Elias emerging as contender for starting rotation

Elias emerging as contender for starting rotation

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners' search for rotation candidates has added a new name with the emergence of Roenis Elias, a 25-year-old left-hander who will start Sunday's 1:05 p.m. PT Cactus League game against the Angels in Tempe.

Elias, who defected from Cuba in 2010, was a Southern League All-Star for Double-A Jackson last season when he went 6-11 with a 3.18 ERA and struck out 121 batters in 130 innings.

The youngster has quietly impressed the Mariners with his performance this spring and is 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA over 7 1/3 innings over three relief appearances, including three scoreless frames against the Angels on Tuesday.

"He's a left-hander who is 91-94 [mph on his fastball], he throws strikes, has quality stuff, he competes, holds runners," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "It's been interesting."

The Mariners originally had veteran Scott Baker slated to start Sunday, but will instead have him go in a Minor League game in Peoria. McClendon said that is to avoid having Baker face the division-rival Angels three times in four Cactus League starts.

But clearly the club wants to see what Elias can do with the opportunity, and the youngster is eager as well.

"I'm very excited to have the chance to pitch again," Elias said while using teammate Erasmo Ramirez as an interpreter. "I'm just trying to do my best because I'm fighting for a spot. I'm just looking for a chance."

Elias defected from Cuba on a boat with 26 others on Oct. 26, 2010 with only a backpack and a hope for a better life, landing in Cancun, Mexico, and spending a year pitching for a pro team in Monterrey, Mexico.

He was signed by a Mariners scout after a tryout in 2011, and pitched 11 games in the low Minors that year before going 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 26 starts with Class A High Desert in 2012 and then advancing to Jackson last season.

The Mariners invited him to Major League camp this spring along with a group of other non-roster youngsters, most of whom are now back in the Minor League camp. Sitting alone at his locker in a corner of the Mariners clubhouse, now largely vacated by prospects who've been cut over the recent days, Elias appreciates his situation.

"I prayed for the chance to come to Major League camp and get an opportunity," he said. "Now that I'm here, my goal is to show whatever I've got and give 100 percent in the game and show them I can pitch here."

McClendon said Elias will be given a chance to pitch about five innings or 75 pitches against the Angels. And, yes, the Mariners are looking at him as a rotation option either in Seattle or Triple-A Tacoma as things play out over the next few weeks.

"I'm sure he could pitch out of the bullpen," McClendon said. "As we speak right now, I see him as a starter."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.