At the end of the 2013 season we got a glimpse into the future of the Seattle Mariners’ rotation when James Paxton and Taijuan Walker were called up and made their big league debuts. Fast forward to Opening Day 2014 and just one of the two were in the starting rotation — Walker would begin the season on the disabled list. Erasmo Ramirez broke camp as the club’s No. 2 starter, but would make just five starts before being sent down to the minor leagues. He would be called up a few weeks later to start the second game of a double-header against the Oakland Athletics before returning to the minors until June.

Just over three weeks ago Ramirez when was re-called for Triple-A he made a start against the Atlanta Braves and it wasn’t pretty. The 24-year old lasted just three innings and would give up five runs on eight hits, two of which were home runs. Since that start however, Ramirez has not allowed a run to score. In fact, he’s arguably managed to improve his performance in each of those three starts, at least statistically.

Beginning with a start against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 9th, Ramirez would pitch four and two-third scoreless innings despite walking five batters and giving up four hits. He would last five innings in his next start against the Texas Rangers in which he allowed four walks and three hits. That brings us to his last start against the San Diego Padres this past week where he went a solid six innings while walking two batters and giving up just a pair hits.

Ramirez now holds a 4.62 ERA and 5.39 FIP on the season which are still a ways away from the 3.36 ERA and 3.55 FIP he posted in 59 innings across 16 appearances — eight were starts — in 2012, but he’s definitely shown some signs of returning to that form when he’s been able to control his pitches. However, more often than not he’s struggled with his control this year and his walk rate is a lofty 4.44. In 2012 his walk rate was just 1.83 per nine innings and even in 2013 he managed a 3.24 rate. So even though Ramirez has somehow been managing to strand runners at an 80.1 percent clip this season — he left 70.2 percent of base runners on in 2013 — there’s still reason to be concerned over the young right-hander moving forward given the control issues.

Perhaps the biggest factor that’s keeping Ramirez in the Mariners’ rotation right now is the situation with Walker. The M’s top prospect appears to be at full health once again, but he hasn’t exactly been his usual self in five minor league starts since beginning his return from a shoulder injury. In 21 and 2/3 innings pitched he’s given up six home runs and has walked nine. His strikeout rate of 8.72 per nine innings isn’t all that concerning, but his 6.91 FIP in that span is slightly worrisome.

Remembering that the sample size is very small and it’s unclear how many of those innings Walker was trying to work on something specific more so than getting outs, one shouldn’t read much if anything into his minor league ERA and FIP numbers from the past four weeks. And of course if you cut down the home run and walk numbers things haven’t looked too bad for him, but they haven’t been good enough for the M’s to make the call to promote their top prospect just yet.

Right now Ramirez is slated to start against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night while Walker is also set to start for the Tacoma Rainiers. Is it possible that a poor showing from Erasmo and a strong outing from Taijuan is enough to see the pair of starters switch places by the end of the week? Sure, but it may be a little premature to make any bets just yet. Mind you, it’s been no secret that manager Lloyd McClendon hasn’t been thrilled by Ramirez’s performance of late despite the scoreless streak, even going so far as to say the right-hander has “got to be better than that” after his start against Texas last Saturday. He did walk four batters, remember.

Whatever the case may be, Tuesday night definitely could be a pivotal night in regards to what the Mariners’ rotation will look like over the next couple weeks. If Ramirez manages to put a quality start on the board — six innings and no more than three earned runs — it’s possible he’ll get another chance to maintain his spot in the rotation. But, if he implodes or the control issues continue and he walks three or four batters again, we could be seeing Walker back with the big club in a hurry.

Not that that would be such a bad thing, after all.

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Tyler Carmont

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16 Comments

  1. I’d like to see Chavez and Gillespie hang around as well. Montero really hasn’t done much more than warm a bench seat so far in his stint with the big club and Stefen Romero should probably be in the minor leagues as well. I’m with you, Jerry, on seeing LoMo get an extended look as the club’s regular 1B/DH/whatever. He’s hitting the ball too well to be sitting on the bench. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Smoak make the most of the 20-day rehab stint he’s allowed while the club figures things out.

  2. And there goes Erasmo back to AAA. I’m sure Maurer is just keeping Walker’s roster spot warm for a few days. It’ll be great to see Taijuan back in Seattle again.

  3. If I were the Ms, I’d avoid ditching Gillespie. He’s been pretty good. He and Chavez are both good bench guys. However, the guys coming off the DL are going to cause familiar roster problems.

    Once again, we are going to run into the same problem we had at the beginning of the year: too many DH/1B types. I want to see what Morrison can do on an extended trial. And Hart can help the team if healthy. That leaves Soak out. But it’s not like he’s done shit do deserve playing time anyway. Hopefully they can make a trade and sort this out.

    Speaking of trades, I’m hoping Walker can give the rotation a boost without having to make a huge trade for a guy like Price. Walker pitching well changes the rotation bigtime. If Paxton can get healthy, it would give us even more depth and the team could just focus on adding a bat or two.

  4. Regarding my comment below about Walker’s service clock and Jack trying to keep him under 1 year, I had forgotten how early this season started this year. I believe Jack would need to keep Walker in the minors for 51 days to get him under 1 year of service time (in other words, until July 31st). Don’t think he could get away with that.

  5. The first two to go down are going to be Montero and Romero…not Gillespie. I am not sure if we can send Gillespie down without running him thru waivers first. You are right, the question comes with Smoak, whom they will bring up. Do they DFA one of Chavez/Gillespie or do they send down someone like Morrison, which would be so frustrating. Maybe they trade Smoak as the rumors are saying today??

  6. Taijuan Walker turned in a 9.0 inning shutout as the Rainiers eased to a 2-0 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. Walker gave up only four hits and one walk and struck out eight. Given Erasmo’s short tenure on the mound last night how can there not be consideration of swapping him out for Taijuan? Will they need more time to find out if Walker is good or Ramirez is not so much?
    Condor can come off the DL tomorrow and has a 1.300 OPS for his time in Tacoma. I’d say he’s ready. Hart has a .765 OPS and might benefit from a few more games with the Rainiers but he can come off the DL any time now. Smoak has a .222/.290/.407 triple slash line and should stay put until that improves IMO.

  7. Walker will be up. Ramirez will go down to AAA.

    Saunders and Hart will be up within the week and Gillespie and Romero will go down.

    But more intriguing now is what to do with Justin Smoak??? I say don’t do a blasted thing right now to interrupt whatever LoMo has figured out. Keep Smoak in Tacoma and off the M’s mojo radar for as long as possible. Even LoMo’s defense is a pleasant surprise (including the game saving over-the-shoulder catch in KC). Don’t smoke things up Jack and Lloyd….

  8. I agree with you Jerry, Chavez can be effective in a reserve role. You try to play him everyday and his numbers will fade. Seems like that’s what happened with the guy last year. He started off great and then faded…

  9. Yeah, I gotta think we’ve seen the last of Ramirez for the time being.

    Looks like Smoak and Saunders are ready too. I’d expect Montero and Romero to get sent to Tacoma. Adding Walker to the rotation and getting those guys back should improve the club. A lot.

    Looks like we won’t be seeing that much of Bloomquist at DR or Endy starting in the OF after next week.

  10. Walker’s next start should be in Seattle.

    We pitched a complete game 4 hit shutout. If his arm feels fine after 109 pitches, you bring the guy up!!!

  11. That’s definitely a good point to bring up, and I believe that all things equal, we’ll hear more towards the end of July about whether or not LMC wants to limit his innings. It could be as simple as skipping Elias’ spot in the rotation a few times towards the end of the year. But definitely once Paxton re-enters the picture things could get interesting. Although it sounds like it’ll be another month in the best case scenario before we see Paxton back up with the M’s.

  12. I saw Walker last week in Tacoma, and he didn’t look anywhere NEAR ready. His velocity topped out at 94, and his fastball was straight as an arrow, with little of the natural movement he’s shown in the past. He didn’t appear to have that extra gear when needed, and his off-speed pitches were erratic, at best,and just plain lousy several times. He looks to be in about mid-Spring Training form, needing another two or three outings at the least. If the M’s are smart, they don’t call him up until after the All-Star game, no matter what he does in Tacoma on Tuesday night, 6/24.

  13. Perhaps Walker and Paxton’s injuries were a blessing in disquise? They could shut down Elias, if they were worried about innings, and bring both Paxton and Walker up to replace Elias and Ramirez.

  14. Another related question is if there will be an innings limit on Roenis Elias. He’s on pace for 200 innings after having thrown around 130 last year. There could be some starts to go around.

    Of course, if/when Paxton is ready to go, then things get really complicated. But, been optimistically thinking that for 2 months now.

  15. Doesn’t Walker get MLB service time for the entire time he was on the DL? His service clock this year already started… Plus they are in the race for the wild card, and Jack’s job is on the line, if he could help the club, he would be up already. One his numbers improve they will call him up IMO

  16. It’s been 2 weeks since Walker was taken off the DL and assigned to AAA. He came into the year with 31 days of major league service time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack decides to keep him in AAA for the next 3 weeks in order to get another year of team control. Hopefully Erasmo can hold it together until then but I haven’t been too impressed with his current streak. It screams of unsustainable good luck.

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