Seattle Mariners

Mariners preview: Five questions facing Seattle for the 2015 season

Will the rotation hold up?

The Seattle Mariners, on paper, might have the deepest rotation in the American League with a unit headed by Felix Hernandez and consisting of James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ and Taijuan Walker.

There aren’t many rotations elsewhere that couldn’t find a spot for Roenis Elias, who will open the season at Triple-A Tacoma.

The question for the Mariners is durability. While Hernandez is a proven workhorse, the other four each spent time last year on the disabled list. Also, Elias missed time in September (although he wasn’t officially “disabled.”)

That durability issue also rises in terms of effectiveness. Hernandez and Iwakuma should be good for 200 or more innings, but Paxton, Happ, Walker and Elias have never thrown 180 innings in a professional season.

Even if everybody stays healthy — and, really, how likely is that? — the Mariners will be called on to do some serious juggling to keep their starting pitchers from hitting a wall in September.

Will Nelson Cruz deliver as expected?

That really depends on what you expect. Cruz set career highs last season with 40 homers and 108 RBIs while playing half of his games in hitter-friendly Baltimore.

So start with that: Those were his career highs.

The switch to Safeco Field will, almost certainly, have a dampening effect on his power. Robinson Cano encountered that last season when his slugging percentage dipped from .516 in 2013 in New York to .454 with the Mariners.

But it’s hard to believe Cruz, if he stays, healthy, won’t far exceed the production the Mariners received a year ago from their DHs: a slash of .190/.266/.301 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage).

If you’ve got Cruz in a fantasy league, he’s unlikely to help you as much as he did last season. But the Mariners should gain a big boost in production.

Will Lloyd McClendon’s magic touch continue with the bullpen?

With no apologies to Kansas City, which reaps deserved attention for its dynamic three-headed closer, the Mariners had the best overall bullpen a season ago by a wide margin. Judge that, pretty much, by any stat you want.

What is also overlooked is the Mariners’ relief corps, with one notable exception, consisted roughly of the same guys who, a year earlier, resembled torch bearers.

That exception was veteran Fernando Rodney, a free agent who arrived just prior to camp. While Rodney often turns the ninth inning into a thrill ride, he also recorded 48 saves in 51 opportunities.

Also notable was McClendon’s deft touch in matching up his relievers against the opposition.

Some of that might have been good fortune; hey, sometimes you get the right matchup in a particular situation – and the reliever just doesn’t execute. That didn’t happen a lot last year.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen this year.

Will Logan Morrison perform for an entire season the way he did last season for the final two months?

Morrison’s strong closing kick a year ago helped convince the Mariners they didn’t need to add a first baseman to their offseason shopping list. And if he maintains that performance level, the Mariners should be fine.

But, was it an outlier?

One example: Morrison batted .321 over his final 51 games, including .342 in September. Before that 51-game surge, he was a .243 hitter in 411 career games over parts of five seasons.

Another concern: Morrison played just 99 games last season because he missed two months due to a hamstring injury. He has played fewer than 100 games, because of various injuries, in each of his last three seasons.

The Mariners took a look, as spring training wound down, at Rickie Weeks at first base. Don’t be surprised if, as a hedge, Weeks gets more time there as the season unfolds.

Will the Mariners get dependable play from their shortstop?

One of the more fascinating spring competitions in either league came to an abrupt end March 13, when Brad Miller became a default choice at shortstop after Chris Taylor suffered a broken bone in his right wrist.

The Miller/Taylor battle offered a study in contrasts: Miller is generally viewed as a suspect defensive player who has high-ceiling hitting potential with power. Taylor is steadier glove but less of a bat.

Not surprising, perhaps, they each bristle a bit at those labels. (It’s worth noting Miller has a strong arm and made several plays this spring from the hole; Taylor showed increased muscle at the plate before his injury.)

Anyway, all Taylor’s injury did was push a decision down the road. The job belongs to Miller for as long as he can hold it. If he stumbles, Taylor could be a viable replacement by mid-to-late April.

The Mariners might also have a third alternative stashed at Tacoma in Ketel Marte, who could be ready at some point this season.

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