Drayer: The Mariners’ options with rotation deeper than ever

Jan 22, 2023, 10:55 AM

Mariners George Kirby Logan Gilbert Robbie Ray...

George Kirby is greeted by fellow Mariners pitchers Robbie Ray and Logan Gilbert on Aug. 30, 2022. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

The consistency that was a major mark of the Mariners’ 2022 starting rotation turns to continuity in 2023.

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The five (plus one) starters who ended last season with the team – Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen – are all preparing to return to Peoria, Ariz., for the start of the next season.

The six that return made all but eight starts for the Mariners last year, and did so giving far more than innings, evolving from a rotation with room to grow at the start of the season to one that enters the 2023 season firmly established with the addition of an ace in Castillo and emergence of the rookie, Kirby.

“The thing that appeals to me the most is a year ago this time we had six starters listed on the ZiPS projections, only one of them (Ray) was above a 1.8,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto pointed out last week on Brock and Salk. “This year we look at those projections and we only have one (who will be in the rotation) below 2.6, which is a pretty exciting thing to have that kind of depth and impact with legitimate ace value at the top and feeling like we could then run out our next three starters who can pitch alongside just about anyone in this league.”

Related: Dipoto details how Mariners use projections

The excitement for the rotation extends beyond those likely to take the five spots out of spring training, with Dipoto singling out prospects Bryce Miller and Taylor Dollard as immediate depth close to the big leagues.

“This is as deep as we have ever been,” he said of Seattle’s pitching. “I say that and I know that we are still going to be in a situation in June or July biting our nails thinking ‘Are we going to have enough innings tomorrow?’ This is why you build.”

Perhaps this season the Mariners disprove the universal baseball adage that you never can have too much pitching, but it is much more likely that depth is tested at the very least not because of injury but instead usage. In particular the club will closely watch Kirby, who in 2022 far exceeded his career high in innings. Dipoto has shown a preference of controlling innings not by skipping turns or going with a six-man rotation, rather monitoring innings start to start and utilizing the bullpen where needed. This season, it appears he will be looking for a true long reliever, a role the Mariners haven’t gone with at length for some time.

“There’s so much value in having multi-inning depth, especially when you are limited to 13 on the roster,” he said. “We want to be open to that.”

Barring injury or trade, that role would likely go to the sixth starter as it did last season when Castillo was acquired. Should more be needed, Miller or Dollard could be pressed into action. While both have been starters in the minors, their path to the Mariners’ rotation will likely start in the bullpen if a need does not arise in the starting five. Three of Seattle’s starters have been ironmen over the past five years, with Castillo’s 133 starts ranking seventh-most in baseball in that time, with Ray and Gonzales right behind him with 132 each.

While he has a bullpen spot locked down, Matt Brash could figure into the starting depth equation. At the start of the offseason, the Mariners planned to bring Brash to camp and work him as a starter to build up innings should a need arise. That plan has changed as Brash will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic as a reliever and will need to prepare as such. Still, Brash developed a cutter this offseason while working at Driveline Baseball. It is a pitch all eyes will be on this spring and one that could move him closer to the rotation.

Odds are, Dipoto as he predicted will be looking to find innings over a tough stretch in June or July this season or possibly sooner. Should that be the case, the Mariners could have some very interesting options.

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Drayer: The Mariners’ options with rotation deeper than ever