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

August 31, 2007 at 9:09 AM

Oh, sunny day…

A lovely morning here in Toronto, where, after an ample dose of caffeine, I feel suitably armed to take on the great state of affairs that is the Seattle Mariners right now. Walking through my old streets this morning, on three hours of sleep I might add, had me thinking of yet another similarity between Rick White and David Wells. The latter once complained he’d been pelted by garbage by the fans when he walked the streets here and I’m sure that if White were to venture into the streets of the Emerald City this morning, he’d suffer a similar fate.
So, wasn’t that a lot of fun last night? Thanks for all of your private emails. I haven’t had time to respond to all of them yet and probably won’t because so many of you love to write. To “Scott” don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. It takes more than a little rolling up of the sleeves to get rid of me. Besides, if my goal was to be universally loved, all I’d have to do is write what folks want me to and that would take care of everything. Sigh, if only things were so simple.
Whoever posted a comment comparing the role of my job to that of a White House Press correspondant, hey, you were bang-on. It is my job to be a fan “watchdog” of sorts. A watchdog, not a bulldog. There is a subtle difference. None of the Mariners has committed crimes against humanity or anything. At worst, the manager is guilty of being too conservative at times, too gutsy at other points. When he loses, of course. Right now, that’s all John McLaren is doing, so yes, the microscope is on him. He’d best get used to it.
But when a situation forces a new manager to choose between using his closer in a non-save situation, or a 38-year-old waiver claim to save one of the biggest games of the season to-date, something else has gone wrong with the master plan. Having read through the hundreds of comments since last night, I detect a lot of anger being directed towards McLaren from people I suspect are truly mad at GM Bill Bavasi.
My biggest surprise in your comments was suggesting I am overly friendly towards the team’s front office. Really? I can tell you that news would surprise Bavasi, not to mention anyone who’s followed my work the past decade. In fact, I’ve found myself having to guard all season against gratuitously taking pot shots at the front office of an M’s team that has somehow found ways to stay in contention. Again, it’s just too easy to do. But there is a responsibility that comes with this job, as well as a certain power to influence fan opinion because of who I work for and the reputation the paper has built.
In other words, you can’t wield the power on a whim. You really do have to think things through and not simply react the way I would if the Montreal Canadiens blew a lead in the third period after I’d downed a few cold ones in the neighborhood sports bar. It’s easy to crucify Richie Sexson through numbers, but you usually figure, in the back of your mind, that something is not right if those late-season home runs aren’t kicking in. Sure enough, turns out Sexson has been playing hurt. Does that excuse his season? No way. Does it mean he should play every day at the start of next season? Absolutely not. But it is something to consider when you look back at the last week or two. You can’t just throw it out the window and go back to the usual gripes. Not in my position, anyway. And it has nothing to do with access. I do not care what the players think of me. Or the front office. Or John McLaren. I won’t go out of my way to make them hate me, but if they do, they do. I don’t care.
OK, that’s out of the way. Now, the front office.
I’ve never been shy about saying the Rafael Soriano-Horacio Ramirez deal has hurt this team on so many levels. Ramirez is slowly improving, but at this point he’s fifth-starter material on a team lacking any arms that can perform at a No. 1 or No. 2 starter level for an entire season.
So, you’ve weakened one of your team’s biggest assets — the bullpen — in favor of adding to what your rotation already had. Yes, the team had three rotation vacancies to fill this past winter. Not my problem. The M’s allowed themselves to be exposed that way. They should have done more to prepare and prevent something that continues to haunt them.
So, here we now are on Aug. 31 and that old bugaboo, the rotation, is again coming up short in the innings department. Just when we thought the bullpen might be out of the burnout woods, all these added innings are being thrust upon them. And at a time when the offense, which woke up in the latter stages of the Cleveland game, is no longer tearing the cover off the ball.
Let’s look at the innings delivered by starters of late:
Horacio Ramirez — 5 2/3
Felix Hernandez — 7
Jeff Weaver — 4 2/3
Miguel Batista — 6
Jarrod Washburn — 6
Horacio Ramirez — 5 2/3
Felix Hernandez — 6
Jeff Weaver — 6
Miguel Batista — 2
Jarrod Washburn — 6
Horacio Ramirez — 7 1/3
Felix Hernandez — 6 1/3
That’s the last 12 games. See any 8s or 9s on that list? Know what stands out? That for nearly two weeks worth of a pennant race, the much-maligned Horacio Ramirez has given the team its biggest amount of single-game innings. The last Mariners pitcher to go at least eight innings?
That would be Jeff Weaver on Aug. 12. Which would be great if it wasn’t already Aug. 31.
Let’s look at some August bullpen numbers, leaving long-man Ryan Rowland-Smith and newcomer White out of it for a moment. I’ve put their first-half numbers in brackets for comparitive purposes:
Brandon Morrow — 3.60…(3.66)
J.J. Putz — 3.72…(0.88)
George Sherrill — 4.91…(1.41)
Eric O’Flaherty — 4.82…(2.08)
Sean Green — 5.63…(2.53)
Opponents’ batting average
Eric O’Flaherty — .206…(.194)
J.J. Putz — .229…(.129)
Brandon Morrow — .237…(.239)
George Sherrill — .279…(.141)
Sean Green — .328…(.275)
Walks per nine innings:
Eric O’Flaherty — 3.0…(2.4)
Sean Green — 3.4…(5.1)
J.J. Putz — 3.9…(1.5)
Brandon Morrow — 4.8…(9.2)
George Sherrill — 7.6…(1.6)
As you can see, Brandon Morrow has held fairly steady across the board, lowering his walks, while everyone else has seen their numbers shoot up compared to a stellar first-half as a unit. Some of it was to be expected, but this was also what some had feared given the relative youth of the bullpen and the number of early innings and appearances logged. Heading into September, there is ample reason for the team to be concerned about how the young arms will hold up in a pennant race. Arms like Morrow’s have not logged a full season’s worth of appearances like he has.
So, at the very least, there was good reason to be concerned heading into the July 31 trade deadline season. And yet, the team did not acquire another bullpen arm via trade. Nor did they acquire another starter who might help lighten the load on the bullpen.
I read many posts from readers stating that cheap bullpen arms are easy to find and not worth trading prospects for. OK, then where are they? So far, we’ve seen John Parrish dealt for and Rick White picked up off waivers. None of you appear to be very happy with those moves. I understand why.
But it is becoming clear, at least to me, that this is the team’s most pressing concern going forward. Given the state of the starting rotation and the weakening bullpen, who exactly is going to get the ball to Putz? Yes, Mark Lowe could be called up and, the team hopes, help make a difference. Again, that’s a lot of hope in a guy coming off elbow surgery.
To me, this is something that would be keeping a manager up nights more so than worrying about that one catch a week Adam Jones would have made in left field in-place of Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez in August is hitting .385 with a 1.151 on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS).
Jose Vidro in August is hitting .344 with an .862 (OPS). That’s more than good enough, even during his three-game “slump” some of you feel signals the end of a “hot streak” that has seen him hit .377 with an .894 OPS since mid-July. With only four weeks left in the season, any manager would gladly take a player riding a six-week “hot streak”.
No manager is going to bench either player, or even reduce his playing time, to use a Class AAA call-up like Jones, in hopes that he might match those numbers. You don’t go looking for a guy who might do it when the two in question already are doing it.
When guys hit like that, you ride it as long as you can. Defensive upgrades be darned. When Ibanez was posting a sub.-600 OPS in July, the defensive upgrade plus the automatic offensive gain made a Jones addition thinkable. Not right now. Yes, Jones is an obvious talent and might get some added playing time with Richie Sexson out. Not much added time, but some. As I mentioned, the team has more pressing concerns on the mound.
And those concerns would not have gone away even had McLaren gone to Putz last night instead of White. Seattle might have won, might have lost in extra innings. We’ll never know. Given how rested Putz is, it might not have hurt to use him in an unconventional way. I don’t know whether McLaren has mastered the managerial “rules” to a degree where he can now start breaking them. At least in his own mind.
But these problems we’re seeing now have their origins well before McLaren got the manager’s job. When Bavasi traded Soriano — exactly the prototypical guy the M’s needed to get at the deadline (good luck in that quest) — he signed Chris Reitsma to fill that gap. Reitsma never did fill it. It’s questionable whether he could have if healthy, but he never got a real chance. So, there we are.
Heading into September facing the same old questions. If you want somebody to blame in the long-term, I think the GM is a much better place to start for this particular issue than a new manager who has inherited an old problem. I know it doesn’t feel as good when you see McLaren trotting out Rick White in the ninth, but unless McLaren starts going against his gut and what he’s traditionally believed, he truly will believe that is his only real option.



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