Mariners' young pitchers allow one run against Arizona
Erasmo Ramirez allows two hits in three scoreless innings in a split-squad game against Arizona. Hisashi Iwakuma shows more life in four-inning outing against Los Angeles Dodgers
Seattle Times staff reporter
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On a marathon day of split-squad performances, the Mariners were breathing easier about their near-term pitching while getting another glimpse at a distant mound future looking pretty special.
Seeing their quartet of young rotation prospects blow apart a seasoned Arizona Diamondbacks squad, 7-1, on Saturday night might have further tempted the Mariners into keeping one of them to start the season. But the kibosh was likely put on that idea earlier in the day when veteran Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma tossed four solid innings in a 5-5 tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in Peoria, Ariz., laying to rest much of the early concern about his adjustment to the major-league game.
Still, as good as Iwakuma looked at times in allowing just two runs, it wasn't going to top the nightcap performance by Erasmo Ramirez, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton in their Cactus League debuts. Ramirez is said to be the closest of the four to the majors and showed why, tossing three scoreless innings on just 28 pitches — 23 of them for strikes.
"You tell yourself to try to forget about whether you're facing big-league or minor-league hitters," Ramirez said. "But when you see the hitter and that it's (Justin) Upton and he's hitting, you remember everything. It's like, 'Oh my God, it's a big-leaguer!' "
But Ramirez put aside those thoughts and the fact there were 12,510 fans crammed into Salt River Fields at Talking Stick Park and did what he had done in a B-game against mostly minor-league Cincinnati Reds prospects five days earlier. Ramirez is a strike-thrower by nature and simply focused on hitting the target of catcher Jesus Montero time after time.
As did pretty much every other pitcher after him.
The quartet allowed just one run — on a Paxton wild pitch — on four hits, striking out eight batters over eight innings. Paxton had four of the strikeouts over two innings after walking the first two batters he faced and nearly escaping unscathed before the wild pitch.
Hultzen turned in two scoreless innings, allowing just two walks. And 19-year-old Class A hurler Walker had the stadium buzzing by mowing down veteran major-leaguers Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald on strikes before getting a fly out to end his only inning of work.
By the time the night was done, it was hard not to see the statement made by Seattle's youngsters, only one of which — Ramirez — has ever pitched as high as AAA. Paxton finished last season in AA, while No. 2 overall draft pick Hultzen has yet to make his professional debut outside of the Arizona Fall League.
"You have to always remind yourself that it's just baseball out there," Hultzen said after his outing. "You don't have to do anything special."
Hultzen pitched in front of crowds larger than the one here when he went to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., with the University of Virginia.
"I think the difference here is that there were 12,000 for the Diamondbacks," he said. "In Omaha, it was kind of split. There were just baseball fans out there."
The Mariners have plenty of mound decisions to make with fewer than two weeks to go before they head to Japan, and Iwakuma made things easier. But Iwakuma's outing against the Dodgers — the first time he'd gotten more than three batters out in Cactus League or intrasquad play — will help the Mariners resist the urge to promote one of their younger arms for now.
One reason for the reluctance is the relative lack of experience of the four. There is also the financial concern, with the team not wanting to start the arbitration or free-agency clock of the hurlers as long as they have capable major-leaguers in their midst.
The team wanted Iwakuma to solidify the middle of the rotation after Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas. If that happens, the remaining two spots will come down to a choice among Kevin Millwood, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi.
"I felt much better than last time," Iwakuma said, through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba. "And the number of pitches decreased with each inning. So, I'm really glad to pitch better than I did last time."
Iwakuma kept his fastball down and increased his velocity to 90 mph at times, according to some radar guns. He also had good movement on his split-fingered fastball, getting a pair of strikeouts with it.
"He had more life, really, with all of his pitches," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He did a good job with his fastball and moving it around. His secondary stuff was crisp and he was effective."
Part of the improvement by Iwakuma, 30, who dealt with shoulder issues in Japan last year, came when he stopped focusing on his arm action and worried more about the location of his pitches. He retired the first seven batters faced on a plethora of ground balls.
"We needed to see that," Wedge said.
And now that he has, it will be easier to resist the ever-growing temptation to dip into the club's fountain of pitching youth.
• Montero hit a two-run double in the first inning against Arizona and finished with three RBI, as did Munenori Kawasaki.
• Kyle Seager hit his second home run of the spring against the Dodgers, drilling a solo shot to center field.
• Mike Carp reached base his first four times up against the Diamondbacks with three singles and a walk.
MARINERS 5, DODGERS 5
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|L.Cruz ss||3||1||1||0||C.Triunfel ss||1||0||0||0|
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|Oeltjen rf||4||2||1||1||J.Blash rf||1||0||0||0|
|Loney 1b||3||0||1||0||Smoak 1b||2||0||1||1|
|Mitchell 1b||1||0||0||0||J.De Jesus 1b||1||0||0||0|
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|Treanor c||2||1||1||1||C.Wells dh||4||0||2||0|
|Federowicz c||1||0||0||0||C.Chiang lf||3||0||1||0|
|Los Angeles||001 100 030||—||5|
|Seattle (ss)||000 014 000||—||5|
MARINERS 7, DIAMONDBACKS 1
|M.Kwsaki 2b||5||0||3||3||Blomquist ss||3||0||0||0|
|Ryan ss||4||2||1||1||Schmidt c||0||0||0||0|
|Franklin ss||1||0||0||0||G.Parra dh||3||0||1||0|
|Carp 1b||4||1||3||0||D.Winfree dh||1||0||1||0|
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|M.Wilson rf||4||0||0||0||C.Young cf||1||0||0||0|
|L.Jimenez dh||2||2||0||0||Ryal 2b||1||0||0||0|
|J.Chavez lf||3||1||1||0||Kubel lf||2||0||1||0|
|Ford cf||3||1||1||0||Gillespie lf||2||0||0||0|
|Seattle (ss)||220 000 210||—||7|
|Arizona||000 000 100||—||1|
|E.Ramirez W, 1-0||3||2||0||0||0||1|
|I.Kennedy L, 0-2||3||6||4||4||0||3|
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners