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

May 14, 2007 at 9:39 AM

Enjoy this moment

Here we are in mid-May and the Mariners are still kicking around. They are right about where our pre-season prediction placed them, third in the AL West at roughly a .500 record. So, is there any reason for fans to be getting a little excited? I would say there is. The Mariners just took two out of three from the New York Yankees, meaning they went 5-6 in a stretch that saw them play at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Comerica Park and now here in Seattle versus the Yanks at Safeco Field.
No, it isn’t the greatest record ever achieved. But it’s not the worst. The Mariners held their own against some tough clubs. Under trying circumstances. They now get Felix Hernandez back having given up very little ground in the division race. Does that mean they will do anything from here on in? Not necessarily. Much will depend on the starting pitchers. Get more performances like what Horacio Ramirez showed on Sunday against the Yankees and this club could be in for some interesting times.
We all saw Miguel Batista get whacked around on Saturday. Batista, as we’ve mentioned, can be a good-start, bad-start kind of a guy. He can be inconsistent, which is why he’s never won more than 11 games in any season. Right down the middle. A 3-3 record so far, much befitting a No. 3 starter. Maybe he was tipping pitches. Maybe the pitches weren’t all that good. We’ll know more over the next month or so.
In the case of Ramirez, the Sunday effort was quite the turnaround. He wasn’t pitching scared for one thing. He attacked the strike zone early — landing first-pitch strikes two thirds of the time, compared to just over 40 per cent in Detroit his last time out — and didn’t do it with pitches that could be rocketed someplace. Lots of early off-speed stuff. That keeps hitters off-balance. I liked it. Now, if only he could do this with some consistency. Much has been made of Ramirez’s awful home-road splits (1.46 ERA versus 13.17 ERA). I’m not sure the venue is the problem. It might be more a case of the caliber of opponent he was facing.
Heading into Sunday, Ramirez had faced the Angels, Red Sox and Tigers on the road, then had the Rangers and Royals at home. Hmmm. I have to say, though, his splits are awful, no matter how good the teams he faced on the road were. The Yankees are the first true tough opponent he’s beaten. Let’s see if he can keep it up.
Many of you are writing in to ask about the trade for Jason Davis. If Julio Mateo doesn’t get charged with assaulting his wife, this deal doesn’t happen. Davis was converted to a relief role last season and was viewed as an experiment by Indians management. He does have control issues, walking too many hitters and striking out too few, despite his indisputable heat. In Cleveland, the debate is over whether the decision to convert him to a relief role was a mistake.
The upside to the deal is that it gives the Mariners more late-inning heat to throw an opponent’s way. Control issues or not, there’s something about sending a parade of guys out there who can get their pitches up into the mid-90s or higher after taking over from a faltering starter. Seattle won’t be giving up much in that player-to-be-named part. Davis had been DFA’d and his value was at an all-time low. But I’m sure GM Bill Bavasi was attracted by the velocity at which Davis throws. Add that to a bullpen that already has J.J. Putz and Brandon Morrow and Davis gains some value he might not have in just being a hard-thrower in a bullpen of finesse guys.
Like I said, if Mateo is around, this deal isn’t made. So, let’s try not to read too much into it or make too much of a pitcher with very ordinary numbers. But there is a fit here.
Morrow is the key — the wild card if you will — to this bullpen right now. Watching him on the mound yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that this was the moment Seattle’s front office had envisioned all the way back in March. Morrow is on this team — much like Davis — for his heat and nothing else. Using him as an eighth-inning bridge to Putz was always the plan. It just took him a little longer to work his way towards that role. But mowing down Alex Rodriguez in that key eighth inning at-bat was Morrow’s biggest test yet.
Parts of it reminded me of the 2002 playoffs, in which I covered the ALCS and World Series and saw the impact a just-called-up Francisco Rodriguez had for Anaheim’s bullpen. Sometimes, the most valuable pitchers in a bullpen aren’t the closers, but the guys before them. The set-up men often come in with guys on base and need their strikeout ability to escape jams. So do closers, but they most often have the luxury of beginning the ninth inning with no one on. In that post-season, anyone who watched the games knows K-Rod, not Troy Percival, was the difference-maker.
There is no comparison between what K-Rod did back then and what Morrow is now doing, pitching in the regular season and only gradually easing himself in to the set-up role. But what can I say? Seeing Morrow got my mind flashing back to K-Rod and the Angels. Or, at least, to Rafael Soriano and J.J. Putz last season. If Davis could ever harness his pitches and give them three guys with mid-90s stuff going back-to-back-to-back, all this team would need is six innings from Ramirez and company every night.
There is something to be said for having a bullpen full of late-inning strikeout ability. Sinker specialists can get you double-plays, and there are plenty of those. But when A-Rod is up with two on, or Hideki Matsui is on second with one out in the ninth, a double-play becomes highly unlikely, or moot. Having that strikeout power is what can set great bullpens apart from merely good ones. The Mariners have those sinker guys in Chris Reitsma and George Sherrill. But they also have the strikeout power they need late. We’ll see if Davis can add to that dimension. So far, his numbers suggest he won’t. But his raw velocity suggests he could.
Nice to dream, isn’t it? Let’s just worry about the next big test. The first-place Angels starting tomorrow, with an all-Venezuela matchup between Hernandez and a pitcher most of you know I am very enthused about, Kelvim Escobar. Glad I’ll be out there after a nice weekend off.



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