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State of the Mariners’ pitching staff: Dipoto provides updates on Marco Gonzales, James Paxton and others

After a stellar July, Mariners LHP Marco Gonzales has struggled in four August starts. (AP)

The Mariners’ starting rotation is in a state of flux entering their road trip, with James Paxton recovering on the disabled list from a forearm contusion, Marco Gonzales needing rest after reaching a career-high in innings pitched, and Mike Leake having missed his last start due to illness.

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto joined Danny, Dave and Moore on Thursday for his weekly Jerry Dipoto Show, and he had plenty to cover as it pertained to the pitching staff. You can listen to a podcast of the full interview embedded above or at this link. Below is a more in-depth look at what he had to say.

Marco Gonzales

The 26-year-old left-hander was Seattle’s best pitcher in the month of July, going 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA, .198 batting average against, 31 strikeouts and just five walks in five starts from June 29 through July 29. August has been less kind – he has a 10.35 ERA and 0-4 record in four outings, and the obvious reason to point to is that he’s at 145 2/3 innings, well beyond his previous career-high in the majors and already the second-most innings he’s thrown in a season since turning pro in 2013.

That’s why the Mariners gave Gonzales nine days between his last two starts, and Dipoto said that was a precursor to how the rest of the regular season will go for him.

“We see a long future for him here in Seattle, so that is the most important thing for us is making sure to preserve his health and well-being,” Dipoto said. “He is in a position now where he’s in uncharted territory, but I guess any time you’re extending innings you’re going to eventually get there. We’ve got a little over a month left in the season and every inning he throws now is a new career-high. We knew that would eventually happen and we said we would manage it with using a little bit of feel as we got there, and right now the way it has gone this last handful of starts is telling us he needs a little extra rest or a break. We’re going to be attentive to that and we’re going to give him six, seven days in between each of these starts and see where it takes us.”

Gonzales isn’t the only pitcher on the staff feeling the effects of an 162-game season.

“With the exception of Mike Leake, who missed his start due to illness, very few of the others have been able to string together consistent starts for one reason or another, and I do think that the fatigue of the long season is really affecting them,” Dipoto said. “We knew this would be an issue and we’re trying to manage it as best we can. Right now we just need the starting rotation to give us a chance in these games like they had for the first half of the season when they were so, so good.”

James Paxton

Dipoto expects Paxton to return from the DL at some point during the Mariners’ Aug. 30-Sept. 2 series in Oakland, and while it was a shot from a batted ball on the arm that sidelined him, there is more reason than just that to be cautious with Paxton when he returns.

“He got hit pretty good in the left arm and prior to that was dealing with some back stiffness, so we just want to make sure that when he gets out there, like we talked about with Marco, that we’re attentive to his needs, because like Marco he’s a big part of our future,” Dipoto said.

Félix Hernández

After a short stint in the bullpen, Félix is once again a full member of the rotation – maybe more out of necessity than choice. But Félix’s outing on Monday was impressive, specifically the final three scoreless innings he threw. Like manager Scott Servais said on Brock and Salk a day before, Dipoto saw something different from Félix against the Astros.

“I think you have to be encouraged by what you saw for the final 12 or 15 hitters he faced. We saw him more aggressive down the slope of the mound, I thought the ball was coming out of his hand with a little more crispness than what we had seen for most of the season,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know if that was due to a little bit of extra rest, if it was due to something that he learned down in the bullpen. … Perhaps it was wanting to show somebody that he still had it. It was certainly an improvement.”

There is no set date yet for Félix’s next start because the Mariners are waiting to see when they can get Leake back in the rotation, but Dipoto said he anticipates he will get the ball either Tuesday or Wednesday in San Diego based on conversations with Servais and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.

Hisashi Iwakuma

That’s right – there’s a possibility the one-time All-Star could be back in the fold by the end of the season after nearly two full seasons of arm issues. The chance is slim, however, and it won’t be as a starter.

“I don’t think it’s a pipe dream (for Iwakuma to pitch for the Mariners in 2018), but Kuma’s been out a long time,” Dipoto said of the veteran right-hander who re-emerged this week throwing live batting practice against Ichiro before a game at Safeco Field. “It’s been close to two years since we’ve seen him out on a big league mound and our expectations are that he’s doing everything he can. I watch him work every day; I know he’s trying.”

The next step will be a rehab assignment with Single-A Everett, where the Mariners will be evaluating whether the 37 year old could figure in as a bullpen option by season’s end.

“We’re excited to see where that goes, but with just four or five weeks left in the season and so much time having passed since he was on a big league mound, I think it would be less than wise of us to consider him an option as a starting pitcher,” Dipoto said. “But if Kuma can come back and affect us in any positive way at all, even out of the bullpen, I’d feel so good for him – and good for the team, because everybody down there knows how hard he has worked to try and come back, and he’s as close as he’s ever been. We’re just going to cross our fingers.”

With no more guarantees, appreciate Félix while you still can