Where has all the pitching gone?
That’s the theme for rotations in the American League West.
Houston had to replace three starters going into the offseason. Oakland isn’t sure who is going to be in the final three rotation slots. Texas is hoping for a bunch of injury comebacks. Los Angeles is banking on comebacks, some from injuries others from subpar seasons.
Seattle traded its No. 1 starter, James Paxton, to the Yankees. The Mariners pin their hopes on pitchers such as Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc as they try to end a playoff drought that goes back to 2001, when they lost to the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
Here’s a look:
HOUSTON: The Astros are trying to make up for the some 500 innings from 2017 given that LHP Dallas Keuchel is gone via free agency, RHP Charlie Morton signed with Tampa Bay and RHP Lance McCullers Jr. is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. ... The first three slots in the rotation are anchored by RHPs Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh, all of whom will be free agents after this season, and the newcomer is LHP Wade Miley, the former pitcher who struggled as an Oriole but was a staple for the playoff-bound Brewers in 2018. ... Verlander, the former Tiger, had 16 wins and a 2.52 ERA last season while Cole, a former Pirate, had 15 wins and a 2.88 ERA. ... Miley, who had a 5.61 ERA for the Orioles in 2017, is the No. 4 guy. Miley’s career came back to life last year in Milwaukee. He signed a minor league contract with the Brewers, battled injuries and had a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts. He also posted a 1.23 ERA in four postseason starts. ... McHugh was a member of the Astros rotation from 2014-2016, but they started moving him to the bullpen in 2017 and last season, he was exclusively a reliever. ... This might be the season that RHP Forrest Whitley, considered the best pitching prospect in baseball, makes his debut for the Astros. Whitley had 34 strikeouts in 26 innings at Double-A last season. He’s got a fastball that hits 98 mph that has hard sink and cutting back. He’s got a 12-to-6 curveball and a late-breaking slider. Plus, a good changeup.
LOS ANGELES: The Angels are still fighting back from years of injuries to key pitchers, and while the they were in on every big-name pitcher on the free agent market, they wound up spending a combined $20 million on RHPs Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey. ... Harvey, a 2015 star with the Mets who eventually fizzled, had a 4.94 ERA combined for the Mets and Reds last season. Although he has lost velocity, his fastball at times can still register 98 mph. ... Cahill, 30, an All-Star in 2010, had a 3.76 ERA for Oakland last season. He is a groundball pitcher. ... The rotation also had two talented lefties in Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs. Heaney, 27, threw 180 innings last season, the Angels’ best workhorse. ... RHP Jaime Barria, 22, a strikeout pitcher, made an impression last season and is a candidate for the rotation.
OAKLAND: The Athletics, who went to a bullpen “opener’’ strategy in their wild card loss to the Yankees last October, non-tendered RHP Mike Fiers in November, then re-signed him. Fiers, 33, isn’t a top-of-the-rotation guy, but he’s not a No. 5 starter either. The Athletics acquired him in a trade from Detroit last season and he pitched well down the stretch with a 3.74 ERA. He’s made at least 28 starts in each of the last four seasons. Last season with Oakland, he was stingy with the walks (11) but gave up 12 home runs in 53 innings. ... Oakland also signed RHP Marco Estrada, 35, who is Mr. Changeup and struggled last year with Toronto. The A’s are hoping they can recharge his career much like they did Edwin Jackson, Rick Hill, Scott Kazmir and Bartolo Colon in previous seasons. ... After Fiers and Estrada, the Athletics rotation has a lot of names without consistent success, including Chris Bassitt, Paul Blackburn, Frankie Montas, Daniel Mengden and Aaron Brooks. ... Can former National Blake Treinen, as the closer, repeat a season where he had a 0.78 ERA while saving 38 of 43 games?
SEATTLE: The Mariners, who had 89 victories last season, are rebuilding and continued their never-ending dealing over the winter, sending away in trades Paxton (3.72 ERA), their most effective starter, and RHP Edwin Diaz, their electric closer, to the Yankees and Mets, respectively. ... Seattle’s new lefty is Japan’s Yusei Kikuchi, 27, who will likely lead the rotation. He signed for a base of three years and $43 million. MLB teams had interest in Kikuchi when he was 18, but he said that he wanted to establish himself in Japan before trying to make it in the U.S. He throws a 95 mph fastball with a nasty slider and two offspeed pitches. ... The rest of the rotation will include RHP Marco Gonzales, Leake and LeBlanc. LeBlanc had a 3.72 ERA last season, while Leake and Gonzales each gave up more hits than innings pitched. Reonis Elias, used in the rotation and bullpen last season, is another rotation option. ... The Mariners still have RHP Felix Hernandez, 32, but how likely is a comeback for the one-time AL Cy Young winner who had a 5.55 ERA in 2018? ... Two prospects acquired from the Yankees, RHPs Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson, could see big league time this season. ... Without Diaz, the Mariners’ closer role is open.
TEXAS: The Rangers rotation is about comebacks from Tommy John surgeries in the last four years. Four of the Rangers’ five most experienced pitchers have had the surgery, including RHP Shelby Miller, 28, a 2015 NL All-Star with the Braves and a pitcher who had 15 wins and a 3.06 ERA for the Cardinals in 2013. Miller had surgery while playing for the Diamondbacks and hasn’t started a game since July 11, 2017. ... The others taking aim at comebacks with the Rangers are LHP Drew Smyly, who hasn’t pitched since the 2016 season with Tampa Bay; RHP Edinson Volquez, 35, who made 17 starts for the Marlins in 2018 and has a 4.42 ERA for his career. The fourth pitcher who has had the elbow surgery in the last four years is RHP Lance Lynn, a former Cardinal who had a 4.77 ERA combined for the Twins and Yankees last season. ... The Rangers ace is LHP Mike Minor, 31, who was 12-8 with a 4.18 ERA last season. ... The Rangers signed former Nationals reliever RHP Shawn Kelley, who had 50 strikeouts and 11 walks last season combined for Washington and Oakland. Kelley threw his glove in a temper tantrum on the mound at Nationals Park on Aug. 1 of last season. He was traded to the A’s on Aug. 5. ... The Rangers closer is RHP Jose Leclerc, a fastball-changeup guy who didn’t allow a run last season in his final 21 games.