Dipoto Show: Will Mariners eventually replace George Kirby in rotation?

Jul 7, 2022, 11:47 AM
Mariners George Kirby...
George Kirby pitches against the Los Angeles Angels at T-Mobile Park on June 16, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners have a very promising rookie who has emerged as a key part of this 2022 ballclub, and no, we’re not talking about Julio Rodríguez this time.

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That rookie is right-handed starter George Kirby, the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2019 who has helped stabilize Seattle’s five-man starting rotation since making his MLB debut in May.

In 11 starts this season, Kirby is 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA and 58 strikeouts to eight walks across 60 innings pitched. The thing to note with Kirby, though, is that he hasn’t thrown a ton of innings between his college and pro careers. He got to roughly 90 innings twice at Elon University and just 67 2/3 innings last year between Single-A and Double-A, which came after there was no minor league season in 2020 due to the pandemic.

So do the Mariners need to think about replacing Kirby in the rotation at some point down the stretch this season? That’s one of many topics Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto discussed Thursday morning with Mike Salk during the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show on Seattle Sports 710 AM.

“I don’t think so,” Dipoto said when asked if Kirby has an innings limit in 2022.

Dipoto said that the organization and Kirby have discussed his workload for the 2022 season at length since spring training, and that’s part of why Kirby’s five appearances in Double-A Arkansas earlier this year never went past five innings.

“(We did that so we didn’t) exhaust his pitch counts. We didn’t want him to throw high-stress pitches in April largely because we wanted to save some of that for late in the season,” Dipoto said. “We don’t have a hard innings cap on George. We’re going to let his stress tell us the story, and right now he looks great.”

Dipoto said the Mariners will “try to get off the gas” with Kirby a bit as far as having him work super deep into games as the season goes on, though.

“Just like we saw with Logan (Gilbert) last year, George has gone through &nash; let’s call it his his peaks and valleys, but his valleys are very shallow. He bounces out of his valleys very quickly,” Dipoto said. “There’s really nothing about what he’s doing to suggest that he’s fatigued, and he’s already at roughly a career-high in innings. We’re gonna let George and his body tell us what he’s capable of, but right now everything’s pointing toward it’s all working in the right direction.”

Stoudt, Dollard and other rotation options

Should the Mariners need to replace someone in the rotation at any point, what are the options?

Someone who turned heads last year and appeared to be heading towards debuting in 2022 is right-hander Levi Stoudt, who is currently with Double-A Arkansas. Could he fill in for the Mariners if necessary?

“Levi has been a little inconsistent at Double-A. He’ll give you the great outing and then one where he’s not quite as sharp, which is part of development,” Dipoto said. “He, too, is trying to develop that consistency, especially in taking the innings.”

Dipoto pointed to the Triple-A roster as well as the Mariners’ bullpen for pitchers who could provide multiple innings going forward.

“We do have a couple of pitchers at the Triple-A level with experience, in addition to Tommy Milone, who’s down in our ‘pen. We have Chris Mazza now, who has major league experience for the last few years with Tampa. We feel like he can be a help in this case,” he said. “We have Justus Sheffield, who’s obviously taken many major league starts for us over time. With that group, you may not have a guy that immediately plugs in and becomes your fifth starter if somebody were to go down or need a break, but it gives you at least a bridge to serve (in that you can) have an opener. Can you (pair) two of these guys together until you come up with a better solution?”

Dipoto also thinks a recent draft pick has performed very well this season and might help the MLB roster.

“The guy that we’re really excited about what he’s doing right now is Taylor Dollard in Arkansas, who’s who’s pitched extraordinarily well this year and is probably putting himself in a position to be considered if we need that extra guy,” Dipoto said.

Dollard, a 2020 fifth-round pick, owns a 1.38 ERA in 15 Double-A starts this season.

The tricky part

While it’s never a bad thing to have more pitching, Dipoto said that it can get tricky when it comes to adding rotation arms.

“The trick here is as we head into the trade deadline and I listen to the various suggestions (like), ‘You need more pitching depth,’ the thing is when you go out and you acquire another starter, somebody has to leave the rotation or you have to disrupt the rhythm and throw a six-man rotation out there. None of those things are particularly popular right now,” he said. “We have five starters that are throwing very, very well and we don’t really want to displace anyone. So part of the challenge becomes how do we get better 1-13 in our pitching staff and augment what we think is already a very good pitching staff without disrupting what they’re doing. Because what they’re doing, frankly, is the reason why we are where we are, which is battling back from a pretty big hole. And they are the primary reason why we were able to do it so quickly.”

Listen to Thursday’s Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player below.

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Dipoto Show: Will Mariners eventually replace George Kirby in rotation?