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How Roenis Elias Cemented Future Place in Seattle Mariners' Rotation

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How Roenis Elias Cemented Future Place in Seattle Mariners' Rotation
Associated Press
Originally thought to be just a temporary injury replacement, Roenis Elias has pitched his way into the Seattle Mariners' rotation for the long term.

Numerous injuries have depleted the Seattle Mariners’ rotation during the first quarter of the 2014 season, but the team has found a hidden gem in Roenis Elias as a result.

After jumping directly from Double-A, Elias has found success in his first 10 starts in the majors. The 25-year-old lefty has compiled a record of 3-3 with a 3.58 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 58.2 innings pitched so far in 2014.

The Mariners got burned last season by bringing up Brandon Maurer directly from Double-A. Elias has not only shown he's capable at the major league level, he has also displayed tremendous upside that has earned him a rotation spot for the foreseeable future, even after Seattle is back at full strength.   

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press
Injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker opened the door for Elias and he's taken full advantage.

Elias seemingly came out of nowhere and broke camp with the team after an impressive spring. He rose slowly through the low minors and his statistics didn’t exactly jump off the page.

But Lloyd McClendon saw something in Elias. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports 1 points out that the Mariners have one of the best rookies in the league on their roster as a result.

Masahiro Tanaka is the obvious answer, and Yordano Ventura has been better than Elias so far as well. Other than those two, it’s hard to argue for a rookie pitcher who’s having a better season than Elias, and he will see that reflected in the Rookie of the Year vote should he continue at this current pace.

Elias made two decent starts to begin the year before notching his win April 14 against the Texas Rangers. But more important than the statistics was the fact that Elias showed tremendous raw potential in the early going.

His low-90s fastball is not overpowering but has some lively late movement. Elias’ best weapon is his arsenal of plus off-speed pitches, particularly an outstanding curveball and changeup.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Elias' best pitches are his curveball and changeup.

According to FanGraphs, opponents are hitting .115 with 28 strikeouts against Elias’ curveball. Elias is going to be a particularly tough matchup for left-handed batters moving forward because of his biting curve, as lefties have just 11 hits and four walks to 15 strikeouts against Elias all season.

On May 1 against the New York Yankees, Elias took it to another level, becoming the second rookie ever to record at least 10 strikeouts in his Yankee Stadium debut.

Elias and his curveball dominated the Yankees on May 1.

Elias spoke to Greg Johns of MLB.com after the game about being in the spotlight, saying, “That's where the adrenaline comes from. That's when I feel good…nothing [intimidated me]. Nothing at all. It’s just baseball.”

It was an impressive display of confidence from a pitcher with no Triple-A experience and just six starts in the big leagues. Elias showed his mound presence on several occasions so far in his young career.

Elias had likely his worst outing as a Mariner on May 11 against the Kansas City Royals, but it was an impressive moment for him nonetheless. He battled through four frustrating infield hits and an abysmal Mariners defense that committed five errors during the game to surrender only three earned runs in five innings and leave with his team in the lead.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Elias has a confident demeanor on the mound, an encouraging sign for an inexperienced pitcher.

Despite being a bit wild in his latest start Thursday against the Houston Astros, Elias yielded just one run in 5.1 innings to add another solid outing. Colin O’Keefe of Lookout Landing points out that Elias’ ceiling is clearly looking higher now than it did at the begging of the year.

Elias has some things he can work on to become even better as he develops further. He has given up seven home runs, which might be a cause for concern, but Elias’ high HR/FB rate of 14 percent could regress in the near future.

The biggest thing for Elias to improve upon will be his command, particularly of his fastball, as his walk rate of 10.2 percent is higher than the Mariners would like. According to FanGraphs, Elias has given up a walk rate of 15 percent with his fastball while only having a strikeout rate of 13 percent.

Seattle will have a decision to make regarding Elias in the near future. Johns reports that James Paxton and Taijuan Walker threw simulated games last week as they progress on their rehab stints.

Both will have a rotation spot when they return, leaving the No. 5 starter as the only potential question mark. But it shouldn’t be much of a question, as Elias has clearly outpitched Maurer, Chris Young and Erasmo Ramirez and has more upside than all of them. 

Suddenly, a healthy Seattle pitching staff looks formidable top to bottom. Elias gives the Mariners a strong back end and adds another exciting young pitcher to the rotation.  

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