There is a game being played here today, though it’s essentially a Class AAA Mariners team taking on a so-so San Diego Padres lineup. Felix Hernandez gave up a home run on the game’s second pitch, then a single on the third, so he’s already down 1-0.
No further news about the Mariners roster this morning, other than the fact the team is having second and even third thoughts about bringing Brandon Morrow north to start the season. I have a feeling what we saw out of Mark Lowe yesterday has something to do with that. The team is convinced Lowe can handle himself in the big team’s bullpen. There is not as much confidence in Morrow right now, given the fact he’s yet to throw a clean inning against Class AA and AAA hitters in his comeback from that shoulder problem. Command is Morrow’s biggest enemy right now.
Mariners manager John McLaren told us this morning that he would not be able to complete his roster, as hoped for, prior to the team’s noon departure for San Francisco. McLaren talked about the team not wanting to put itself in a bullpen bind as it did last season, when too many pitchers were limited in the number of innings they could throw, or back-to-back days they could work.
“We want flexibility,” he said.
Given that, I asked him the obvious question.
“Is Brandon Morrow on this team?”
McLaren did not answer in the affirmative.
“We’re going to see where we are with him.”
That told me all I needed to know about why this process has been held up the way it is. Less than a week ago, McLaren was still confident he’d have his roster named by now. No longer the case. What’s happened since then? Morrow started pitching in games again.
The team is still, believe it or not, wrestling with the idea of carrying only 11 pitchers. The reason for this is McLaren desperately wants to keep Greg Norton around as a pinch-hitter. But if the team goes with 12 pitchers, that extra bench spot is no longer there.
See how complicated something pretty straightforward can get?
Given his “flexibility” comments, I’d say it’s a given that R.A. Dickey is on this team. When I asked McLaren whether any of tonight’s scheduled pitching performances — Dickey being the headliner — in San Francisco were going to impact the final roster or not, he said not really. That means Dickey’s use of a slower knuckle ball isn’t really going to increase or decrease his chances of making the team. On a club where bullpen innings could be a problem early, it makes sense to carry a rubber-armed knuckleballer as your long relief guy. Ryan Rowland-Smith, as we’ve mentioned, will almost certainly be the second lefty. In fact, he will be, since he’s the only lefty reliever still in camp besides Eric O’Flaherty, a guy already on the team.
So, there you have it. Felix Hernandez goes against the Padres today down here in Peoria.
For those of you asking me about Erik Bedard, I think there’s a very different private side to him that the media doesn’t get to see. I’ll be writing about that for our Monday paper. Do I like these post-game question-and-answer sessions with him? Not really. The questions aren’t that great, given that it’s spring training and tough to take his results at face value. That said, I’ve rarely heard anything insightful for a pitcher in one of these post-game things. There are some rare exceptions, Bedard not being one of them.
Truth is, I’ve started skipping some of these post-game things. I don’t care to hear Felix Hernandez mumble on about needing to throw strikes and mix pitches in with his fastballs for variety’s sake. Just do it, already. If not, I’ll write about how he isn’t doing it. The sports journalism world is coming down to that anyway. The good writers, as I told you in a blog post last week, don’t really need many insights from players to do their jobs. There are coaches, specialists, scouts and other more-detached individuals who can often give you a more objective read than the player himself. I’ll always try to ask a player something, in hopes he can be a pro and explain something firsthand.
But if he doesn’t? OK then, I’m still going to write the piece. And if the player doesn’t like it after, that’s too bad. Had his chance to enlighten. Chose not to.
If I was a player, the loss of any opportunity to shape my image the way I’d want it would be of concern. I can’t figure out players who’d rather leave their fate in the hands of the media without at least taking an opportunity to explain what’s going on.
I asked Bedard after yetserday’s game about whether he’s thrown fewer curveballs this spring than he normally did in spring training down in Florida. Why? Well, it’s probably his best pitch. If he isn’t using it much here, it might explain why hitters have smacked nine home runs off him in 20 innings of Cactus League play. Just a thought. He claims he doesn’t know. Of course he does. He might not know exactly how many, but he certainly has some idea whether he’s holding off on throwing as many curves as he did last spring — simply because they aren’t all that effective in the thinner Arizona air.
But, he chose to give the answers you saw yesterday. That’s fine by me. I get paid regardless and I’ve already told you I think it’s the air. But Bedard’s reluctance to help himself in this regard now has Mariners fans all over the internet wondering aloud whether it’s really the Arizona air or something that could carry over in Seattle. Doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. But if Bedard, for some reason, gives up three homers to the Rangers on Monday, you can bet those seeds of doubt amongst fans will sprout into full-blown panic.
Then, he’ll have some real questions to answer post-game. Not the puff-piece, spring training softies lobbed his way.
Comes with the territory for a contending team. This isn’t Baltimore. These Mariners will be expected to win and answer for it if they don’t. Not by me. By all of you. If he gets torched by the Rangers, you’re going to be flooding this blog asking me why. You know it and I know it.
And for a new player, in a new city, the first few weeks are critical. It can take months to undo a few early weeks of image damage. Seen it before. Some pitchers I’ve covered had a tough first month with their new club, then pitched OK afterwards but were still getting booed the following season if even the slightest thing went wrong. Maybe Bedard really doesn’t care. If he doesn’t, that’s his right. But if it were me, I wouldn’t be going out of my way to set up hurdles for myself when I don’t have to. Bedard is under enough pressure already as the guy who is supposed to carry this team to the post-season. Why add to that?
But as I said, it’s his life. All I really care about is what he does on the mound. So far, he hasn’t done much. I expect that to change come March 31, once he’s out of Arizona. If it doesn’t, and you start flooding my inbox to ask me about it, I’ll still be here. And I’ll give you straight answers to straight questions.