Speculation on Paxton’s replacement

 For the second year in a row James Paxton has found himself on the disabled list. The move was made official on Friday after Paxton left his start against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night with discomfort in his left middle finger. The official injury is a strained tendon in said finger.

No doubt the injury is untimely, not only for the Mariners but for the Canadian-born left-hander. Paxton has had a solid month of May and entered Thursday’s start riding a 20-inning scoreless streak. He was coming off a stretch of five solid starts before leaving in the fifth inning and surrendering four runs, three earned, in 4 and 2/3 innings pitched. It appeared that he had finally found his groove after some early season struggles.

For the Mariners, their pitching depth is about to be tested. Roenis Elias has already been pitching in the big league rotation while Hisashi Iwakuma has been on the disabled list — his timetable for a return is still unclear at this point but a return in June is unlikely.

Erasmo Ramirez is no longer on the roster — a candidate to make the spot start in previous years — but perhaps that player he was dealt for, Mike Montgomery, is the most likely to start on Tuesday.

Montgomery, 25, was scheduled to start Sunday’s game for the Tacoma Rainiers, but Christian Caple of The News Tribune reports, via Twitter, that James Gillheeney will instead be making the start. Montgomery is currently on the Mariners 40-man roster.

The left-hander throws a fastball in the low-to-mid 90’s and a changeup that serves as an effective compliment. Both pitches are average or better. The problem for Montgomery is establishing a third pitch — he has tinkered with a slider and curveball. In a spot start situation such as this, he may not be required to go through the opposing lineup more than twice, reducing some of the need of an effective third pitch. But the lack of secondary stuff does speak to his overall value and potential.

A second, and much less likely, candidate from Tacoma would be Justin Germano. The 32-year-old right-hander signed a minor league deal with the M’s over the winter and has a 3.02 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 50 and 2/3 innings work as a starter and reliever. What makes him a candidate is his previous big league experience and the fact he last pitched on Thursday, going eight strong innings, and a Tuesday start would be regular rest for him. What limits the potential of this happening is that Germano currently is not on the 40-man roster and would need a space cleared.

Last year, on a couple occasions, we saw manager Lloyd McClendon go with the ‘bullpen day’ approach and have Tom Wilhelmsen start the game. I don’t see that happening for several reasons: the bullpen is only six deep at the moment — seven if you count Dominic Leone, but back to six if Wilhelmsen starts, there are still five more games before an off-day in this brutal stretch of scheduling and Wednesday is a day game after a night game on Tuesday — a lesser factor, but it’s not unusual for players to be unavailable in this scenario.

Frankly, it doesn’t make sense at this juncture to force nine innings out of the bullpen. Particularly so when a roster spot can easily be opened up for another pitcher.

There has been some speculation that a starting pitcher could be acquired over the next 48 hours or so that could make that start. I don’t know how much Jack Zduriencik is working the phones right now, but a trade for anything of significance is unlikely at this time of year — unless there’s something behind the scenes that’s been worked on, which is still unlikely.

At best the M’s could reasonably be expected to pick up an arm of Montgomery or Ramirez’s ilk. That isn’t all that bad of an idea considering the lack of depth, but still seems unnecessary at the moment.

The idea of bumping Taijuan Walker and the rest of the rotation up a day isn’t likely on the agenda either. Again, this stretch of schedule would make it difficult at best and there’s no reason to be pushing starters at the moment.

All signs point to Montgomery taking the ball on Wednesday, and that’s not all that bad of a thing. Seattle can see what they have in the left-hander at the big league level and may require his services for another start or two beyond Tuesday while Paxton is out.

Paxton will be reevaluated in two weeks’ time but that doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go then. Three-to-four weeks isn’t an unreasonable timetable for the left-hander’s recovery based on the information we have at present, but it’s too early to really get into specifics.

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Tyler Carmont

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