There'd been talk that Blake Beavan was impressing a lot of people with his performance in camp. There'd been talk that Hisashi Iwakuma was impressing fewer people, and on Tuesday Iwakuma pitched out of the bullpen in relief of Kevin Millwood. We figured something was up when the Mariners released Shawn Camp Wednesday morning. Now it's all becoming more clear. From the Mariners' official Twitter feed, Eric Wedge has announced the following starting rotation:
- Jason Vargas
- Blake Beavan
- Kevin Millwood
Hisashi Iwakuma will work out of the bullpen. He'll start one of the upcoming exhibition games in Japan, and that's pretty cool for him and for the Mariners and for Japan, but he won't realize his dream of making a Major League rotation out of spring training, if that's his dream. I would think he'd dream a little bigger than that.
Beavan and Iwakuma make for the story, here. Kevin Millwood was never a guarantee, but in our minds he was everything but. Hector Noesi was never a guarantee, and he didn't blow anyone away in Arizona, but the team obviously likes him quite a bit. That was not just a trade of Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero, don't you know.
Should Blake Beavan be starting over Hisashi Iwakuma? From the perspective of a fan who wants to be interested, the answer is no, because Iwakuma is a hell of a lot more interesting than Beavan is. He also has more upside, in that Beavan doesn't get grounders or miss bats. If you want to base it on spring performance, it's not clear - Beavan's allowed fewer hits, but everything else is basically identical. A year ago, Beavan started 15 games for the Mariners, so he has experience, but in those 15 starts he struck out 42 batters. Matt Garza struck out 51 batters in April.
We know what Blake Beavan is, and Blake Beavan isn't special. We don't know what Hisashi Iwakuma is, and he has some chance of being special. He could also be really terrible. That's part of the whole "we don't know" thing. Iwakuma's range of possible outcomes is broader than Beavan's is.
Iwakuma being more interesting than Beavan is not necessarily a good reason to start him. There's safety in Beavan - by and large, the Mariners know what they're going to get. They also probably feel like Beavan deserves a reward for what he's done; it might send a confusing message for the Mariners to send Beavan to Tacoma after he's put up the numbers he's put up. The Mariners gave Beavan an opportunity to win a job in camp. Beavan did just about everything he could. He's won a job in camp. That's how it goes.
What's most important to understand is that the season-opening starting rotation is just that. This is the plan, for now. This is a plan that could and will change. Just because Beavan has a starting job doesn't mean that he'll keep it. Just because Millwood has a starting job doesn't mean that he'll keep it, or that he won't be traded. You never know what could happen to anybody, and Iwakuma could get a chance if he pitches well and an opportunity opens up. Hisashi Iwakuma is not being sent to the bullpen for good.
The second-most important thing to understand is, wow, Felix Hernandez! The Mariners have Felix Hernandez! They are so lucky to have Felix, where so many other teams don't have anybody close to Felix. Let's take this chance to count our Felix Hernandez-related blessings.