Mariners’ Mel Stottlemyre Jr on what’s holding back James Paxton, encouraging sign for Felix Hernandez
If you’re looking for the busiest man in baseball this season, Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. is the front-runner.
Mostly due to injuries, Seattle has already used 29 pitchers in 2017, including 12 starters. Pitcher No. 30 – and the lucky No. 13 starter – is set to debut Thursday in rookie Andrew Moore, and there’s another rookie hurler, Max Povse, sitting in the bullpen waiting to make his first appearance in a game for the M’s. Needless to say, it’s a lot to keep track of for Stottlemyre, who is in his second season in the role.
Stottlemyre took time out his busy schedule to join “Danny, Dave and Moore” on Wednesday, and he had interesting insight to share about several of his pitchers. Below are three of the more notable things he touched on.
• James Paxton is learning to pitch when he doesn’t have his best stuff. The Mariners’ best starter this season – when he’s been healthy – is the 28-year-old lefty nicknamed The Big Maple. Since returning from a stint on the disabled list for a forearm strain, though, Paxton has scuffled. While he held Colorado scoreless on three hits and no walks in 5 1/3 innings in his first start back on May 31, in the four starts since he’s given up 17 runs on 29 hits and 11 walks, and he hasn’t pitched through six innings since April 26. Stottlemyre credited Paxton’s reliance on his mechanics for the bumps he’s run into. “He’s such a rhythm and timing and mechanical kind of guy that when he gets off a little bit, sometimes it takes him a while to kinda reel himself back in,” Stottlemyre said. “He was very dominant (early in the season). When you’re locked in and you’re dominating games, things are just happening. You don’t think about it. You’re in that zone, you’re attacking and life is good, and that’s where he was. When he got hurt, he did have that one nice outing his first time back out, and then he started to feel a little bit of fatigue.” Now Stottlemyre is working with Paxton on what to do when his stuff isn’t lights-out. “Mechanically he got off and we’re trying to be able to separate mechanically getting off a little bit but still staying aggressive, not peeling back too much and making yourself a regular guy and taking your special stuff away. So over the last two outings (June 11 and June 16) he’s kinda let that get into his dome. We’ve talked about that and knowing that over 34 starts you’re just not gonna have your great stuff all the time, you’ve got to keep yourself in games and make pitches and still stay aggressive.”
• Felix Hernandez got on track during his rehab assignment in the minors. The Mariners have been without their longtime ace since late April, but Hernandez will take the mound Friday night in the series opener against the team with the MLB’s best record, the Houston Astros. Before shoulder bursitis sidelined Hernandez, he had built a 4.72 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in five starts, but Stottlemyre is confident the King has got himself back in a place where he can be more effective. “The last couple times out in the minor-league stints, he’s in a good spot with his delivery,” Stottlemyre said. “He’s getting himself to going down the slope and is real aggressive. I’m starting to see some bottom back to his swing-and-miss changeup and his fastball is getting the action that it wants. We’re anxious to get him back. He was throwing the ball OK prior to his injury.” Stottlemyre did temper expectations for the 31-year-old right-hander and one-time Cy Young Award winner, however. “Everybody that kinda expects him to regain that form that it once was, that’s not gonna happen,” he said. “He can still be a great pitcher. He’s gotta do things a little different now and be a little more creative, and that’s why we’ve tried to open his mind to a few other things – getting outs at the top of the zone and still getting them out at the bottom and pitch in a little more, so he’s gotta do it a little different. He’s still our guy. We’re still gonna lean on him. He looks good and healthy.”
• The Mariners waited for the right opportunity to bring up Andrew Moore. With the onslaught of injuries this year to their pitching staff, the Mariners had plenty of chances to bring up the 23-year-old Moore before they did. Stottlemyre said the franchise exercised patience and believes now is the right time for him to try his hand against major-league hitters. “We’re really excited to get him. His name has popped up throughout the season with all the injuries,” Stottlemyre said. “The organization has done a good job in really waiting for that perfect time to bring him up and know that his off-speed stuff has had an opportunity to develop.” To that end, Stottlemyre called Moore’s breaking pitches still “a work in progress,” but he has other tricks up his sleeve. “Very fierce competitor. Strike-thrower. His secondary stuff is pretty good. His changeup’s probably his best off-speed pitch,” Stottlemyre said. “The thing I can tell you about him is for a young kid, he really knows what he’s doing and knows himself, and with that being said you hope that he doesn’t get too far away from himself and what he’s done to have success. He’s a guy who pitches off his fastball, loves to pitch at the top of the zone, pounds his fastball to both sides.”