Hey, let’s face it: it’s probably going to happen. Cliff Lee’s probably going to go on the Disabled List at the start of the season. The guy’s clearly injured, and I’d rather he miss 2 or 3 starts at the beginning of the season than he try to pitch through it and injure himself even more, potentially screwing up his (and our) season. So let’s look at our options should this horrible travesty occur.
Jason Vargas: Vargas posted a 3.10 tRA in 52.2 innings in AAA last year, and a 6.69 tRA in the majors over 76.0 innings as a starter. Vargas filled in nicely last year, and he’ll probably be occupying the 5th spot in the rotation with Bedard out to start the season anyway. He’s not shiny, but none of these guys are. He’s effective, and he’ll have to do.
Garrett Olson: According to my (female) sources, Olson was the second-most handsome man on the Mariners roster in 2009 – coming in behind only one Erik Bedard. Unfortunately, his attractiveness and effectiveness as a pitcher vary inversely. As Griffin pointed out in an earlier post, Garrett Olson sucks now. He’s “hit rock bottom.” He’s not officially a dud, but he may as well be. I won’t even bother listing his season statistics. They were bad. Let’s all cross our fingers that Olson doesn’t get the call if Cliff Lee goes down.
Douglas Fister: Fister started out his 2009 Mariners campaign on a high note. Then everything went downhill. Fister, surprisingly, missed a fair amount of bats over his first couple of starts in the majors, but he reverted to his old, expected self soon thereafter. He posted a 6.06 tRA, 35-14 K-BB ratio over 60 innings as a starter, and actually contributed one-tenth of a win above a replacement-level-pitcher to the Mariners in 2009. Fister has promise, but he’s no Dan Cortes. He’d be a decent fill-in candidate, but the M’s could do better.
Lucas French: I don’t like French. He’s boring. He reminds me of Jarrod Washburn. But he could come in handy this season as a fifth-starter fill-in. French actually posted a 11.5 swinging strike percentage in 81 innings down in AAA in 2009. He’s a massive fly-ball pitcher (in terms of splits, not physical stature), and Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro have certainly shown themselves to benefit those sorts of pitchers. French would be okay as a fifth starter for 3-4 games, but, again, he’s definitely not our best option.
Shawn Kelley: Kelley has shown a lot of interest in starting recently, so why not humor him? The man struck out close to a batter per inning as a reliever last year, had a tRA+ of 90, and pitched far better than his overall season numbers indicate (due to a short stretch during which he was absolutely awful). I doubt Kelley’s 3rd and 4th pitches are strong enough to last him through the batting order a second time, but you never know. Starting Kelley (after stretching him out a bit, I presume) would still be a risk, and I don’t know if that’s a risk the Mariners are willing to take this year.
Nick Hill: If Cliff misses time to injury, my vote goes to Nick Hill to replace Lee. Hill is a groundball pitcher who doesn’t walk anyone (55-14 K-BB ratio in 55 AA innings), strikes out a fair number of batters, and misses some bats. Nick Hill sucks in comparison to, say, Cliff Lee, but he looks pretty dandy in comparison to Luke French. When I met with Tony Blengino a couple of months ago, he mentioned that the organization was very high on Hill, and they’ve certainly earned my trust by now. So, for a variety of reasons, I’d like to see Nick Hill get some spot starts (if it’s necessary).