SEATTLE — When it comes to the Mariners’ rotation, there are just two certainties over the final six weeks: Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, barring injuries, will make their scheduled starts.
Everything else is up in the air.
Manager Lloyd McClendon reiterated Monday that right-hander Taijuan Walker and lefty Mike Montgomery are pushing up against their workload limits.
"I think it’s safe to say this," McClendon allowed, "`Are we concerned about their innings?’ Yeah. Sure, we are."
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The Mariners believe lefty Vidal Nuno fits best as a swingman, pitching extended innings as a reliever while drawing an occasional start. But they might have no choice but to keep him in the rotation.
Left-hander Roenis Elias, recalled Sunday from Triple-A Tacoma, figures to rejoin the rotation at some point this weekend against the White Sox in Chicago.
Elias was scheduled to pitch Sunday for Tacoma, prior to his recall, and could work in relief at some point in the current series against Oakland in order to stay sharp.
Once Elias rejoins the rotation, he should remain there through the end of the season. His workload through the end of the season doesn’t figure to be a factor.
Elias pitched 168 2/3 innings last season, which puts his preferred maximum at 190-plus. He is currently at 139 1/3 innings, counting his time with the Mariners and at Tacoma.
Lefty James Paxton, out since May 28, made his first rehab start Sunday at Tacoma, but he failed to get through the first inning before getting pulled after 35 pitches against Memphis (Cardinals) at Cheney Stadium.
The big plus, as Paxton told The News Tribune afterward, is he "felt great" with "no pain at all" in his middle finger. He also pushed his pitch count to 50 by going to the bullpen after leaving the game.
The downside is building endurance requires the up-and-down cycle of pitching multiple innings. That means he is likely to require at least two more rehab starts before rejoining the big-league rotation.
That projects, as a best-case scenario, a return to the Mariners on Labor Day — or roughly when Walker and Montgomery will be hitting their preferred innings’ limits.
Once Paxton returns, he should remain in the rotation through the end of the season. Even then, he will be hard-pressed to finish the season with 100 innings, which means his workload must be watched in 2016.
The Mariners would like to get Walker and Montgomery to about 175 innings, which would position both next season for 200 innings.
Walker is currently at 156 2/3 innings. While that is more he pitched last season (129 innings), he logged 156 1/3 innings in 2013. Clubs generally look back two years in applying a 25-30 inning maximum increase.
In short: Walker, 23, projects to get three more starts.
Montgomery’s situation is slightly different. He enters his start Tuesday at 141 2/3 innings, counting his time earlier this season at Tacoma.
While he worked roughly 130 innings in the two previous years, he is older, at 26, and hit 150 in 2011 and 2012. Counting Tuesday, he probably has four starts remaining.