This could have been a one-start deal for Wade LeBlanc. But a three-hit performance in six scoreless innings in his Mariners debut on Friday at least merited a conversation about another start.
LeBlanc did, after all, respond with a clutch performance after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last week. The Mariners’ starting rotation options have hastily thinned since the beginning of June. Ace Felix Hernandez, Wade Miley and Taijuan Walker are all recovering from injuries.
Here’s what LeBlanc was told:
“We need some arms,” he recounted. “You’ve got an opportunity to come in and do some good things for the club. We’ll see where it goes from there.”
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LeBlanc — a veteran lefty likened by many to beloved former Seattle starter Jamie Moyer — was the eighth pitcher to appear in Seattle’s starting rotation in June.
Whether or not he’ll have a permanent gig when Seattle’s regular starters return hasn’t been decided.
“This is my seventh team now, so you kind of get used to it,” LeBlanc said. “When you first get called up, you have the options, so you’re always riding that trolley. Then, after that, you start changing teams and before you know it, it’s just work as usual.”
For LeBlanc? Perhaps. For the Mariners, the month of June has been anything but work as usual.
Hernandez (right calf) was placed on the disabled list at the beginning of the month. Miley (shoulder) followed him less than two weeks later. Walker (foot) missed his last start after he was diagnosed with tendinitis.
That left Hisashi Iwakuma and Nathan Karns as the only two pitchers remaining from the Mariners’ season-opening rotation.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. calls it a snowball effect. James Paxton — who was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on June 1 to replace Hernandez — calls it a stretch of bad luck.
Whatever title this unfortunate string of events is given, the Mariners are 8-17 in June, suddenly 11 games back of first-place Texas in the AL West after enjoying a 1 1/2-game lead on May 27, the last time Hernandez started a game.
“We’ve felt like we’re just trying to hold the fort down,” Stottlemyre said. “We haven’t pitched that well. Our starters, their inning totals have gone down. We’ve beat our bullpen up.”
When Adrian Sampson (elbow) exited his start Thursday in Detroit without throwing a pitch — he’ll have season-ending surgery — the relievers hadn’t even reached the bullpen before being called upon.
Again, the Mariners shuffled the deck. Vidal Nuno started, supported by five fellow relievers. The starting pitching staff has pitched five innings or less in 17 of the past 29 games.
“Over the course of June, as our struggles have mounted, the lack of innings our starting pitching has been able to take on has put more on our bullpen,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “After a while, it keeps pounding and pounding these guys.”
That’s where LeBlanc was able to be useful as his Friday gem helped to end a six-game skid. Seattle hasn’t strung together more than two consecutive wins since the third week of May.
“It was a nice shot in the arm for us,” Stottlemyre said. “Giving the bullpen a little bit of rest, and having a guy that’s done it, that has experience. You never know what you’re going to get from guys coming into new clubs. Boy, he sucked it up. He was good.”
His composure, paired with his Moyer-like traits of maintaining a great feel for the zone and some handy off-speed pitches, has raised some eyebrows.
“Throwing strikes, changing speeds — that’s pretty much all I’ve got,” LeBlanc laughed.
But with Miley scheduled to pitch Wednesday, and Walker presumptively back Thursday, LeBlanc’s future is pending. Servais said this past Sunday that he doesn’t want a rotation with six starters.
“I know one thing, if it’s Wade LeBlanc that stays in the rotation, I don’t think anybody in this club or on this staff is going to bark at that,” Stottlemyre said.
“It always means a lot, regardless if I was here yesterday,” LeBlanc said following his debut. “If I’m here tomorrow, it’s the same type of blessing it was today.”
The majors are where “everybody wants to be,” said LeBlanc, who was pitching in Japan last year. He was 7-2 with a 1.71 ERA at Triple-A Buffalo in the Blue Jays’ organization.
“Right now, he’s a part of our club, and we’re happy to have him,” Stottlemyre said. “We like what we see.”
Lauren Smith: @smithlm12
Mariners’ June swoon
Since June 1, Seattle has used four new starters due to injuries in its usual five-man rotation. That inconsistency, plus an overworked bullpen, have helped in a downward slide from atop the AL West on May 28 to 11 games behind Texas and a 8-17 record in June.
No. of games played
No. of starters used
Innings logged by starters
Innings logged by bullpen
* three games remaining to play