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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

March 15, 2007 at 9:59 PM

Mariners, Putz both lose. But how big?

Never mind the fact the Mariners just dropped a 5-3 decision to a bunch of scrubs and scraps sent over by the San Francisco Giants. Or that they were beaten 9-3 earlier in the day by the Chicago Cubs. Or that Seattle now has a 4-12 record this spring (4-13 if you count the Charity Game) that rivals only the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for futility. All that won’t matter once the regular season begins and the team is 0-0 and tied for first place.
Here is what will matter: J.J. Putz not being around on opening day.
That is looking like more and more of a possibility now that the true details are starting to emerge about what happened in the clubhouse after Putz had his morning bullpen session. That reluctance by pitching coach Rafael Chaves to comment on the 25 fastball pitches thrown by Putz in that session? Understandable, given what we now know, courtesy of a question I asked manager Mike Hargrove moments ago.
“He went through the session this morning and came out of it fine,” Hargrove said of Putz. “After he got in the clubhouse, his arm tightened up on him a little bit. We’ll know more about it tomorrow.”
The Mariners will also know a lot more about their chances of getting off to a fast start this season once the severity of Putz’s “tightness” becomes clearer. Here’s the problem: the Mariners don’t have anybody who can take Putz’s place in the ninth inning. Not after they traded Rafael Soriano to the Braves.
My early, half-thinking nomination would be Jon Huber. He brings some heat, has some decent mound makeup and did well in his trial-by-fire with the Mariners last year. In some ways, he reminds me a little of a young Jason Frasor when he bluffed his way through two brilliant months of closing for the Blue Jays back in his rookie 2004 season straight out of Class AA ball. Frasor did it on an emergency basis until the roof pretty much collapsed on him, but that’s another story.
It’s also too early to be considering worst-case scenarios here, though not too early to speculate on Putz starting the season on time. Any setback at all for Putz right now puts opening day in doubt. If he’s ordered to rest a few days before another bullpen session, it means he won’t get back on a mound before the final week of Cactus League games.
Now, losing a closer for the first few weeks of any season won’t automatically torpedo a team’s chances. I’ve seen cases where a borderline .500 team played a month’s worth of baseball while only using the closer two or three times in key situations. This isn’t a fatal blow. Not necessarily. Where it could hurt Seattle is when you consider this team needs to get off to a quick start to avoid the negative vibe that’s sure to surround it if a losing April takes hold.
It also hurts in that the Mariners have tended to play a lot of one and two-run games this spring. If that trend continues into April, a dependable closer would seem a must. We’ll know more, as they say, in the morning. So, tuck those spare teeth under the pillow, M’s fans and hope the good fairy brings something better than a tight elbow to the table.



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