It’s early, but M’s pitching a worry

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Noted philosopher and swing-hard champion Reggie Jackson was leaning against the batting cage on an early September evening.

Jackson was employed by the Oakland A’s at the time, and his club was steadily building on a division lead.

All signs were golden.

So naturally, Reggie was asked if the division title now had become Oakland’s to lose, and the question caused him to adopt a puzzled expression.

With a deep sigh to add emphasis, Jackson peered into the sun and squinted like some ancient Indian guru.

“Many miles to travel before we sleep,” he said, more or less plagiarizing a poem by Robert Frost.

But give Mr. October some credit.

Very few baseball players would even have heard of Frost, let alone paraphrased a poem.

Besides, Reggie was correct: Baseball seasons almost always have many more miles in the distance.

THAT’S THE prism, then, through which we should view the Mariners’ slow break from the gate in 2017.

The new-look M’s immediately sagged to 2-8 — including a loss in which they led by six runs in the ninth inning – and almost everything looked bleak.

Fortunately, the even more troubled Texas Rangers arrived in town, Seattle enjoyed a three-game weekend sweep, and some green shoots of spring began to appear.

Mitch Haniger, the right fielder the Mariners seem to have stolen from Arizona in a one-sided winter trade, has been simply sensational.

Haniger leads the club in every offensive category, and preserved Sunday’s victory over Texas by leaping above the wall in right-center to rob Joey Gallo of a go-ahead home run.

Meanwhile, lefty starter James Paxton — famous for his unquestioned talent but frustrating inability to stay healthy – has allowed exactly zero runs through 21 innings in his first three starts.

Those two individuals, both of whom were massive question marks on Opening Day, have kept the Mariners’ heads above water — well, near the surface — through the season’s first two-plus weeks.

But sticking with the sage advice of Reggie Jackson about the miles left to negotiate this season, we should be cautious about any sort of conclusions with a mere 148 games remaining.

HOWEVER, you can actually glean a few things from 14 games — as opposed to spring training, for instance.

There were questions at the end of last year about King Felix Hernandez perhaps losing a bit of his once-frightening arsenal.

That seemed a legitimate worry, and it’s a big one since the M’s are short of reliable pitching, both at the bottom of the rotation and in the bullpen — as blowing those 8-1 and 9-3 leads at Houston would attest.

Through three starts this year, the jury is still out on the guy Seattle needs to be dominant if anyone thinks about contending come the autumn.

Felix has thrown 18 1/3 innings and been good... but not quite the King. He’s struck out 15 without walking a batter, but he’s also given up 21 hits.

It is unusual, to say the least, to see Hernandez with more hits allowed than innings pitched — but with no walks and a couple of quality starts, perhaps he can still be very good.

THE TRUTH is that Paxton and King Felix must do a fair imitation of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of 1960s Dodgers fame, because manager Scott Servais certainly crosses his fingers when he hands the ball to his other three starters.

Hisashi Iwakuma has been, well, fair until getting bombed on Sunday, but Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda have been very shaky, at best.

And we’ve already seen that the bullpen looks like a fuel depot fire waiting to erupt.

The set-up guys are terrifying, and closer Edwin Diaz is no cinch, either. He coughed up a homer in the top of the ninth on Sunday that could have led to a loss.

In short, the offense will be fine.

Haniger probably won’t win the Triple Crown, but Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager almost surely are going to hit better than they have so far.

On the other hand...

Just from what we’ve watched already, the Mariners are going to need somebody to get more outs if they hope to be in any playoff chase.

Even after 14 games, you can see it’s that simple.

Steve Cameron is a special assignment reporter for The Press: scameron@cdapress.com.

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