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April 3, 2008 at 5:24 AM

Versatility comes through early

I’ll bet I’m the only member of the Seattle media to have witnessed Miguel Batista’s previous save as a Toronto closer back in September 2005. Not all of Batista’s saves back then went as smoothly as his 1-2-3 ninth inning last night. There’s a reason he’s now a starting pitcher again. But hey, as a backup closer? You won’t find much better than Batista. We talked about this versatility back in spring training, when Batista was named the No. 5 starter. Remember, we mentioned how his new role at the back of the rotation would enable Batista to step in to the bullpen from time to time? Last night was one of those.
No, Batista is not the closer. He’ll be a starter on Saturday in Baltimore since Wednesday was his throw day. But with Mark Lowe having worked back-to-back nights, getting Batista in there was a no-brainer. I’ve said it before, if the M’s find themselves down an eighth inning setup man come August, as was the case last year, Batista is a very plausible solution.
So, that’s one day down in what could be an absence of several weeks for J.J. Putz. Those rib injuries, for anyone who has ever done even minor damage to a rib, the ribcage, or its lining, you know it is excruciating at times. Never mind trying to throw fastballs in the mid-90s. Putz needs to take his time getting back. This will be a huge early season test for the M’s. Hey, no one said this would be easy.

So far, though, you’ve got to love the starting pitching. Carlos Silva told us the Arizona air was what was impacting his grip on the ball and the break on his pitches in spring training. Also told us back when he signed with the M’s that he’d been toying with a splitter he could throw to lefthanded hitters. Began using it midway through last season for the Twins. Wasn’t at last night’s game to ask Silva about it, but he sure seemed to handle the lefty-laden Rangers lineup OK. Seven innings, three hits, one earned run.
Last season, Silva had 12 outings of seven innings or more, the same as Felix Hernandez. This season, he’s got one and Hernandez has one. So, that’s two earned runs allowed by Seattle starters over the first three outings, spanning 19 innings. Tough to do much better. This is exactly the scenario the club envisioned when it built the rotation over the winter. Keep getting seven innings a night, it takes plenty of heat off a bullpen that now will need as little heat as possible.
Good to see Jose Vidro and Jose Lopez go deep. The M’s will need some long balls this year and getting them from two unlikely sources so early is a good omen.
So, the M’s take two of three, which is what they had to do against the Texas Rangers. Now comes an interesting test, on the road in a pair of bandboxes in Baltimore and Tampa Bay. The weather won’t be as cold as it was here in Seattle. The parks won’t be as forgiving and fly balls won’t die on the warning track the way they do at Safeco. It should be a very interesting seven days ahead, starting tomorrow. I’ll be there for all of them. We’ll see whether the starters can keep up this pace (or something close to it) or if the hits start coming now that the hitters won’t be squeezing the bats with numb, frozen hands. Makes a difference — for both teams, too. I expect to see Seattle do some more slugging than we saw the first two games of the Rangers series. By the way, Torii Hunter doesn’t have a hit for the Angels yet. You can’t judge much in the first series of the season.
Now come the “so-so” Seattle starters. It wasn’t too long ago when Jarrod Washburn (think back to last April and May) and Batista were the guys counted on to give their bullpens a break. Remember Washburn throwing a complete game in Oakland last April? My, how things have changed. Now, as No. 4 and 5 guys, any big starts they give are gravy. This rotation will have to be as good as advertised going forwards. Especially with only an 11-man pitching staff. That decision is about to be tested in a big way. The pen was already shorthanded last night and it really hasn’t been forced to pick up a bunch of innings yet, as was the case last year.
I’m sure the M’s will cross their fingers and hope no one gets knocked out early these next few nights. The good news, though, is that Cha Seung-Baek has yet to see any action. But the team does need Washburn to turn in one of his better outings tomorrow.
A decent start for Seattle at home. Let’s see what happens on the road, take stock, and figure out where things stand just in time for the Angels to come to town in eight days.



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