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August 23, 2007 at 8:49 AM

Rick White era set to begin

By the way, the Rick White move was just announced moments ago (2:35 p.m.), so he’s officially on the team. John Parrish gets optioned to Class AAA Tacoma.
So, what’s the new role for White going to be? An interview he gave here, to his “hometown” paper a month ago when he signed with the M’s, seems to indicate it will be both as a long man (a real need for this club from the right side right now) and as another sixth or seventh inning guy. So, don’t panic. He won’t be thrown in for eighth inning situations — at least not right out of the chute, maybe never. But the eighth has been a need. Remember when John McLaren had to go to Sean Green in the fifth inning a few weeks ago to beat the Red Sox? That’s right. It’s because he lacked a right handed long man. Now, he’s got that option.
NOTE: If you haven’t read today’s “family dinner” post over at Lookout Landing go have a gander. One of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. To “Adam” I’m well aware of why Mark Lowe was sent down. As I mentioned, he was physically unable to handle a late-inning role. That’s why he’s building arm endurance.
On to the post…
In case you hadn’t heard yet, 38-year-old Rick White flew to Texas last night to join his 11th major league team. Before you all start screaming at me, let me just say that this isn’t what I had in mind when I recommended the team pick up a veteran set-up man for the stretch run. But once July 31 comes and goes, there isn’t going to be a whole lot out there.
One thing I will say, at least White is a right-hander. Makes a whole lot more sense than trading a guy to pick up a fourth lefty in the bullpen. Not that fellow Canuck Sebastien Boucher was all that highly regarded, but still, the soon-to-be-jettisoned John Parrish came as advertised. There were more than a few folks in the Seattle clubhouse grumbling to me about his acquisition in recent days. It became clear very quickly that Parrish could not be used in a situation where he would have to be relied on. And once that happens, there is no point hogging up a roster spot with him
The relief pitchers the M’s already have are at the very least reliable. They have been for most of the season. That isn’t why the team has been looking, as I’ve written for weeks, for another right hander. Take a gander down the list of bullpen names that have carried the team thus far.
J.J. Putz is the “experienced veteran” closer, with three full years of big-league experience behind him. Putz has shown signs of looking more human lately, but that’s not a knock. He is human. Putz is the least this team has to worry about. He’s been used a lot more judiciously of late and should be fine for the September stretch run.
George Sherrill is one of the most underrated relievers in all of baseball. Sort of what Scot Shields of the Angels was before he became a front-line name for anyone paying attention. Sherrill’s numbers are frighteningly close to Putz’s (frightening if you’re the opposing team) and until recently, he was money on the mound. Meaning, you bring him in and the opposing rally was done. Lately, that hasn’t been the case. I’m not about to make a case against Sherrill. There is none to make. Not yet. I’ll just let the facts speak for themselves. He has given up three late homers since the All-Star Break. Two in his last three outings. He has allowed runs in four outings since the break as well. That’s hardly a crisis, but again, like Putz, a sign of perhaps becoming a little more human. Sherrill faded down the stretch last year because of an elbow ligament problem that will never completely be healed, but which he has learned to deal with. Quite effectively, it seems. I suspect, though the team has never confirmed this, that this is one reason the club has yet to go with Sherrill as a full-time set-up man against both righties and lefties. I also feel, as I’ve written, that for this team to completely maximize its bullpen and become a lights-out, championship relief corps, Sherrill as an untouchable situational lefty was ideal. As a set-up man? Uncharted territory, in which his day-to-day effectiveness could be compromised. Like Putz, he isn’t really on the radar as far as problems are concerned. But the team, I’m sure, would like to keep it that way. Which is why he isn’t a full-time set-up guy, still mainly a situational lefty.
It’s what comes next that has the team still looking to add righthanders despite some apparently glowing stats.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sean Green has been a pleasant surprise for the M’s and has helped them win more than a couple of games. Over-all though, he is still a question mark heading into September. Green has yet to break camp with a major league club and spend a full season in the bigs. His numbers against righthanders have been dominant. He’s held them to a .616 on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS), which is kind of like what Richie Sexson was hitting all through June and July. Problem is, his OPS against lefties has been .892, which is a bit like what Jose Guillen has done since the All-Star Break. You can’t have a full-time, eighth-inning setup guy doing that. So, you have to mix-and-match with Green at times. Lately, he has shown some signs of coming back down to Earth. Not catastrophic signs. But stuff that any prudent team would have to be monitoring heading into a September playoff race. Remember, he is an unknown quantity. You don’t know how he’s going to hold up come September.
Brandon Morrow has exceeded everyone’s expectations to this point, regardless of all the walks he’s allowed in 2007. He actually has gotten his control issues harnessed to a degree since the break, having tossed 14 consecutive scoreless outings — with only one walk allowed in his last five. But this is about moving forward. This is about how he’ll hold up in September. And once again, nobody knows. Young pitchers, especially fresh out of college, are not used to pitching this long for an entire year and logging this many appearances and innings. Again, it’s not like Morrow is breaking down night after night. But it’s still an unknown quantity and the reason why he can’t be counted on as “money” in the eighth-inning setup role either.
Does that mean it’s impossible for any of these guys to become that? After all, nobody outside of Anaheim had heard of Francisco Rodriguez prior to September of 2002. Bobby Jenks had these same questions being asked about him in Chicago all through the second-half of 2005, having barely emerged from his status as another team’s young castoff. Both those guys helped lead their teams to World Series titles. Could Green, Sherrill or Morrow do the same thing this year as a bridge to Putz? I’ve learned over the years not to rule anything out. But K-Rod and Jenks were more the exception than the rule. For a team to count on their success being duplicated would not be the kind of thinking one would expect of a championship organization.
Relying on Mark Lowe, coming off elbow surgery, was something no competent team could do. And as we found out, Lowe wasn’t physically ready to handle a late-inning role, which is why he’s back in Class AAA.
I haven’t even brought up Eric O’Flaherty or Ryan Rowland-Smith yet. Neither is going to be an eighth-inning factor, but still, this team is relying on a lot of young, untested guys going into September. And to look ahead at the future will involve more than just statistics at this stage. It will involve questioning how these guys will hold up under the stress of a pennant run.
Heck, the team doesn’t even know how Putz and Sherrill will hold up. But as I said before, they are the least of Seattle’s problems. But pitching in June and July and pitching in late-September with 50,000 fans screaming their heads off with a season on the line every night are two very different things. Have I ever done it? No, I haven’t. But I’ve spoken with enough guys who have and they all tend to say the same thing. Some pitchers are cut out for it, some aren’t.
Is White going to be the total answer? No, he isn’t. But right now, he’s the best answer the M’s can come up with to try to limit their exposure to pennant-race jitters/struggles by a very young, still-inexperienced bullpen. These relievers have been great, by-and-large, but — at least in August — this has not been the lights-out playoff ‘pen we saw in Anaheim or Chicago. They have not “shortened the game” to a six or seven inning affair.
Calling up White, released by Houston and claimed by the M’s in July — pitching in Class AAA since — is one attempt at finding a reliever who’s been in a pennant race before. Is he what the Mariners were looking for pre-July 31? No, he isn’t. But he’s pitched in the World Series with the Mets in 2000 and in the NLCS for the Cardinals in 2002. He’s been through the wars. Even having him around to talk to some of the younger arms couldn’t hurt.
Hey, it’s better than doing nothing. The Mariners front office, coaching staff — and even some players — have quietly expressed concerns about how this young group of relievers will hold up. If you’re going to ask the question, then you can’t just sit around and not try to find an answer.
Me? Let’s just say, where the M’s future is concerned, I like the way some of the starting pitchers have stepped up in the second half. Jeff Weaver is pitching more like a staff ace since late June, Miguel Batista — yesterday aside — is having a career year and limiting the damage all his baserunners could create, while Felix Hernandez is much-improved. Jarrod Washburn also gives you a steady six innings every time out and — along with Batista and Weaver — knows about pressure situations and pitching in a World Series. That may prove more valuable than anyone expects come September. And I think that’s huge because, as good as this bullpen is, I don’t think it’s good enough to win the game every night as it was doing earlier this year. It’s going to need a little help. And the decision-makers running the team, if not many of the fans, seem to believe the same thing, judging by today’s coming roster move.



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