The Seattle Mariners have had a few position battles ongoing throughout the spring, but now as we wind down Spring Training, every outing has increased importance placed on it.
Another position battle, and one that has less clarity than the utility-man role, is for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
Right now the probable starting rotation is made up of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, and Taijuan Walker. Those four have stood out and have all had solid springs, but the battle for that fifth spot has had some bumps in the road between James Paxton and Nate Karns.
Wednesday night, it may have taken a turn for the worse for Karns with a tough outing against Oakland in Seattle’s 13-12 loss. Karns lasted just 2.1 innings giving up nine runs (seven earned) on eight hits while striking out four and walking two.
This has been a bit of a common trend for Karns, who has struggled in his first Mariners spring training since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason. This spring, Karns owns an ERA of 6.75 in five starts and has had just one shutout outing which was his first start back on March 3.
“That’s how it’s been all camp,” Karns said. “I think I’m just a tick off. We are trying to get my rhythm up and speed me up a little bit. I’m slowing down a little and it’s dragging my arm through the zone. I just have to make that adjustment and I think once I do I will be pretty happy with it.”
This Mariners organization has placed an added emphasis on ‘controlling the zone’ with new manager Scott Servais and GM Jerry Dipoto, but Karns has struggled with fastball command, which has led to some issues.
Karns also mentioned his “lack of rhythm” on the mound, but something has to change as he’ll most likely get just one more start before camp breaks and the Mariners head to Texas for Opening Day against the Rangers.
Along with Karns, his competitor vying for that fifth spot in the rotation is southpaw James Paxton. He has been in Seattle’s rotation in the past, but has been hampered by injuries and is looking to get back on track in 2016.
Paxton, like Karns, has had his struggles throughout the spring. The southpaw has made four starts thus far posting an ERA of 9.00 while striking out six batters. Also like Karns, Paxton has just one shutout outing and that was also his first outing of the spring.
To stay on regular rest, Paxton started in Seattle’s Triple-A game on Tuesday which was an off day for the Major League team. While it may not have been ideal being in this battle with Karns, he turned in an encouraging outing pitching five innings and allowing two runs on four hits while walking one and striking out eight.
“I felt really good,” Paxton said. “I felt like it was a really good step forward with my stuff. I feel like my stuff is where it needs to be.”
This was a big bounce-back outing for Paxton who lasted just two innings in his start back on March 17 against Oakland in which he gave up seven runs on six hits. It was just a minor-league start, but confidence could be very important coming down the stretch and heading into the regular season.
Paxton could potentially see two more starts this spring and that could be very important in deciding who gets this last spot because Servais said the decision for fifth spot in the rotation could come down to the last day of Spring Training.
Whoever gets this spot doesn’t need to be anything incredible, but just needs to solidify that fifth spot. If there is an injury, there seems to be enough depth that the next guy can come right in, but with pitchers like Felix and Iwakuma who have solidified the top of the rotation, the Mariners just need to be able to close out the rotation and turn it back over to the top.
This has been an interesting battle to watch as both guys have really struggled, but whoever can catch his groove in the last nine or so days could end up starting the season at the big club in Seattle.
[Quotes via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times]