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June 11, 2007 at 9:03 PM

Try to breathe

NOTE TO “RAMPAGE” : Hey, I know it was a nailbiter tonight, but try to calm down. Nothing “stupid” going on here. By the way, Sean White is on the DL. So is Jon Huber and Chris Reitsma. Not entirely a coincidence. This bullpen has been used a lot. It doesn’t matter how many pitches they throw in games. It’s the situations they’re in and the fact they have to warm up each and every time. Takes a toll on their arms. No, these are not Little Leaguers. But this isn’t Strat-O-Matic either. No one is saying Eric O’Flaherty can’t come back tomorrow, but the whole point is that this bullpen has to be managed to pinpoint accuracy by the coaching staff. Otherwise, the team will find itself with no relievers. And no, Morrow can’t simply start a game in a couple of weeks. He can barely go three innings now. How’s he going to pitch seven in a week or two? He has to be stretched out. The point isn’t to go five innings. The entire starting rotation can do that right now. The point is to find someone who can do more. That takes time. Morrow and the M’s simply don’t have that luxury. I know most folks want to see Morrow starting. They are not wrong. But it’s past the point of no return by now. The M’s simply have to live with their choice and hope for the best.
On to the post…
That’s it, everyone, exhale. Think you were a little stressed those final two innings? Mariners manager Mike Hargrove looked worn out by the time we visited the clubhouse after this 8-7 win was complete. So did some of the Mariners. Not Brandon Morrow, who’s still a little too young and in his happy-to-be-me stage in the majors to realize he should have been frightened out of his wits by the second jam he faced in that ninth.
But that’s what’s probably most impressive about Morrow. He’s a cool customer out there even as he drives the fan base nuts. Morrow talked about how he had to avoid being distracted by giving up that tying run in the eighth inning — his first run allowed after 19 consecutive scoreless frames.
“I tried to stay positive, I guess, after giving up the lead,” Morrow said. “I knew I was going back out there, so I didn’t let myself get down.”
Forget about Morrow going into the rotation this year. It would take too long to get him ready, the team isn’t going to give up the farm to get another set-up man, and Morrow is simply too valuable as a reliever right now. I know he’d be useful as a starter but that would require at least a month (at least!) to get him ready and he hasn’t perfected enough pitchers to really be effective at the major league level.
But I agree that another starter is clearly needed if the current crew can’t go more than five or six innings a night. I mean, no one has gone seven since Jarrod Washburn back on May 27! Too long for any team to have to work through, especially one about to play its 28th game in 29 days.
It turns out there was no chance J.J. Putz was going to pitch in the game. I spoke to Putz after the game and he told me the Mariners shut him down and didn’t even give him a chance to question the decision or argue the point. So, bringing three relievers in to stop that Cleveland rally in the sixth inning was a huge gamble on Hargrove’s part. A gamble that very nearly failed. Except that it didn’t.
“They started getting hits and scoring runs,” Hargrove said of the Cleveland sixth, in which the Indians scored twice to make it a 7-5 game. “And when something like that starts rolling, you’ve got to do what you can do to stop it. I felt, and the rest of the coaches felt, that that was the game right there. We needed to do what we could do to stop it there and muddle through the rest of it.”
That’s what happened. Boy was that some muddling! But the Mariners won again, with Raul Ibanez collecting his fourth extra-base hit of the night. That’s four in a row and nine of 11 for the M’s, now just four back of the Angels and a game behind the Tigers. They are playing winning baseball, contender baseball, and praying inning-by-inning that starters can go deeper to take pressure off the bullpen.
Cha-Seung Baek told me he got his pitches up too high in that first inning, lowered them after that, but then left a few too many up towards the end of his 108-pitch outing. “They made some adjustments to them,” he said of the Indians. “They are very good hitters and they adjusted.”
Maybe so. But this team needs a starter to go at least seven innings. Preferably eight. This can’t continue forever. Or can it? If it does, we’ll be talking about this team all through the summer. Right now, it’s bats and bullpen carrying the load any way they can. Off to Chicago with a chance to really gain some ground.



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