Michael Pineda looks headed into Mariners rotation
Michael Pineda has dazzled the team with high-90s fastballs and his composure on the mound. Team sources indicated Monday that, in the wake of announcing that left-handed starter Nate Robertson will undergo elbow surgery and be out until June, the final rotation spot is Pineda's to lose.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — One of the more exciting rookie pitchers to come the Mariners' way in years should be in uniform on opening day.
At least, that's currently the plan for young Mariners flamethrower Michael Pineda, who has dazzled the team here with high-90s fastballs and his composure on the mound. Team sources indicated Monday that, in the wake of announcing that left-handed starter Nate Robertson will undergo elbow surgery and be out until June, the final rotation spot is Pineda's to lose.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik declined to confirm or deny any suggestion that Pineda is the front-runner for the job. But Zduriencik did say service-time issues will not stand in the way of any young player making the team if they clearly earn their spot.
"We've got two more weeks to figure things out," Zduriencik said after his Mariners extended their unbeaten streak to eight games with a 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs at Peoria Stadium.
"A lot can happen from now until then. But at the end of the day, we're going to do what we think is ... best for the player, best for the team and best for the organization. And if it all points to someone making our ballclub because they've earned it, then they should be given that right."
With Robertson out, the only remaining candidate for the rotation whose arm is built up enough is left-handed starter Luke French.
Charlie Haeger has been limited by injury while David Pauley has been used strictly in a relief role and Zduriencik doubted Pauley would be ready to start games in April.
Keeping Pineda in the minors for at least three weeks to start the year would also mean he wouldn't hit free agency until after the 2017 season. If he breaks camp with the Mariners, he would be a free agent after 2016.
But Zduriencik said the potential of losing Pineda to free agency a year sooner will not play into his final call.
"I don't think we're going to worry about service time," Zduriencik said. "No one's going to hold them back. If they're ready to play, we're going to let them play."
Pineda pitches again Wednesday night and is on schedule to take the No. 5 starter's slotted turn on April 5 at Texas.
Robertson was a non-roster invitee with an option to become a free agent if he didn't make the team out of spring training. The feeling going into camp was that if Robertson — who started off fast but faded because of bone chips in his elbow — could regain past form, the team would opt for greater depth by holding on to the veteran and leaving Pineda in Class AAA.
Instead, Robertson will undergo surgery on Wednesday in Los Angeles and it will be four weeks before he can throw. Robertson estimated he wouldn't be in major league pitching condition until early June.
"They're not going to be able to make any good judgments about what I can do until I get it cleaned up," Roberston said.
This will be the fourth elbow surgery Robertson has had, though less serious than others. He said the Mariners's coaching staff and top brass met with him Monday morning and indicated they still hope he can pitch for them at some point this season.
"It's terrible timing for me trying to make the club coming in here," he said. "But I'm in good hands. I feel fortunate that they still want me around."
Pineda has struck out five batters in seven innings, holding opponents to a 2.57 earned-run average and a .192 batting average. French has a better ERA at 1.13 and has fanned eight over eight innings, but opponents are also hitting .353 off him and he has gotten lucky at times.
Team officials privately say that keeping a deserving player in AAA because of service-time issues can negatively impact a club later on. They say the player could become bitter and resentful, hampering his development .
The Mariners are also conscious about how the rest of the team might react to a lesser player being promoted over a deserving one and how it could impact the club's standing around baseball.
Pineda's situation is also different from that of second baseman Dustin Ackley, who is off to a .316 start at the plate and hit a monster home run in a "B" game against San Diego on Monday morning. Team officials are privately concerned that Ackley's defense needs more work and feel comfortable leaving him in AAA at this point.
The Mariners also have a non-roster veteran in Adam Kennedy, who would likely be bounced from a spot if Ackley was to make the team out of spring training. Like Robertson, Kennedy has a clause in his deal allowing him to become a free agent if he doesn't make the club.
So, the depth consideration — which would fall under Zduriencik's "good for the organization" criteria — is very real in the case of infielders.
. There is no similar consideration in the case of Pineda, who also isn't learning a new position the way Ackley is.
"Each player is different and each case is different," Zduriencik said. "So, we're going to look at all those considerations and base our decision off that."
• Doug Fister gave up a pair of runs over 4-1/3 innings against the Cubs on Monday. He struggled with his location, walking three batters and yielding six hits on balls primarily left up in the zone. But he also made several in-game adjustments and was able to limit the damage.
• Justin Smoak went 2 for 3 with a long double off the center-field wall.
• Ackley's home run in the day's earlier "B" game against San Diego was lined over the right-field fence some 340 feet away. The ball wound up striking the top of a building some 50 feet beyond that.
• Outfielder Michael Saunders, adjusting to a new batting stance, went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in the "B" game.
• The Mariners trimmed their roster to 51 players, optioning INF Mike Carp, OF Greg Halman, RHP Chaz Roe, and RHP Edward Paredes to Class AAA. LHP Chris Seddon was reassigned to minor league camp.
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Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.