With Opening Day (morning?) this than a week away, Seattle Mariners Manager Eric Wedge officially announced the starting rotation yesterday to the media. With good performances from virtually all of the candidates left in camp, it was more a question of who would be left out than who would make it. Ultimately the skipper went with a mix of young and old to fill out the final three spots in the starting five for the M's. Following Felix Hernandez and lefty Jason Vargas will be right-handers Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Kevin Millwood.
Noesi pitched almost exclusively in relief for the Yankees in 2011 as a rookie, making just two starts, of fewer than three innings each, in his final two appearances. But when the Mariners acquired him from New York along with Jesus Montero in exchange for Michael Pineda and minor league right-hander Jose Campos, they immediately considered him a candidate for a rotation spot. And he showed enough this spring to earn one of the spots.
Beavan pitched well for the Mariners in the rotation during the second half of last season, posting a 4.27 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 15 starts. The big righty continued his modest success in intrasquad and Cactus League action and he is showing himself to be possibly more than a short-term answer in the rotation.
Millwood was the biggest question mark heading into the spring with Seattle. Having pitched for five teams over 14 seasons prior to 2011, he garnered minimal interest and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. He quickly opted out in New York but ended up starting 16 games in the minor leagues with affiliates of Boston and the Yankees before the Colorado Rockies picked him up in August. He made nine big league starts for them, winning four games (and hitting two home runs) while putting up very respectable marks with a 3.98 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. But as a 37-year-old with an ERA over 5.00 in three of his last four seasons, Millwood again settled for a minor league deal, this time with the Mariners.
Wedge said all along that he liked what Millwood could bring to the club, noting that he had never had a pitcher be a better influence on young guys than when he had Millwood with Cleveland in 2005. Millwood led the American League in ERA that season and finished 6th in the AL Cy Young balloting. He also helped teach young arms like Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia and Jake Westbrook more about pitching. If he can help Noesi and Beavan along the same way -- and possibly some of the prospects if and when they arrive -- his presence on this staff will be great.
Japanese signee Hisashi Iwakuma will begin the season pitching out of the bullpen for the Mariners -- something he hasn't done in a regular season before. Iwakuma had struggled a bit last season in Japan with some lingering arm issues and his arm strength hasn't returned to where the Mariners would like to see it at this point. While Iwakuma was disappointed with Wedge's decision, he still hopes to help the club out of the pen as the long man -- a spot that could see a lot of action in the early going for the Mariners due to their schedule in Japan. Iwakuma will get a start in one of the exhibition games being played in Japan against NPB professional teams.
Young right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, who has opened a lot of eyes with his brilliant pitching this spring, is really the only other player that can be disappointed with the announcement of the rotation. But Ramirez figures to start the year in Triple-A Tacoma pitching for the Rainiers, and he could easily see time in the big leagues in 2012 when injuries or overwork issues pop up.
We will wait and see how having four right-handers in the starting rotation affects the bullpen construction, but there are still three bullpen lefties in camp at this point in George Sherrill, Charlie Furbush -- who started last year -- and Lucas Luetge, the club's Rule 5 selection this past winter.