow up the organization to find a guy who can help us. Although we’re dealing with 80 percent of our rotation on the sidelines, we don’t think any single one is incapable of returning.”
And the X-factor for Seattle is an offense that has been percolating since a slow start to the season. In fact, the Mariners entered Thursday’s play ranked second, behind the Yankees, in runs scored in the AL with 176. That puts them on pace to score 839, which would be the most for the Mariners since they led baseball with 927 runs in 2001. As a point of comparison, the M’s scored 513 runs in 2010, a year that will live in infamy.
That’s without Haniger for the past two-weeks plus. And with abysmal production from the catching spot — a combined .153 batting average (with a .240 on-base percentage and .216 slugging percentage) through the first 34 games. But Dipoto isn’t searching for outside help in that department, either, counting instead on a revival from the demoted Mike Zunino while Carlos Ruiz and Tuffy Gosewisch share the job.
“We think (Zunino) is a better alternative than anything we can access in the market,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the Mariners plug along, making the best of what they’ve got and dreaming of the day when they’re finally at full strength. After chuckling ruefully about their “remarkable string of misfortune,” Dipoto added quickly, “Someday, we’ll be better for it.”