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Examining replacement sixth starter options

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But maybe let’s work on un-cursing the sixth starter space with a little cleansing ritual first? Call me, Mariners

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners
maybe this should have been a sign?
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

In case you missed the game yesterday, the Mariners lost, and largely because Nick Margevicius was only able to record one (1) out on 32 pitches, only 13 of which he threw for strikes. This, coupled with Marge’s early exit from his last start against the Astros where he suffered a similar loss of command, is concerning, and Margevicius will head for an MRI when the team arrives in Houston. He’s currently being described by the team as suffering “shoulder fatigue,” which is pretty scary as shoulders can be really tough to rehab, and can’t help but put us here at LL in mind of the dreaded sog. Obviously we hope Nicky Marge is just suffering general fatigue after being forced to ramp up into a starter role after prepping for a life of Red Bulls and puffy jackets in Seattle’s bullpen, but what are the Mariners’ options if Marge is out for an extended period of time? Let’s discuss.

Just to get this out of the way, one thing we won’t be discussing here is bringing up Logan Gilbert or any other highly-ranked pitching prospect to patch the hole in the rotation. We covered this more extensively this morning, but everything the team has said about the developmental timelines and goals for these players doesn’t align with shoehorning Gilbert or someone into the rotation as a quick fix and potentially risking an injury to a player who figures to be a big part of Seattle’s future going forward. Missing over a year of development will set every prospect back to some extent, but combining that long layoff with a lengthy recovery process, such as from TJ, would be disastrous.

So let’s look at what resources the Mariners currently have in-house. The easiest answer is probably Ljay Newsome, who took over admirably for Margevicius and held down the powerful Boston offense over four innings of work. Ljay has proved to be durable, too, regularly logging 130-inning seasons over a minors career that stretches back to 2015, and has only gotten stronger, as he’s packed on the muscle at the Mariners High Performance and Gas Camps (#ThickThighsSaveLives). He’s a strike-thrower who does not walk people.

The limitation for Ljay is he’s somewhat limited in his tricks, attacking hitters primarily with his fastball-cutter combo, and mixing that with a changeup that’s just okay and, less frequently, a curveball that’s more of a get-me-over type than it is a serious offering. That could lead to a pretty serious times-through-the-order penalty, something a very limited sample in 2020 bore out (very, very limited, but a +2 ERA swing going from his first to second time through the order). Ljay’s profile is actually pretty perfect for a swingman or long reliever—he throws strikes and fills up the zone, he can go multiple innings and save the bullpen in a blowout or keep the team close when trailing, as he did on Sunday—but it becomes a little strained if the Mariners are asking him to take the ball every sixth day and go deep in games, especially with the Mariners offense currently unable to produce outside of players whose last names end in “-er” or “-ance.”

Two other in-house options who are also on the 40-man roster are Erik Swanson and Robert Dugger, both of whom would likely need some stretching out, and neither of whom might be better than Newsome. Swanson’s fastball has proved to be toothsome to MLB hitters, who slug gaudy numbers off of it; Dugger has the deepest pitch repertoire of all these candidates but that just means he’s had more pitches for batters to hit hard at the MLB level. While Dugger was successfully passed through waivers off the 40-man a few months ago, Seattle added him as the 27th man to their roster for one of their double-headers in Baltimore. One dark horse name to know is Darren McCaughan, the reigning Texas League Pitcher of the Year, who earned a non-roster invite to spring training this year and was with the big league club all the way to the end of the spring. Like Newsome, McCaughan (Mc-CACK-en) is a soft-tosser but a strike-thrower who doesn’t walk people, but he’s at a disadvantage here by virtue of not being on the 40-man.

If it’s a serious injury to Margevicius and not something that can be dealt with via a 10-day IL stint, the Mariners could also look to the open market and see if they could find a short-term replacement on the waiver wire. Former Mariner Wade LeBlanc was recently DFA’d by Baltimore despite some okayish-looking FIP/xFIP numbers, and that could be fun, right? We love Wader Tot and maybe he’d be willing to come back to a familiar place with the understanding he’s here for a good time, not a long time. Other still unsigned, ostensibly not retired options include veterans Rick Porcello and Aníbal Sánchez, the latter of whom just held a workout for clubs. It’s hard to say if two players with over 25 years of combined big league experience would sign on for a club far from home and fringy at best in contention, but perhaps the club’s hot start makes them more appealing, and/or makes ownership less penny-clutching than they were all winter. I won’t hold my breath.

Of course, there’s always what we could call the Happy Marco option: dropping the sixth starter idea entirely and going back to a traditional five-man rotation. As much as we all want Marco to be happy, the Mariners have made it pretty clear they plan to go with the six-starter route, given that other than the Iron Bulldog the rotation consists of two rookies (fine, rookie-adjacent), a guy who’s been pitching in Korea, and another guy who’s still trying to figure himself out as an MLB starter. Add in a global pandemic that stole any semblance of a normal season in 2020, and that’s more concentrated uncertainty than a seminar hall full of college freshman (the 2021 Mariners rotation: Undeclared). Maybe if it was later in the season the Mariners might be tempted to abandon their six-man plan, but it’s April, and there’s a lot of season left yet.

We’ll probably have at least a temporary move here soon as it sounds like Margevicius won’t be able to make his next start, at least; likely one of the taxi squad pitchers (Dugger or Swanson, probably not the lefty Aaron Fletcher) will be activated. In the meantime, what do you think the Mariners should do with the sixth starter spot?

Poll

What should the Mariners do if Margevicius has to go on the IL for a significant amount of time?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Let Ljay cook!
    (436 votes)
  • 13%
    Piggyback Ljay and Swanson, then name a sandwich at the ballpark after it
    (157 votes)
  • 21%
    Go sign/acquire someone to hold things together until Gilbert’s ready
    (259 votes)
  • 16%
    Do nothing; death to the six-man rotation and the cursed sixth starter spot
    (190 votes)
  • 8%
    Call up Gilbert anyway and use him as an opener until he’s built up
    (97 votes)
  • 4%
    My ideal plan isn’t listed here, why don’t you ever listen to me?
    (48 votes)
1187 votes total Vote Now