Today the Mariners announced the following roster move:
Wade LeBlanc has been in pro baseball for a decade now and didn’t have a stint on the IL until 2017, when a strained left quad kept him out for a couple weeks in August. That’s when he was a member of the Pirates, and working out of a relief role, throwing more often than he did as a member of Seattle’s starting rotation. One of the many gifts of Wade’s craftiness is the tax on his body isn’t overmuch; he’s been relatively healthy over a long pro career, and when he’s had an injury, he’s bounced back quickly. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case this time, as a Grade 2 strain will keep him out for 4-6 weeks.
LeBlanc has a Grade 2 strain of oblique. Likely out 4-6 weeks. Rookie Erik Swanson expected to take his spot in rotation starting on Wednesday.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) April 14, 2019
This is pretty bad news for a pitching staff that’s already beleaguered, beset by injury and ineffectiveness in the bullpen. The Mariners have addressed this by recalling prospect Erik Swanson, who made his major-league debut in Kansas City with a line that would have looked a lot better were it not for a wind-aided double on a popup that should have gotten him out of the inning with a clean slate. Justus Sheffield probably has the higher ceiling, but Swanson currently has the polish, as Sheffield has struggled some in his Tacoma outings.
From Greg Johns’s tweet it appears that Swanson will take over in a starting capacity as opposed to working out of the bullpen, as he did when he was first called up to replace an ailing Chasen Bradford.
Should the rookie struggle with starting at the big-league level, the Mariners have another option in LHP Roenis Elias, who has a background as a starter. However, Elías has also been one of the most dependable relievers in a shaky bullpen, looking impressive in short outings but also able to provide length if a starter’s day is cut short.
Truthfully, this is not an ideal scenario for Swanson’s development, but the decision to allow him to continue in a starting role at least has an eye towards the future. If you’ve been following our Midshipmen’s Logs, you know how thin starting pitching is on the farm. Swanson, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn were specifically brought in to address that at the upper levels, but overall, it’s not an area of depth. While it’s been fun to watch the Mariners burst into 2019 with big bats and aplomb, the series against Houston has showed what a significant gap remains between the Mariners and their division rivals. With the significant setback of LeBlanc’s injury, it’s even more important that the Mariners stay the course and continue to work with an eye on 2020 and beyond. If Swanson struggles at the big-league level or his development is impeded in any way by the pressure of trying to fill the shoes of a ten-year vet, the team should be quick to seek options elsewhere (and no, not the kind of option that costs a draft pick and would award an extra one to the Astros, so no, the Mariners won’t be signing Keuchel, set that idea aside immediately).