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

March 23, 2007 at 9:56 AM

Crunch time for Putz, Morrow

Some big tests for Mariners bullpen members this weekend, starting this morning (we’ll count Friday as a weekend, the way car rental companies do), when closer J.J. Putz throws a 25-pitch bullpen session. That’s hardly an arm-taxing test, but remember what happened the last time he tried one of these. If all goes well, meaning the elbow doesn’t tighten up on him again, he’ll throw another bullpen on Sunday, then pitch in a minor league game on Tuesday. After that, he’d get into at least one big-league game before the season begins.
Just pitching in those games, however, does not mean Putz is in the clear as far as being in the bullpen on Opening Day. He will still be evaluated on how he pitches in the prior games.
“He should be ready,” manager Mike Hargrove said. “I’m not going to say that I feel hunky dore about it. But it is what it is. Eighty per cent of J.J. Putz is better than 100 per cent of a lot of other people. While I don’t feel real good about it, I don’t feel real bad about it either.”
But Hargrove then added this qualifyer.
“It may be that we leave with an 11-man staff and leave J.J. back to throw some more and carry an extra position player,” Hargrove said. “We do have that option. It doesn’t necessarily mean that J.J. would go on the DL.”
What it means is that the team will be holding its breath this morning.
We’ll know a lot more about the major league chances of Brandon Morrow after today. He’s scheduled to throw two innings against the Los Angeles Angels after Felix Hernandez goes six against John Lackey. One of the bigger points of value Morrow would bring the team is his ability to generate mid-90s heat over multiple innings. That’s the kind of stuff that wins games, essentially ending things in a hurry as long as a starter can go at least six. Of course, the heat has to be coupled with control and deception — as in a splitter that drops off the table. So far, Morrow has demonstrated that ability.
Mariners manager Mike Hargrove indicated this morning that whoever he adds to the bullpen won’t be for developmental, public relations, or any other reasons apart from helping the team win. Hargrove was answering a question about Rule 5 draft pick Sean White at the time, but his answer could have easily applied to Morrow’s case.
“I’ve only carried a Rule 5 guy one time and it was Jose Morban with Baltimore,” Hargrove said. “In Baltimore at that time, we weren’t ready to win and we needed young, nice looking players. And he was a young, nice looking player. So, it wasn’t ‘muy bueno’ but it was OK. If Sean White does make this club…it will be because he can help us win.”
Morban, in case you were interested, hit .141 with a .412 on-base-plus slugging percentage (the latter stat is probably worse than the first one, by the way) in 71 at-bats that 2003 season under Hargrove. The shortstop was in the Mariners system last year, hitting .244 in 26 games for Class AAA Tacoma, but was released and is now with Texas. He’s now 27 and was 23 when Hargrove’s O’s took a chance on him.
Hargrove went out of his way on Thursday to mention that he doesn’t consider White to be the same as a typical Rule 5 guy. That’s mainly because he’s older, turning 26 next month, and has a higher maturity level. That said, as shown in the case of Morban, using up a major league roster spot an entire year on a player with zero major league experience can have a huge handcuffing effect on the roster if that player flops.


Hargrove reiterated that he could announce his starting rotation today, after Hernandez throws. In case his words yesterday weren’t enough of a hint that Horacio Ramirez will be the No. 5 starter, Hargrove mentioned today that part of his consideration of who would fill that job is the mental ability of that player to handle the assignment. In other words, whose ego can take the blow the best?
Let’s see, we’ve got three guys earning between $8 million and $9 million per season. Those three are all over 30, one won a World Series last year, the other two in 2001 and 2002.
Then you’ve got Ramirez, earning a quarter of what the other guys make, coming off an injury riddled campaign and who’s made less than 60 starts in the majors since 2003. Oh, and he was rumored to be a non-tender candidate last winter. Guess whose ego can handle the No. 5 spot the best?
For those who don’t know, there’s less prestige attached to the fifth starter’s job because it often gets skipped on off-days, resulting in fewer outings than the other four. The Mariners have better candidates for that role than most teams in baseball right now, though, and will not skip the fifth spot during early season off-days. Meaning it’s not as big an ego blow as on other teams. But it’s still a bit of a blow nonetheless.
Here’s one guy who’d love a fifth starter’s job anywhere. Diodn’t take him long to find work after the Mariners cut him loose.



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