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March 19, 2007 at 9:37 AM

Rhodes pushed back a day

No need to hit the panic button just yet. But lefty relief pitcher Arthur Rhodes won’t be tossing his scheduled inning this afternoon. Instead, he’s been pushed off a day until tomorrow because “his elbow’s a little tight.”
That’s the explanation given this morning by manager Mike Hargrove. In isolation, a pitcher’s elbow being tight — especially when that elbow is 37 years old — is nothing out of the ordinary at this point in spring training. There is nothing natural about throwing a baseball 90 miles per hour and any elbow is bound to suffer some degree of trauma after a winter spent mostly dishing out holiday meals and driving the stick shift on sports cars. But in the context of the current bullpen, the Rhodes tightness is just one more nagging thing Hargrove and the Mariners will have to keep an eye on. The fact that Rhodes is to pitch within 24 hours is a positive sign. He isn’t going for an MRI as did J.J. Putz. That would only happen if Rhodes were to, say, pitch tomorrow and experience a little more tightness. And maybe even not then.
Rght now, it’s not that serious. We’re just bringing you the news as a sort of public service announcement given that Seattle relievers Putz and George Sherrill have already battled tightness of one sort or another in their elbows this spring while Chris Reitsma is coming off elbow surgery. Rhodes has been lights-out down here and has all-but-won himself a bullpen job by tossing five scoreless innings in which he’s allowed only one hit while fanning five. This could be one off-season signing that really benefits a Mariners team where the bullpen has gone from being an unquestioned strength at season’s end to perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the regular season.
I spent some time a few weeks back looking at some early spring stats and trying to make sense of what they mean. We can do some more of that now with the current bullpen, at least the crew I figure will begin the season.
The way I see it, the team will employ a seven-man bullpen. Here’s how I see it shaking down as of right now. This could change at the back-end by April 2, especially if Putz doesn’t make it for Opening Day. But for now, we’ll stick with:
RHP J.J. Putz
RHP Chris Reitsma
RHP Julio Mateo
LHP George Sherrill
LHP Arthur Rhodes
RHP Jon Huber
LHP Jake Woods
Again, this isn’t carved in stone. But I think it’s a fair representation of what the Mariners envisioned heading into camp.
Here are some of the things that have me concerned at this stage:
As a group, these seven relievers have posted a combined earned run average of 5.73.
They have a combined walks-plus-hits-to-innings-pitched ratio (WHIP) of 1.51
Their on-base percentage allowed is .359, slugging percentage allowed is .523 and their on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) against is .882.
Now, we have to put it all in context. These guys are, after all, pitching in Arizona, where hitting numbers (see Bloomquist, Willie) tend to get overly inflated. Many of these stats were compiled earlier on in the spring, when pitchers were working at perfecting certain pitches. Hitting the strike zone was key at that point, not worrying about balls getting blasted by opponents. And these seven guys, for all of their combined struggles as a bullpen, have still done some encouraging things, most notably:
They have a 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, 27 strikeouts versus 9 walks.
That tells me that they still have a way to escape the jams they put themsevles into. It also tells me, as mentioned above, that they have focused on hitting the strike zone, hence the fewer walks. Quite a few of those strikes have been hit, as we’ve seen in the higher on-base and slugging percentages.
So, as mentioned at the very beginning with Rhodes, there is nothing to panic about just yet. But the bullpen has yet to completely round into form as have other aspects of the team. Combine that with the elbow problems/question marks and it remains, for me, an area of concern with two weeks left until Opening Day.
Q & A
Got some quick questions down below, so I’ll try to answer them. “Bobod13” asked whether a Rule V draft pick, like Sean White, has to remain on the 25-man roster the entire season.
The answer is yes. The only way the Mariners could keep White and option him to Class AAA would be to first offer him back to his original Atlanta Braves team. There are times when teams can work out a deal, often for cash, and in that case, Seattle would own White’s rights outright and Rule V status would not apply. The M’s would then be free to do what they want with him. But, in the case of a pitcher, chances are the Braves would want White back and any deal out there for Seattle to strike would wind up being too hefty to keep him.
As for the questions of frequent reader “Everett Fan”, no, players on the DL do not count against the 40-man roster, though a spot must be freed up before they are re-instated to active status. As for who will come off, we can get all caught up in speculation about that, but, given the scarcity of pitching around baseball, I would go with a position player first. Usually, it will be a minor leaguer playing a position where the major league team has added depth. Do I see Rivera getting sent to the minors and Burke staying? No. Rivera has been catching Felix Hernandez for several years now in both the minors and the majors and I don’t see the team messing with that.



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