In a matter of a few months, Roenis Elias has established himself not only as a reliable major league starter but also one of the Mariners breakout players of 2014.
It's easy to forget that when spring training started, nobody really knew about the Cuban southpaw – even his manager.
"I had never met him. I just looked at his bio and his numbers and saw where he was from and I thought he was pretty interesting," Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon said prior to Elias' scheduled start Saturday against the Indians. "I was anxious to see him, but like most of you guys I didn't know anything about him, and he impressed me. In fact you guys didn't know anything about him, you never said anything about him, and I hid it as long as I could hide it."
There's no hiding Elias anymore.
After jumping straight from Double-A last year to the majors at the beginning of this season, the 25-year-old has gone 7-5 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 16 games, striking out 85 and walking 34 in 98 2/3 innings. He allowed just a run in each of his last two starts – wins over the Royals and Padres – and he had show-stealing performances against both the Tigers (complete-game three-hit shutout on June 1) and Yankees (seven innings, two runs and 10 strikeouts in a May 2 win).
"He's been great. There's a few adjustments that he's had to make, but all in all he's been fantastic," McClendon.
Elias is still a rookie, but he hasn't looked like one. There's a good reason for that – he played in Cuba before defecting in 2010 and dealt with his fair share of hardships just trying to get to America.
"I don't look at him as a normal rookie. He pitched in Cuba – they play pretty good baseball over there," McClendon. "He's not overwhelmed by any situation. He's done a fantastic job. ... He's faced a lot more adversity trying to get than facing Albert Pujols, so to speak. I don't think it's gonna affect him, and I think he's probably mature beyond his years as a result."
The Mariners will trot out the exact same lineup as yesterday, with Endy Chavez leading off and playing DH, Michael Saunders hitting seventh and manning right field, and catcher Mike Zunino the only right-handed hitter against a Cleveland right-handed starter. Seattle had 11 hits off the Indians yesterday, so it's certainly worth seeing if it produces again a day later.
Saunders, who went 2-for-4 with a double Friday, was hitting at or near the top of the lineup before his recent shoulder injury. McClendon said he likes the way the combination of Chavez and center fielder James Jones has hit in the 1-2 spots, though, as well as what Saunders brings to the last half of the lineup.
"Michael gives us more thump at the bottom of the order," McClendon said. "I think having it that way gives us a lineup that is a stretched out a little bit more."
• James Paxton feels good after his bullpen session Friday, McClendon said.
• The Mariners still don't have a starting pitcher for Monday's game at Houston, but McClendon said that he will announce the starter by the time the team leaves town Sunday.