The Mariners are dealing with a rash of significant pitching injuries, as relayed by Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times (Twitter links one, two and three). Right-hander Penn Murfee will undergo season-ending surgery on his ulnar collateral ligament. Meanwhile, pitching prospect Taylor Dollard will undergo season-ending labrum surgery. Additionally, lefty Marco Gonzales will be shut down for two weeks due to nerve issues in his elbow.
The news is a very unfortunate development for Murfee, who has been a strong presence in Seattle’s bullpen over the past two years. He debuted last season with a 2.99 ERA in 69 1/3 innings, striking out 27.9% of opponents against a 6.6% walk rate. This year, he’s struggled with control but nonetheless dropped his ERA to 1.29. He twice landed on the injured list due to elbow inflammation and will now have to go under the knife.
It’s not exactly clear exactly what kind of surgery Murfee will require, but he’s sure to face a significant absence either way. Full ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, also known as Tommy John surgery, typical requires 14 to 18 months of recovery time. Even the internal brace alternative usually requires close to a year. That means that, in addition to missing the remainder of the 2023 season, Murfee will miss a chunk of the 2024 campaign as well.
Dollard, 24, is also set to miss the remainder of this year, though his timeline beyond that isn’t clear. He was selected by the Mariners in the fifth round of the 2020 draft and pitched in the lower levels of the club’s system in 2021. Last year, he posted a 2.25 ERA in Double-A, striking out 22.9% of opponents against a 5.4% walk rate. He figured to serve as rotation depth this year but made just three starts in Triple-A before landing on the injured list.
As for Gonzales, his timeline is still up in the air but he’s already been on the injured list for over three weeks and will now be shut down for two more. Even if he’s given a clean bill of health at that time, he’ll need to ramp back up after such a long layoff, which will push his theoretical return further down the line.
He posted a 5.22 ERA before landing on the IL but a 62.1% strand rate was likely pushing that up. His peripherals were roughly in line with his previous seasons and his 4.29 FIP suggests he may have deserved better results. The lefty may not be an ace but has a serviceable 4.02 ERA dating back to his 2018 breakout campaign.
The Mariners have some rotation challenges with Robbie Ray and Easton McGee both out for the year and Chris Flexen now designated for assignment. Bryce Miller has cooled off after a red hot start while Bryan Woo has a 5.09 ERA thus far. With Gonzales now unlikely to be available for a while, it could impact the club’s approach to the deadline. Their 38-39 record has them fourth in the American League West but just four games back of a Wild Card spot.