Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Salk” Monday to discuss the team’s recent success and its push for a playoff berth. Below are some highlights from the interview.
Youth is bolstering the Mariners’ pitching depth. Zduriencik didn’t acquire a starting pitcher before last month’s non-waiver trade deadline even though he was rumored to be interested in several. He still has to time to target an arm that is placed on or pushed through the waiver wire, however, and while he’s not against the idea, he’s not afraid of the alernative, either. He told “Brock and Salk” that he’s keeping his options open, but he also feels confident in the rotation depth provided by the Mariners’ youth movement.
Behind ace Felix Hernandez, No. 2 man Hisashi Iwakuma and veteran Chris Young, there are a number of young hurlers that are all finally healthy and ready to contribute. That starts with left-hander James Paxton, who has allowed just three runs over two starts since returning from lat and shoulder issues that had kept him out of action since April.
“I think that Paxton being healthy now is tremendous,” Zduriencik said.
Roenis Elias, another rookie southpaw, has been a pleasant surprise in 2014, totaling a 4.14 ERA and 9-9 record in 23 starts. He’s currently taking things easy in Triple-A after racking up 134 2/3 innings in the majors, though, but Zduriencik said he’ll rejoin the Mariners in time to pitch in their series at Philadelphia Aug. 18-20.
Then there’s highly-touted prospect Taijuan Walker, who has three starts for Seattle under his belt this season but only one since the All-Star break. Just days before his 22nd birthday, Walker struck out 13 in a seven-inning outing Sunday, so he could be on the verge of putting on a Mariners uniform again.
“(It) was his best performance of his career, stat-wise,” Zduriencik said.
Those three, along with Erasmo Ramirez – who has become the Mariners’ go-to spot starter – combine to give them plenty of options should they not add another pitcher through waivers.
“It’s coming together,” Zduriencik said. “I don’t think anybody ever says I’m comfortable, because who knows? Something odd can happen and all of the sudden you look up and you don’t have someone available. But I think where we’re lining up right now for the last 45 games, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
The Kendrys factor. One of the Mariners’ big July acquisitions was designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales, who was arguably the team’s best hitter in 2013 but hasn’t done much so far in his second stint with Seattle.
He’s managed just a .214 average, a .539 OPS and one home run in 54 games combined with the Mariners and Twins, and he hasn’t shown any signs of coming out of his slump soon. The Mariners have been winning without much help from his bat, though, and a career history that includes three seasons of 20 or more homers suggests he’ll come around eventually.
“We’re just hoping that there’s going to be a point where Kendrys gets hot, because up to this point in time, he’s been fine … (but) he’s not found his groove yet,” Zduriencik said. “He’s got some big hits for us, but when that guy gets rolling, and we’re hoping that it happens soon, he has the ability to carry a club for a while.”
He certainly did that at times in 2013, when he provided a .277 average, 23 homers and 80 RBIs in 156 games, but his meager .161 average with no home runs and seven RBIs in 15 games since rejoining the Mariners is worrisome.
“We are expecting him to get on a roll here,” Zduriencik said, “and when it does, it’s going to make everyone better.”
No longer in the backseat. With five wins over their last six games, plus series victories over the Athletics and Braves in the last month, the Mariners have shown that they’re capable of playing with the best the MLB has to offer. It’s not just on display in the field, either.
“If we play good baseball, there’s nobody we’re taking a backseat to, no matter who it is,” Zduriencik said. “Lloyd (McClendon) said this in the wintertime: ‘We respect everybody, we don’t fear anybody.’ I think what you’re seeing now is what you always hoped you would see – you’re seeing players believing, you’re seeing guys having confidence in the player next to them.”
That confidence should come in handy with the Blue Jays in town for a three-game set, which started Monday night. Not only did the Blue Jays enter even with Seattle at 1.5 games back in the wild-card race, they’re also well-known for bringing a loud contingent of fans every time they play at Safeco Field.