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July 29, 2007 at 9:34 AM

Washburn headed for big things?

Big game today for the Mariners, needing to win this series against a team going nowhere prior to taking omn a Los Angeles Angels squad that’s given them fits all season. The guy they send to the hill today? Jarrod Washburn. Probably the guy who’s delivered the best outings most consistently this season. He hasn’t gone seven or more innings as frequently as Jeff Weaver of late. He doesn’t have as many wins as Miguel Batista. Nor the flash of Felix Hernandez. But he’s been about as steady as they come without going on the DL this season.
Washburn’s season so far reminds me a lot of Ted Lilly’s in Toronto last season. Not that Washburn is about to get into a fistfight with manager John McLaren the way Lilly did with John Gibbons a year ago. But in the way that Washburn is still poised to make something special out of an 8-7, 4.05 ERA season.
And boy, could the M’s use that right now. Yes, Washburn could have had a couple of wins more by now if not for his bullpen and team. But it works the other way, too, and I think 8-7 is about right for him.
Let’s look to where Lilly was a year ago — 9-9 with a 4.02 ERA. Very Washburn-like. We won’t look at the peripheral numbers because this isn’t meant to be a scientific survey. Just a gut hunch. Lilly had all types of issues to work out in his head and on the mound. The coaching staff in Toronto felt he was the most stubborn pitcher they’d ever laid eyes on. Couldn’t take advice without first getting rocked several times on the mound. It’s a big reason he and Gibbons came to blows in a clubhouse tunnel — a fight two years in the making.
But then, the blows delivered, it almost seemed as if a big tension balloon went “pop!” Right after that, Lilly immediately got down to the job of pitching. He finished the season winning five of seven decisions after the fisticuffs and wound up with a 15-13 record and 4.31 ERA, not to mention a fat $40-million free agent deal with the Chicago Cubs.
Of course, Lilly won all those games when his club was already out of the race. No matter for him, as he is now 11-4 with a 3.46 ERA in the National League, having completely revived a career where everyone would mumble “wasted talent” the minute his back was turned. Sometimes, things just click for a pitcher and they never look back.
Washburn right now has an ERA+ of 105 — very similar to the ERA+ of 109 that Lilly finished last season with. Finished with. His ERA+ in late July was much lower. Washburn has been down the 15+ wins route before, something Lilly never was until last season. He is not encumbered by all the baggage Lilly was carrying a year ago. The coaching staff respects him, as do most players inside the Seattle clubhouse. In other words, transforming this rather ordinary-looking season into something a lot more special will not require getting over all the hurdles that Lilly did. No, Washburn does not have Lilly’s “stuff”. But he also pitches a lot smarter and does not create obstacles for himself where they don’t exist. You won’t catch him trying to sneak any 82 mph “BP fastballs” by anyone in the middle of a good game.
Maybe this is just a hunch. But I’m allowed to have them. And I don’t think we can put a label on Washburn’s season just yet. He has pitched well enough to have a better record. And I have a feeling we haven’t seen all that he brings to the table just yet. Strange, but, in a way, there isn’t another guy I’d rather see on the mound for Seattle today. He does battle hard. And sometimes, that’s all a team can ask for.
Does Seattle need him to “pull a Lilly”? In the worst possible way.



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