Pitching Notes: Felix, Colon, Paxton, Walker

 The biggest questions leading up to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game were answered on Monday: who would be the starting pitcher for both the American League and National League? For the AL it will be, as expected, Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. It was thought to be two-horse race between Felix and Masahiro Tanaka for who would take the mound to begin the game, but with the Japanese star currently on the disabled list — and possibly requiring Tommy John surgery — it appeared to be a forgone conclusion that Prospect Insider’s Mariner of the Month for both May and June would receive the honor. The last M’s pitcher to start an All-Star Game was Randy Johnson in 1997.

It’s very well deserved for the Venezuelan star as he’s in the midst of arguably the best season of his already accomplished career. He boasts an 11-2 record in 144 and 1/3 innings pitched this year which is partially a testament to the run support he’s finally starting to receive; an even five runs per game compared to just 3.8 runs per game in 2013. The rest of his mid-season statistics are outrageous: 2.12 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 154 strikeouts, 25 walks, and if the season were to end today, his 5.2 fWAR would be the fifth highest mark of his career. Could a second Cy Young Award be on the way for King Felix? There’s a very strong possibility.

Shifting gears over to the trade market, Mike Puma of the New York Post reported on Monday that the New York Mets are ready to listen on veteran starter Bartolo Colon and may even begin shopping him seriously prior to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. The 41-year old has a 3.99 ERA and a 3.66 FIP in 18 starts for the Mets this year and has lasted less than five innings on just one occasion back in May. Colon is also owed $11 million for the 2015 season as part of the two-year, $20 million deal he signed with New York this past winter.

The Mariners have been reportedly interested in adding a starter pitcher this month, a move that makes sense given the number of innings pitched by Roenis Elias already this season and uncertainty surrounding Taijuan Walker and the fifth spot in the rotation — more on that later. Colon has had somewhat of a late career resurgence after missing the entire 2010 campaign, including a 3.9 fWAR season with the Oakland Athletics in 2013. He produced a 2.65 ERA and a 3.23 FIP across 190 and 1/3 innings of work that year, and has actually seen improvements in his strikeout and walks rates so far in 2014.

Colon would definitely help solidify a rotation that has been outstanding this year but could start to slow down in the second half, especially if Chris Young isn’t able to maintain his solid season. Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reports that the Mets are looking to upgrade their shortstop depth and add a power hitting left fielder as well. Seattle doesn’t a lot to offer in the outfield department aside from possibly Gabriel Guerrero who was selected for the Futures Game this year, but they do have some shortstop depth to deal from. And cue the Nick Franklin speculation.

It’s been well noted over the past several months that Franklin is probably the M’s most useful trade chip at the moment and after a slow start at Triple-A and some injury troubles, he now owns a .306/.401/.491 line with the Tacoma Rainiers. Would Franklin alone be enough to convince the Mets to deal Colon? It’s possible, but perhaps the better question would be whether or not it’d be a worthwhile endeavour for the M’s. Despite the lack of an apparent roster spot on the big league club for the 23-year old, there’s stil  no reason for Seattle to sell low on their No. 2 selection in the 2009 amateur draft — an opinion held strongly by PI’s Jason A. Churchill and myself over the past several months.

Obviously the M’s more pressing need is a bat, but an upgrade is still an upgrade.

James Paxton appears to finally have made some serious progress in his recovery from an April lat strain. The 25-year old threw 53 pitches in a three-inning simulated game on Saturday, and after feeling no ill effects on Sunday, is expected to make a rehab start with the Everett Aqua Sox this Thursday. It’s been a difficult past few months for the highly regarded left-hander after a pair of solid starts to begin the year. He was also shut down in May when he felt some soreness in his shoulder after a rehab start with Tacoma. If everything goes well over the next couple weeks for Paxton there is a possibility he could make an appearance with the big club, but a more conservative time table would have him return to the big leagues in the first seven to ten days of August.

On the other hand, Taijuan Walker has managed to recover from his shoulder issues and return to the big league club a couple weeks ago, but has had his share of struggles in the pair of starts he’s made. Walker was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma prior to the All-Star Break in order to keep him pitching on his regular schedule and he allowed one earned run in five innings of work on Saturday. However, manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t have a very positive sentiment for the M’s top prospect on Sunday, and said the following:

“I guess I see things differently than most people. I don’t see (Saturday’s game) as a good outing. Five innings, 83 pitches, and one strikeout, that’s not a good outing to me. And I’m not trying to bash the kid. But how we go about our business and the level of expectations from the minor leagues all the way up to the big leagues, it’s got to change.”

Walker has walked seven batters in the ten innings he’s pitched in his two major league starts this year and hasn’t looked especially sharp, but he was called up after a shutout performance with the Rainiers on June 24th in which he looked outstanding. Obviously there’s an adjustment to be made at the major league level and ten innings isn’t enough to make an accurate assessment on a player coming off an injury, but McClendon has had a bit of a “tough love” approach throughout the season so it’s unsurprising to hear him make these comments.

It’s not yet certain when Walker’s next start will be or where, and in the M’s projected pitching probables for after the break they don’t have anyone listed for Tuesday’s game against the Mets which was expected to be the 21-year old’s spot. Of course it’s still possible that Walker makes that start and if he doesn’t, Erasmo Ramirez seems to be the likely candidate to start if that’s the case — barring any personnel changes before then. But it does sound as though McClendon would like to see at least one very solid start out of him before he’s brought back up to the major league staff.

Mariners Post-Break Pitching Probables
Hisashi Iwakuma, at Los Angeles Angels — Friday, July 18th
Felix Hernandez, at Los Angeles Angels — Saturday, July 19th
Chris Young, at Los Angeles Angels — Sunday, July 20th
Roenis Elias, vs. New York Mets — Monday, July 21st
TBA, vs. New York Mets — Tuesday, July 22nd

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