Even as the Mariners hold onto diminishing postseason hopes while the schedule winds down, they already see reason for optimism in addressing a patchwork rotation that effectively torpedoed their season.
Club officials consider the hard knocks that Andrew Moore and Marco Gonzales absorbed as rookies to be a down payment on future success. Further, they believe veteran Mike Leake will provide a stabilizing influence for the foreseeable future.
Leake, 29, is 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in four starts since arriving Aug. 30 from St. Louis in a trade for minor-league infielder Rayder Ascanio. Further, Leake reached 30 starts Tuesday for a sixth straight season.
That dependability provides particular value to a Mariners’ rotation that, through 152 games, has gotten only 63 starts from its projected five-man unit.
"I had no idea of how important it was until we went through 2017," manager Scott Servais said. "Mike has done it for a number of years. I’m looking forward to having him for the next few years.
"I would have died to have someone make 30 starts for us this year."
Leake’s performance represents a turnaround. He was 1-6 with a 6.94 ERA over his final 10 starts in St. Louis, which is what made the Cardinals receptive to a salary-dump deal.
The Mariners gambled that Leake could regain the form that made him one of the National League’s better pitchers over 5 1/2 years in Cincinnati from 2010-15. So far, he looks like a steal — and he’s under contract for three more years.
"He’s been roughly a 2-plus win pitcher every year dating back to 2013," general manager Jerry Dipoto said at the time. "There’s really no reason to believe his skills set has changed. He throws just as many strikes…"
The Mariners control Moore, 23, and Gonzales, 25, for six more years, although Gonzales is out of options, which means he can’t be sent to the minors in the future without first clearing waivers.
Moore has two more option years.
The Mariners acquired Gonzales, a first-round pick in 2013, from the Cardinals in a July 21 trade for minor-league outfielder Tyler O’Neill.
Gonzales missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and, while he’s been healthy all season and pitched well in the minors, he has a 5.87 ERA in eight big-league appearances, including six starts, since the trade.
"I’m looking forward to the second year," he admitted. "A lot of guys I’ve talked to, guys I’ve rehabbed with, say the first year coming back can be hit or miss. And that the second year really is when you start to settle in, dial it back up and feel completely normal.
"Although I've felt great this year, knock on wood."
Moore’s situation is different. A second-round pick in 2015, he sailed through the minors before making his big-league debut June 22 by pitching seven strong innings in a victory over Detroit.
Rough times soon followed.
Moore went 0-3 in his next five starts while allowing 20 runs and 32 hits (including 10 home runs) in 29 2/3 innings. That resulted in a trip back to Triple-A Tacoma.
A mid-August return produced one rough relief outing and still another trip down Interstate 5 before Moore returned in September after the Rainiers completed their season.
His improvement on this latest tour is notable: six runs in 16 2/3 innings for a 3.24 ERA. He is the scheduled starter Saturday against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
"They got me a little more over the rubber," Moore said. "I was getting kind of long (in his delivery) to where my body was getting out in front, and my arm was (trailing) too long in back.
"It just wasn’t allowing my hand to get in front with the curveball and slider. So it was just (a matter of) tightening everything up a little bit."
The three additions, prompted largely from necessity, boost next season’s anticipated pool of rotation candidates that also includes James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda and possibly Andrew Albers.
"Andrew Moore is well on his way to getting the ball rolling again in the right direction," Servais said. "With the few adjustments he made, he’s seeing some results. That’s what you want to see from young players.
"Struggles are going to come. It happens to a lot of young guys. But can they make the adjustments to get back on track again? Get back to the positive performances they’ve had in the minor leagues?
"Marco’s situation is a little bit different in coming back from injury. Can we get him through the year healthy, let him have a normal off-season, come back into spring training and go from there?"
With Moore now slotted to start Saturday, the Mariners have their rotation tentatively lined up for the rest of the season.
Ramirez will start Friday in the series opener against the Indians. After Moore starts Saturday, Leake will pitch Sunday in the final home game of the regular season.
The Mariners have Hernandez, Paxton and Ramirez ticketed for the Monday-to-Wednesday at Oakland.
After an open date Sept. 28, plans call for Leake, Hernandez and Paxton start the season’s final three games from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 against the Angels in Anaheim.
STRIKEOUTS FOR VETS
Even in an injury-shortened season, Felix Hernandez has raised $7,600 to date for military veterans through his association with Carhartt’s 2017 "Strikeouts for Vets" campaign.
Carhartt is donating $100 for each strikeout recorded by five big-league pitchers. To date, Hernandez has 76 strikeouts, so $7,600 for Carhartt, which manufactures "premium workwear."
Veterans are reaping even bigger benefits for Carhartt’s other four pitchers: Chris Sale (Red Sox), Jacob deGrom (Mets), Corey Kluber (Indians) and Michael Fulmer (Tigers). The total raised through Wednesday: $97,000.
The Seattle Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will present its annual awards prior to Friday’s series opener against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
Chapter chairman Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times will present the BBWAA awards for player of the year, pitcher of the year and an Unsung Hero.
The Mariners are also planning to recognize their club-designated minor-league award winners, including outfielder Ian Miller as hitter of the year and Nick Neidert as the pitcher of the year.
FAN APPRECIATION NIGHT
Friday is also Fan Appreciation Night.
Prize drawings will be held every half inning and include nine 4K Ultra HD TVs, courtesy of Root Sports.
Other prizes: two seven-day Holland America Line cruises for two; Alaska Airlines round-trip tickets; Emirates Airline round-trip tickets to Dubai; tickets to the 2018 season opener; and a variety of autographed items.
All fans will receive a Mariners team poster with a preview of the 2018 schedule.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners