Well, we are exactly halfway through the 2011 season and the inevitable has happened.
Not once this season has a pitcher not named Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, or Erik Bedard (that's five if you're counting) made a start for the Mariners. But after Erik Bedard was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive June 28 with a left knee sprain, the streak has ended.
The "invincible five" was bound to falter at some point, and it figures that the oldest member of the rotation would be the first. Bedard's trade value clearly takes a hit, but the most immediate concern is that he will need a temporary replacement for probably two starts, or three if he can't recover after the All-Star break.
Now, we're looking at options to replace Bedard as soon as Sunday, but as we go on, keep in mind that the larger importance is examining the starter depth in the organization that can come in and be that sixth starter when needed.
The Bedard injury didn't happen too long after my ranking of the top 10 M's prospects, so the first name I thought of after I got the news of Bedard's injury was Blake Beavan.
As M's fans can recall, Beavan was a part of the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Texas. At 6'7" 240 lbs, he's a big righty with three solid pitches. Without giving a full-blown scouting report, Beavan has decent command so the transition won't be quite as tough for the 22-year-old.
Beavan has a 4.45 ERA in Triple-A Tacoma due to some rocky outings this season, but he's the first option for starting pitching in Tacoma. In fact, he was probably going to be called up come August, so maybe his rookie debut will come sooner.
Another option from Tacoma is veteran lefty Nate Robertson. Robertson used to be a decent starter in the Tigers rotation before bouncing around and ending up with the Mariners, and with 187 career major league starts, he definitely has experience pitching in the majors.
The Mariners don't have either of these Triple-A pitchers on their 40-man roster, but they are only a transaction away from being with the ball club.
Pauley is a very viable option for a couple of spot starts because he is already on the M's roster. He was also a member of the rotation last year, so he comes with starting experience.
On short notice after the Cliff Lee trade, Pauley stepped in and delivered five innings of one-run ball against the New York Yankees. Pauley was a starter after that game, and after a 4.85 ERA in August he went 2-2 in five starts in September with a 3.52 ERA.
David Pauley has been the M's top bullpen guy and arguably one of the most valuable players halfway through the season (think how many jams he's gotten the M's out of).
That means he's a good pitcher, but it would also reduce the bullpen to just five guys. To address this, they could just call up a Dan Cortes or other minor league reliever, but Pauley's shutdown presence would be sorely missed in a critical situation.
Laffey has an impressive 1.93 ERA as a reliever and part-time setup man this season, but for those who don't know, Laffey's days with the Cleveland Indians started as a projected starter before he was relegated to a reliever role.
Notably, in 2008 Laffey went 16 starts with a 4.23 ERA over 93.2 innings, so like Pauley, he does have some experience as a starter.
Again, Laffey has been a very valuable pitcher out of the bullpen, so it leaves the team vulnerable to bullpen meltdowns without a stopgap like Laffey.
Then there's Jeff Gray, who for the life of me I cannot remember ever seeing in a regular season game!
Apparently, he pitched four innings in relief of Vargas in the game against the Yankees where Vargas only went three innings before being lifted, so he could shoulder a start before going back to his role of... doing nothing.
Being a middle reliever, his presence on the roster is more of a joke and a testament to the workhorse-mentality adopted by the entire rotation that makes him essentially a null roster spot (like Chone Figgins.... ba-dum chh!)
But seriously, Gray is at least an option because it keeps Laffey and Pauley in relief situation and doesn't require a roster move.
By the way, it took me four pages on Google Images to find a picture of Gray in an M's uniform.
I wouldn't expect Eric Wedge and the Mariners staff to consider this, but it's an interesting option. This happens all the time in post-season, when a team only has four quality starters.
Obviously, the benefit is keeping reliable starts with the four rotational starters as they've performed all season long. The M's clearly aren't in a post-season situation or anything close, but at 3.5 games back, this is a pivotal point in the season where the M's could fall out of contention.
Maybe I'm making mountains out of mole hills, but after the Padres series the M's will face all three division rivals, magnifying each win or loss. Of course, this could backfire with the rotation pitching on shortened rest.
However, the most important point to consider is that the rotation could be able to shoulder this because of the All-Star break to compensate for the needed rest. Given the anemic offense, the M's will need every quality start they can get.
Just a final thought:
The M's can either be sellers or buyers (or holders) at the deadline, but if they are buying, a low-end starter could be considered.
I know that the offense is a far bigger concern, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that this rotation may not be able to hold up throughout the entire season. In fact, they may be the only rotation left with the same five man rotation pitching the entire season so far.
A guy like Jeff Francis, Kevin Slowey, or Paul Maholm can be had for a cheap price prospects-wise, and could be the best option should a starter go down with another injury/fatigue.