Erasmo Ramirez vs. Taijuan Walker: Who Should Be The Fifth Starter?


The Seattle Mariners lost 4-1 to the San Diego Padres last night, meaning they were “swept” in San Diego after “sweeping” in Seattle. Or you could just say the M’s and Friars split a four-game series. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is the the Mariners lost an Erasmo Ramirez start for the first time in a while, which is funny since the team has strung together a couple of impressively cringey Felix Day losses recently. The M’s lost on Erasmo Day, except somehow it wasn’t Ramirez’s doing. He actually pitched fine.

Meanwhile, in Tacoma, Taijuan Walker had another rough start. In five innings, the M’s top prospect allowed seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and a walk while striking out four. Two of the hits he allowed left the yard, and he now owns an ugly 5.82 ERA over 26.2 AAA innings this season. He’s been done rehabbing his injured shoulder for weeks now, but remains at AAA because of his crappy performance.

Let’s revisit Ramirez and what he’s done, yesterday and all year. Yesterday: six innings, two hits, no runs, two walks, three strikeouts. This year: 48.2 innings, 7.4 K/9, 4.44 BB/9, 14.5 HR/FB%, 4.62 ERA, 5.39 FIP, 4.63 xFIP. Translation: too many walks, way too many homers, a minor league demotion, and -0.2 WAR. Even including yesterday’s nice outing, he’s been below replacement level. His roster spot has been, and remains, amongst the very most vulnerable.

Walker’s running better strikeout and walk rates than Ramirez, and while we don’t have minor league batted ball type data available, we do know that he’s allowed eight long balls in his six starts. It’s not like Walker’s got great K/BB numbers, and the homers are certainly concerning. In fact, his FIP is closer to seven than it is four, and that suggests a pitcher who shouldn’t be anywhere near a major league mound right now.

The fifth starter spot is up for grabs, and for the longest time it was assumed that whenever Walker was ready he’d swap places with the incumbent Ramirez. For now, at least, the answer is obvious: Walker will stay in AAA and Ramirez will get another shot to prove that he’s turned some kind of a corner. His line yesterday was nice, certainly, but it wasn’t awesome by any means. Command is still a major issue, and it’s not like his recent good outings have been the result of great precision pitching.

Walker is struggling right now, but that’s fine. He’s being eased back into his work after a shoulder scare, and if there’s any team who knows about shoulders and prospects, it’s the Mariners. The “Big Three” of Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen have now all dealt with shoulder injuries of varying severity, and how could we forget exported former Mariner Michael Pineda? The last thing the M’s want is to rush their top young arm, and giving him time to let his results match his stuff is not a bad idea at all.

Erasmo’s nice outing buys the team a start or two to keep evaluating what they’ve got. The obvious best-case scenario would be for both pitchers to catch fire and force the team to make some tough decisions, but realistically the job will go to whoever’s getting results, and right now, that’s Erasmo Ramirez. It so recently wasn’t, though, and his stuff still isn’t backing up his runs allowed. The Mariners really want Jason Hammel or someone of that irk, and while at first it sounds nutty to focus on the rotation, perhaps it makes a bit more sense than we’d instinctively think.

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