Through the season’s first six weeks, the Seattle Mariners have used six starting pitchers. That number would probably still be five had it not been for Hisashi Iwakuma, who was placed on the DL with a right lat strain back on April 24th. The 34-year-old righty had experienced some struggles in the early going, but that’s also been true of other would-be critical members of the M’s rotation. Safe to say, the team would like to have him healthy and active as soon as possible.
Except that won’t be happening any time soon. Iwakuma’s rehab hasn’t been going nearly as well as one would hope, and now comes the news that he’s been shut down for at least the next ten days. It’s a blow for a rotation that has been leaning awfully hard on Felix Hernandez while waiting for Taijuan Walker and James Paxton to straighten themselves out.
The story with Iwakuma is that his lat’s been tight for much longer than anyone had anticipated. Things aren’t getting worse, which is a good thing, though by the sound of it his progress is flatlining. Iwakuma, for what it’s worth, has dealt with similar injuries in the past and doesn’t feel that this one is anything particularly awful. Take from that what you will, and take it with a grain of salt.
Obviously it’d be nice for the team to get their number two starter back, but it’s important that we not chide the franchise for refusing to rush a star player. Iwakuma’s been one of the best starters in the league for the last three years, but at less than one hundred percent it’d be a tall order to expect him to be effective while injured. Giving an injury like this time to heal is the right thing to do. The Mariners are handling this well.
Still, it’s a bummer of a situation for a team that’s currently wire thin on starting pitching depth. There’s Felix, Paxton, Walker, J.A. Happ, and Roenis Elias at the big league level right now. That group’s been fine, if only because it features a once-again-better-than-ever Felix. But as we’ve already seen with Walker, the team really doesn’t have any options if there’s a struggling arm in the MLB rotation.
Who’s this team’s number six starter right now? Tom Wilhelmsen? It’s probably Tom Wilhelmsen, who fits best as a middle/long reliever. That’s not the kind of guy you want making more than a short spot start. After that you’re left scanning the 40-man roster. Mike Montgomery could make a start or two if needed, but despite his nice start in Tacoma that’s not a guy you want to lean on. Danny Hultzen‘s on the 40, but he’s not ready for the bigs.
The longer Iwakuma sits on the DL, the harder the team has to start thinking about making a move for a starting pitcher. Despite a market low on sellers, it appears that summer trading season could begin within a month or so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the M’s are calling around, checking in with teams like the White Sox and Brewers who could find themselves with arms to spare come June/July.
What we know is that the Mariners won’t be getting Iwakuma back until June, at the earliest. What we might know is the direction the Mariners will be heading in July. Three more Iwakuma-less weeks is not a death sentence, but it’s definitely a bump in the road. With the Mariners starting to play well, perhaps it won’t affect them much. I’d hope not.
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