M’s have limited options to replace Harang

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SEATTLE — Following another mediocre outing by veteran right-hander Aaron Harang — he allowed seven runs on five hits with three walks in two-plus innings Wednesday against Toronto — acting Seattle Mariners manager Robby Thompson was asked if Harang would remain in the rotation of starting pitchers.

Thompson replied: “I can’t answer that right now. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still in the rotation.”

Barring an unexpected change before Wednesday, Harang will start the middle game of a three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Uneven performances by Harang have become an irritation for a fanbase ready for change.

According to numerous reports, Harang was placed on revocable waivers a week ago to gauge interest in him. There was no information Tuesday that any team made a claim.

Harang has had an uneven season. In 19 starts, he has a 5-10 record with a 5.79 ERA. The Mariners are 7-12 in his starts.

Oddly, he has pitched two shutouts this season.

In 14 starts against American League teams other than newcomer Houston — one of his shutouts came against the woeful Astros — Harang has a 2-9 record. He has allowed 59 runs in 642/3 innings for an 8.21 ERA.

Yet, the Mariners — lacking good options — continue to use him.

That’s why they traded for him on April 11, with Erasmo Ramirez injured and Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer faltering.

Now, with six weeks remaining in the season, Harang remains in the rotation. The Mariners had hoped Danny Hultzen, their first-round draft pick in 2011, would take that spot by July. But he has recurring shoulder issues.

Let’s say the Mariners part ways with Harang soon. Who could replace him in the rotation?

THE KIDS

Taijuan Walker

RH Tacoma Rainiers

The organization’s top pitching prospect, everyone wants to see him in Seattle.

He started the season in Double-A Jackson and was called in mid-June to Tacoma.

He dominated his first four starts, going 2-0 while allowing two earned runs.

But the Pacific Coast League caught up. His overall record is 3-2 with a 3.73 ERA in eight starts. Walker has had only one start longer than five innings with Tacoma.

While fans want to see the future now, the Seattle front office wants to protect the young phenom, who turned 21 years old on Tuesday.

Though he has less than three full years of minor league experience, the Mariners expect him to compete for a starting spot next spring.

Besides, his innings are limited this season.

He has thrown 125 innings, just short of his career high 126 2/3 innings in 2012. The Mariners are unlikely to let him exceed 150 innings this season. That figures to be three to four more starts.

James Paxton

LH Tacoma Rainiers

The third member of the “Big 3” with Walker and Hultzen — who was shut down last month — the hard-thrower has been anything but consistent in his first full season at Triple-A Tacoma.

Paxton, 24, is 7-9 with a 4.42 ERA in 22 starts and one relief appearance. He has 113 strikeouts and 44 walks in 118 innings.

Paxton has struggled to limit his pitch count. He has pitched more than five innings in just seven starts.

He did have a July stretch with four consecutive quality starts — at least six innings, no more than three earned runs — including a shutout in two complete games.

Paxton will also run into an innings limit. After a career-high 106 innings in 2012, he probably has only a handful of starts remaining this season.

THE RETREADS

Blake Beavan

RH Tacoma Rainiers

Beavan started the season in the Seattle rotation and lost his spot to Harang.

Changes last winter had Beavan struggling to find command with his off-speed pitches. He scrapped some of the changes after being sent to Tacoma in April.

He pitched a few months in long relief for the Mariners with middling success. Then Beavan was sent back to Tacoma in July to get stretched out as a starter. He’s 1-3 with a 6.17 ERA in six starts since being sent down.

Beavan, in 43 big league starts over three seasons, has a 16-18 record with a 4.53 ERA.

Brandon Maurer

RH Seattle Mariners

After a brilliant spring, Maurer started the season in the Seattle rotation. Maybe it was a mistake for Maurer — 3-7, 6.75 ERA in 10 starts — to leap from Double-A Jackson to the majors.

Left-handed hitters brutalized him, hitting over .300 with a plus 1.000 on-base slugging percentage. Demoted to Tacoma, he posted a 3-4 record with a 5.21 ERA in 10 starts. He’s now in long relief for the Mariners, but could stretch out quickly if needed.

Maurer threw a career high 1372/3 innings in 2012 and is at 105 innings this season, so he isn’t up against an innings limit.

THE LONG SHOT

Tom Wilhelmsen

RH Tacoma Rainiers

Remember when he was the Mariners’ closer? He would come out of the Safeco Field bullpen with cool Jimi Hendrix music blaring and highlights of him striking out hitters with his 98 mph fastball and knee-buckling curve.

But after a brilliant start this season, Wilhelmsen pitched himself out of the job — twice.

Dwindling confidence turned him into a shell of the pitcher who saved 11 games in his first 17 opportunities to start the season. Now he’s in Tacoma trying to find command and confidence.

Seattle won’t give up on him and all that talent.

And while the Mariners won’t commit to making him a starter, the idea lives.

Wilhelmsen made 42 minor league starts, including 12 in 2011 with Double-A Jackson. Besides his fastball and curve, he has an improving change-up for the important third pitch that starters need.

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