As the Mariners season opener in Japan rapidly approaches, the team has announced a part of their opening day roster today as the starting rotation is now set. The first two games will be pitched by the usual suspects: Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, and in some order after that will be Kevin Millwood, Blake Beavan, and Hector Noesi.
The obvious surprise from this is that Hisashi Iwakuma will start the year in the bullpen. With a low-90s fastball and groundball propensity, Iwakuma isn’t an ideal candidate for the bullpen, and probably doesn’t figure to pitch in the late innings. If that’s the case and he’s not going to start, that he’s even on the roster is a little bit curious. His repertoire is that of a starter. His experience is that of a starter. And it’s not like he’s 21 years old and waiting to burst out and realize his potential. He’s a soon-to-be-31-year-old pitcher on a one year deal.
But before we start a “Cut Iwakuma” chant, let’s realize something. The Mariners have two obvious starters to top their rotation. Obviously Felix Hernandez is the team’s opening day starter for as long as he’s here and healthy, but even as average as Jason Vargas has been, he’s the second best starter on the staff at this point.
And if Iwakuma is in the starting rotation, and isn’t starting one of the first two games, he’s not pitching in Japan. Of all the teams in baseball, the Mariners may care more than any other about their image in Japan. Playing their Japanese player probably helps their image.
So sure, it’s a bit of bad news that Iwakuma isn’t in the rotation right now. He hasn’t been great in spring training, as opposing hitters have batted .358 off him, and gave up six extra base hits in 12 innings. But it’s spring training. Who the hell cares about what happens in spring training?
The other surprises are Beavan and Noesi. Obviously nobody is surprised Kevin Millwood is in the starting rotation. Kevin Millwood is not a relief pitcher. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar. Kevin Millwood was a relief pitcher eight times, and has been a starter 415 times. He’s higher start-relief appearance ratio than the ratio of states to states that presently house teams called the Seattle Supersonics. Fuck you Oklahoma City.
I thought Beavan would end up in Tacoma. I think that some fans will get too excited about Beavan’s repertoire and compare him to Doug Fister. It’s worth noting that Doug Fister made huge strides with his off speed stuff last year, and added considerable velocity also. Beavan probably won’t throw his offspeed stuff twice as often as he has before, and he probably won’t add nearly two miles-per-hour to his fastball. Blake Beavan is not Doug Fister. The sooner we realize this, the happier we’ll be.
He may be a useful starter though. He’s something like the prototypical fifth starter. He’s very inexpensive, and he throws a lot of strikes. But what’s most important, he’s very inexpensive. Doug Fister ended up being expensive for the Tigers. Blake Beavan is not Doug Fister.
I really love Hector Noesi though. He’s got a very good fastball and a solid slider. I don’t think he’s much worse than Alexi Ogando, who was one of the most interesting stories in baseball last year, very much because of stuff that had nothing to do with his pitching, but also because he pitched very well. I think that Noesi can do a lot to make the Mariners miss Michael Pineda a lot less, though that there is a lot more Michael Pineda than there was last year, and a lot less Pineda heat may be enough to make that case already. Noesi has a very live arm, is only 25 years old, and because he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery, there is reason to believe he has considerable upside.