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April 30, 2007 at 1:47 PM

Waiting on Weaver

This off-day could not have come at a better time for a Mariners club needing to get its bullpen in order and make a decision on what to do with starter Jeff Weaver. The Mariners did what they had to do over the past five days, namely win four of five against the Oakland A’s and Kansas City Royals. One team was injury depleted, the other simply a lousy ballclub. But both are about as soft as it’s going to get opponent-wise for the Mariners over the next 10 days. Get ready, because the potential make-or-break point for this team is at-hand. The White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers, with no days off in-between, represent the toughest test faced yet by Seattle. Remember, this is the “Hot Seat” season, so no, the team can’t really afford to wait the standard 50 games to see where it’s headed. If you’re going to make changes, better sooner than later. The longer this club waits to decide upon its future, either player-wise, manager-wise, or GM-wise, the more it potentially sets itself back. In other words, any prolonged streak of losses accelerates the process.
The Mariners ending April at .500 was better than just about anybody could have forseen. But it comes with an all-important caveat, in that the Mariners have backloaded five games against the Cleveland Indians and Red Sox. The one against Boston comes up this Thursday. Needless to say, it’s doubtful the Mariners would be a .500 club right now had those games already been played. We’ll never know for sure. But we should get a fair indication over the 10 days to come.
Now, the Jeff Weaver saga. The only option for the team is to start him in New York, banish him to the bullpen, or put him on the DL. Weaver telling reporters over the weekend that he isn’t hurt could create some problems with MLB’s head office should the M’s try the latter route.
The next best option, the most logical one from my perspective, is to put him in the bullpen now.
Why, you ask? For one thing, Weaver has thrown a grand total of 11 1/3 innings the past month. It has to be getting to the stage where his arm endurance starts to suffer. If we’re at the point where even a Weaver with good stuff is only going to throw five innings at best, why take the risk? You’re almost better off starting Sean White, getting three innings out of him, then letting Brandon Morrow go the next two or three. That would make up the one start before Felix Hernandez is due back in the rotation (if he goes Saturday instead of Friday) and pushes off any more decisions on another starter and corresponding roster move until next week.
Allowing Weaver to start this Friday, pushing Hernandez back until Saturday, would mean sending him into Yankee Stadium with no track record of success this season or this entire calendar year including spring training. Weaver did win his only start against the Yankees since 2004, allowing three runs over six innings. As a group, though, the current Yanks are hitting .366 off him, with a .417 on-base percentage and .652 slugging percentage. Yikes! And he’d be pitching at Yankee Stadium, another of his former digs where the fans are none too fond of how he performed for the home team. We already saw how well that worked out at Angel Stadium last weekend. Do we learn anything from history here?
By pitching him out of the bullpen, you at least give Weaver the opportunity to enjoy some degree of success over a shorter period of time in which the potential for damage is minimized. Once he achieves that success, then the team can consider letting him go for longer periods.
Of course, all that can change if the Mariners decide not to let Hernandez start this weekend at all. Seattle moving back to .500 has bought the team some time it did not have a week ago. That could change in coming days, but as long as the Mariners are within sniffing distance of the division lead, the need to start Hernandez in five days, as opposed to giving his elbow another week or two of rest, becomes lesser.
So, my take is that Hernandez will help dictate whatever call the Mariners make. If they do start him as planned this Friday, then Weaver’s start gets skipped and the issue only becomes pressing next week when his turn is due up again. If Hernandez is pushed back until Saturday, then the team has to decide between starting Weaver on Friday, using a bullpen combo of pitchers instead, or calling somebody up and making a corresponding roster move that really isn’t wanted at this stage.
Or, Hernandez could get put off indefinitely, in which case Weaver would almost certainly have to keep on starting, with a second starter being called up as well and the bullpen long men kept on standby.
So, as you can see, the bullpen option for Weaver looks mighty attractive from a team perspective, so long as Hernandez is still going to start this weekend. Keep running him out there, against a Yankee lineup that historically has beaten him to a pulp, and you’re pretty much giving away a defeat. Loyalty is nice, but something is very broken with Weaver that has to be fixed. Better to limit his exposure to more breakage in the meantime. That’s my call. We’ll see what happens.
A few of you have emailed in to ask whether I dissed Cha Seung Baek in leaving him out of the discussion entirely. Not my intention. I’ve assumed all along in writing this that Baek will remain a starter for the time being. And it’s true, he could pitch the Friday game in New York on his regular rest, given the off-day today. With Hernandez going on Saturday. Or, Hernandez could go Friday and Baek on Saturday with added rest. You don’t need a combo of relievers. All the more reason to send Weaver to the bullpen.



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