Elias unlikely to start again this year

 After departing in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night with shoulder tightness, it appears that the Seattle Mariners could lose left-hander Roenis Elias for the remainder of the season. Elias is currently back in Seattle awaiting MRI results that will be revealed on Monday.

Manager Lloyd McClendon met with the media on Sunday and expressed significant doubt that the rookie would make another start during the last week of the season, but did say he would be comfortable with using Elias as a specialist out of the bullpen if the tests yield positive results.

Taijuan Walker has taken Elias’ spot in the rotation for the time being and earned the win in Friday’s victory over the Houston Astros. He allowed two runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out seven. Walker is scheduled to start Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Elias has been excellent in his first year of big league exposure after making the jump from Double-A ball in 2013. In 163 and 2/3 innings pitched the 26-year old has produced a 3.85 ERA and a 4.02 FIP while holding opposing batters to a .599 OPS in starts at the friendly Safeco Field. The left-hander showed flashes of brilliance at times with his devastating curveball and well-located fastball. Elias will need to work on his consistency in an effort to lower his 3.52 walks per nine innings in 2015, but that should naturally improve as he gets more innings under his belt. If he doesn’t throw another pitch in 2014 he’ll finish the year with a 1.5 fWAR — not bad for a rookie who skipped Triple-A on his way to the bigs.

[pullquote]Elias racked up the third-most innings and fourth-most strikeouts (143) among rookie pitchers this year. Only two others faced more batters that the left-hander did.[/pullquote]

Within the context of a playoff series the Mariners could easily drop down to a three-man pitching staff, but with seven games remaining and a potential Wild Card match-up likely reserved for Felix Hernandez or James Paxton, Elias’ spot will come around in the week ahead. As mentioned previously, Walker is scheduled to make that start, however, how the M’s will use Chris Young after another poor outing on Saturday remains to be seen.

Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill opined that it’s time for the M’s to replace Young in the rotation, and I agree. The veteran has now thrown 165 innings on the year and it’s important to note that he had thrown just 199 innings between 2012 and 2013. He’s shown several signs of fatigue over the last couple weeks and although he has been outstanding for the club this year, the Mariners can’t really risk another poor outing from him with each game becoming more important than the last.

Walker has had his struggles this year as well, but it’s highly unlikely McLendon will hand the ball to Erasmo Ramirez to start a game, barring an emergency situation. As Churchill discussed, the best alternative for the Mariners probably is to start Tom Wilhelmsen in Young’s place and allow the best bullpen in baseball to get the job done. Now, with a crucial series against the Angels starting on Friday, McLendon may prefer to have as fresh a bullpen as possible given what could be at stake. Since that’s the case, the M’s could simply bump Walker’s start back a day to Thursday, and elect Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jays as the bullpen day.

Even if Elias does make an appearance out of the bullpen this week it would still be a disappointing end to a fantastic rookie season as the Mariners surely were hoping to pump one more start out of the left-hander as they fight to secure a Wild Card berth. The value Elias has provided the club is only magnified when one considers the significant time James Paxton and Walker — who figured to form two-fifths of the rotation out of spring training — lost to injury this year.

Regardless of what occurs over the final week of the regular season, Elias should have his name firmly penciled into a 2015 rotation spot. After failing to crack any top-10 Mariners prospect lists prior to the start of the season, the left-hander has certainly proved his doubters wrong in the short term, and will look to take another step forward next year as an MLB-regular.

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Tyler Carmont

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