Mariners Insider Blog

Building a Seattle rotation in Peoria

Always interesting to try to get a feel for a team at various points in any camp, and the 2012 Seattle Mariners have some intriguing story lines going with 67 guys still in camp.

For instance, who's in the starting rotation after Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas?

If you picked today, you might come up with a completely different five than you would after two season-opening games in Japan - when the Mariners return to Arizona and play five more exhibition games.

The candidates? Well, Seattle is stretching out Hector Noesi, Kevin Millwood, Blake Beavan, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Dan Hultzen and James Paxton.

Those seven pitchers are competing for three spots. How they do in the next few weeks isn't as key as it might seem at a glance. Felix and Vargas will pitch in Japan when it counts. The No. 3 and No. 4 starters likely will start two exhibition games in Japan.

But when the Mariners return to Arizona, the rotation could be reset completely before Seattle reopens the regular season on April 6 in Oakland.

Millwood remains the grizzled veteran, and will get the benefit of the doubt for two or three more appearances. Noesi and Beavan have been solid, Iwakuma hasn't been able to pitch more than an inning yet in two starts - one an intra-squad game - because of early pitch counts.

The babies - Walker, Paxton and Hultzen - have pitched well, but have only appeared in intra-squad and 'B' games. It's almost certain all three will start 2012 in the minor leagues, perhaps in AAA Tacoma. None have pitched higher than Class AA and Hultzen hasn't pitched to a professional except in the Arizona Fall League.

Are they close? Yes. Still, the Mariners don't want to rush them and, for now, there's no need. If Seattle can't come up with three starting pitchers from the group of Millwood, Noesi, Iwakuma and Beavan, the Mariners haven't scouted very well.

Figure the youngsters start arriving later in the '12 season. Pencil in Noesi and Iwakuma. And watch to see if Millwood or Beavan seize the fifth spot.