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Will we see the Mariners fast track any of the pitchers in the second half?

By Shannon Drayer

A quick heads up to start. On Wednesday at noon I will be holding a "Mynorthwest Chats" chat, taking questions and talking Mariners as part of our new weekly chat series. The chats are a lot of fun for me as I love sharing the stories I don't have time to put on the blog or that you possibly missed when told on air. It also is a great opportunity for me to get out information I haven't found a place for yet and to give some rapid fire, off the cuff opinions and thoughts. Stop by with your questions on the Mariners and anything else I can help out with! The link can be found here.

The topic for today is the Mariners pitching. With all the good we have seen from the offense in the past month, the pitching has been uncharacteristically unreliable of late. What is fixable and what can we expect after the break?

First, the numbers -- not as pretty as the numbers for the offense. Over the last 30 days the Mariners pitchers have had the fourth worst ERA in baseball at 4.72. Their FIP was third worst. The starting pitching came in 11th in ERA while the pen was third from the bottom with a 4.97 ERA. We have said for years that if the offense could just score four runs a game they would have a heck of a chance to win a bunch of games. Well, not with this pitching.

Felix is having a Felix season, and up until recently Hisashi Iwakuma was matching it. I don't think we can expect from him what we saw in the first three months, but I think he is better than the run of five games with four or more runs that we saw before his final start before the break. He was bound to regress some, but I think we have seen enough over the last year to know, or at least have a good idea that he should keep this team in a lot of games in the second half.

Joe Saunders' numbers are a little deceiving in the last month, as one horrendous outing against Pittsburgh had great impact. In his last nine starts, however, he has allowed three or less runs eight times, two or less seven times, and just one or less seven times. That is a heck of a No. 3 starter, and others have taken notice as his name is starting to come across the radar as a trade possibility.

What would this mean for the Mariners? What are their internal pitching options? Blake Beavan is always a possibility, and the chance that there could be a need at the big league level soon very well may be one of the reasons why he was sent back to Tacoma to start.

What about the "Big 4"? Will we see Brandon Maurer again this season? His numbers haven't been bad at Triple-A, but he hasn't exactly dominated. James Paxton has had stronger outings of late. Could he be an option sooner than expected? What about Danny Hultzen?

He is scheduled to begin throwing again this week after being shut down because of soreness in the area of the shoulder that caused him to miss almost two months of the season. When he announced that Hultzen would be shut down for ten days, Jack Zduriencik said that his routines would be changed and that they were looking at his mechanics as well. I learned last week that they will look to make a change in his delivery to better his line to the plate. Right now he is landing and planting his front foot towards first base, and that is causing him to throw across his body, which can put stress on that shoulder. Pitchers often throughout the year find themselves drifting towards first or third, but this is how Hultzen throws so it could be a bigger adjustment than just getting the pitcher back in line with the plate. What should work in his favor in this adjustment is that they will make it as he starts his throwing program. The focus will be on the adjustment in his very first throwing session. With all that said, it would not appear he is close to being ready to help the big club.

That of course leaves Taijuan Walker. The thought by many earlier this year was that he would be a September call-up at best. He is still just 20 years old, and the most he has pitched in a season has been just 126 innings. He is already at 100 innings, which at the very most I would imagine would leave him with nine starts the rest of the year. Will any of those starts be made in Seattle?

He has allowed just one earned run in three starts since joining the Rainiers. If he continues to dominate, could we see Zduriencik do with him what he has done with some of his young position players and bring him up sooner rather than later? I am beginning to think it is a possibility.

As for the pen, Stephen Pryor will throw Tuesday in Everett, and if all goes well he should be with the Rainiers by the end of the week. As I mentioned in a previous post, don't expect him to come back firing 98 mph. He averaged closer to 96 with the fastball, and in the 25 pitches he threw at Safeco Field in his first sim game, he topped out at 93. It will take time to get the ultra high-octane stuff back, but his breaking pitches looked very good last week. It will be interesting to see what he has when he returns.

An interesting organizational move was made earlier today as director of player development Chris Gwynn announced that he was flipping the Double-A and Triple-A pitching coaches, sending Dwight Bernard to Jackson and bringing Terry Clark to Tacoma.

"With the number of pitchers we have had move from AA to AAA this season, we believe this move will give us increased consistency in instruction," Gwynn said in the press release. "Both Dwight and Terry have done a fine job this season. We believe this move is best for the Mariners organization at this time."

Walker, Jonathan Arias, Forrest Snow, and the newly-converted-to-starter Chance Ruffin all spent time in Double-A this year but are now with Tacoma. I have to wonder if we might see reliever Carson Smith called to Tacoma sometime soon as well.

As for the big league club? We could see trades, we could see the bullpen shuffled once more, we might even possibly see one very exciting debut. It should be an interesting second half.

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