Stecker’s Three Things: Will the Mariners stay afloat without Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger?
At 10-13 following a series win over the Tigers, the Mariners are still trying to break out from their slow start, and a pair of big injuries early in the week did them no favors. Here are three things to keep in mind about the M’s head to Cleveland to wrap up their road trip with three games against the Indians.
1. How will Seattle fare without Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger?
It’s hard to say which injury hurts the Mariners more. The pitching staff has been a bit beleaguered, so losing Felix Hernandez to right shoulder inflammation – or the ominous-sounding “dead arm” – is very worrisome. But Mitch Haniger was not only playing like the Mariners’ best player, he was leading the entire MLB in WAR before he landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain. Oblique injuries are notorious for being unpredictable, so Haniger could be out for two weeks or two months. The good news is that the Mariners’ offense has a lot of firepower and might be OK without him for a spell, especially if Leonys Martin finds his swing down in Triple-A and ends up back in Seattle’s outfield. The starting rotation without Felix, however, is not in as good of a position, and there now has to be concern about what kind of pitcher Felix will be when he eventually comes back. Yes, he had some strong outings before disaster struck Tuesday in Detroit, giving reason to believe his new approach to his starts was going to pay off. But as he nears 2,500 MLB innings at the age of 31, there’s no telling when he’ll be ready to come back or if he’ll be all that effective when he does. Which brings me to my next point.
2. James Paxton is pitching like an ace, but he needs some help.
In five starts in 2017, James Paxton has held his opponents scoreless in four of them. The one outlier was last week in Oakland, Paxton giving up five runs over 4 1/3 innings to the pesky A’s, but he got right back on track by dominating the Tigers in seven innings of four-hit ball in an 8-0 win Wednesday. That’s a great development for the Mariners, who needed a new ace even before Felix hit the sidelines. They need more than that, however, chiefly another starter or two to step up and give them a more clear chance to win every five days – especially with how shaky their bullpen has been. Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda have all been good in a few starts and bad in a couple others, and those three going 50-50 with the unproven Chase De Jong taking Felix’s place won’t be enough to get the Mariners into the playoff conversation.
3. The offense is waking up.
While the bad news of Seattle’s injuries has overshadowed what has happened on the field this week, there has been some significant progress made at the plate by the team’s big bats. Nelson Cruz has been locked in, homering in three straight games before Thursday and moving into the American League lead in RBIs at 19. Robinson Cano raised his average from .212 to the high .260s over a 10-game stretch. Jean Segura has picked up where he left off before his stint on the DL, as he went 7 for 16 with a double, homer and five RBIs in his first three games back. Even Danny Valencia, who is still fighting to get over the Mendoza line, looked good in the Detroit series, hitting 4 for 7 with two walks, a double and a homer over the first two games of the set. As long as some combination of those players keep hitting, and especially if Kyle Seager (2 for 4 Thursday) returns to form after a handful of games off with a sore hip, the loss of Haniger might not hurt the Mariners much at all.