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March 22, 2008 at 9:42 AM

Bullpen picture still murky

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One week before the Mariners play their final pre-season game, the team’s bullpen situation is as unclear as it’s ever been. Yes, the team knows J.J. Putz (pictured above, throwing in a minor league game this morning) will be the closer. It knows Eric O’Flaherty will be the situational lefthander in the late innings. And Sean Green fits in there somewhere in the seventh or eighth.
But that’s it.
And with a week to go before the flight back to Seattle, that’s all a little unsettling.
“We’re going to have to sort this out a little at a time and see where we are,” Mariners manager John McLaren said this morning. “We don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner with innings available in the bullpen.”
Brandon Morrow should provide some further insights to the questions when he pitches in a game of some sort tomorrow. Still trying to figure out whether it will be a big-league contest or minor league affair. Most likely the latter. But the fact he’s been green-lighted is a positive sign. He threw a bullpen session yesterday and apparently feels OK this morning.
So, that’s a start.

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The Mariners are hoping Morrow is ready to go, but also understand that an entire season will remain to be played after opening day. No sense burning anyone’s arm out if they aren’t ready to go.
“We’re looking for opening day,” McLaren said. “But you’ve got to look at the big picture. We certainly don’t want to rush anybody.”
Speaking of opening day, the guy who started it for the M’s last year, Felix Hernandez, can be seen above, throwing in the same minor league game as Putz.
If Morrow isn’t ready to go on March 31, then Green becomes the de-facto eighth-inning righty.
Outside of that, figuring out who would pitch the sixth or seventh is no easy feat.
Knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey seems a lock as the bullpen long man, especially since the team could need a pitcher to get them through multiple relief innings early and often. And the M’s are hoping to use one of their three rehabbing relievers — Arthur Rhodes, Mark Lowe or Chris Reitsma. Lowe has put up the best numbers of late, but Reitsma may be the guy closest to making it back to the majors. The fact that he hasn’t had a clean inning yet could be cause for concern.
All of these factors will play into whether the M’s go with a six or a seven-man bullpen. And that will impact the decision on how many backup position players will be taken. No wonder manager McLaren seems a little less relaxed with each passing day.
As I said, plenty of uncertainty remains with the regular season lurking. It’s not as bad as the Angels losing their top two starting pitchers. But the M’s, as good as they look in their own starting rotation (spring numbers aside) have their share of things to worry about.
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