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

March 21, 2009 at 10:21 AM

Morrow to bullpen?

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Here we go again. No, this isn’t some kind of a permanent decision that’s been made. For now, the Mariners are officially stating that Brandon Morrow is still a starter. But this morning, Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu declined to rule out the possibility that Morrow could start the year in the bullpen.
Ever more, he declined to rule out that Morrow could be in a short-inning role — rather than serving in long relief, as a starter often does.
“One of the things is, we’re going to have to probably flip him into a game in an inning or two after one of our starters right now,” he said. “So, we’ll get a chance to take a look at him in that capacity. So, we’ll just keep evaluating.”
As you all know, context is key. More important than a handful of quotes. So, I’ll provide you with the pertinent audio of the questions asked of Wakamatsu and his responses.
Click right here to hear it.
There’s some stuff at the beginning of the clip and a follow-up question from me towards the end.

Now, let’s be realistic. Morrow isn’t anywhere close to starting for this team. His live BP session — otherwise known as a simulated game — yesterday (seen in the video above) went well, but a couple of hitters did tee-off of him. His command wasn’t all that great, either.
“We don’t know,” Wakamatsu said of the bullpen possibility. “Our number one responsibility right now is to just keep building him.”
Then why not simply start Morrow off in the minors and build him up to where he can throw five or six innings at a time? Up until now, the M’s would not even openly discuss the possibility of Morrow to the ‘pen. Now, it’s being cited as a possibility. When I asked Wakamatsu if he’d automatically ruled out a short-inning role at the back of the bullpen, so Morrow could focus on long relief work more akin to a starter’s job, he indicated that the decision had yet to be made.
“I think it’s going to come down to that last week and how much he progresses,” Wakamatsu said. “If we can continue to start him or not, we’ll make that decision at that point. But no, nothing right now.”
There is more to being a starter than simply gunning a few fastballs and curves in to a catcher and actually hitting your target. Things like pacing. Like working from a windup rather than the stretch position. Like learning the whole mindset of a starter: how to mix your pitches in and keep hitters guessing.
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This was all stuff that Morrow was going to work on this spring. Lately, he’s been working more on getting his forearm strain healed. On building up arm endurance. The season starts in just over two weeks and he’s nowhere near ready to be an effective major league starter. The M’s need a guy who can go out there for at least five innings and be semi-effective. Morrow has pitched just a single inning of competitive baseball this spring, against Texas. He tossed another 2/3 of an inning in an intra-squad affair, giving up two runs on three hits in each contest.
That’s not enough.
Morrow should get into one of the split-squad games on Tuesday. But that will be 13 days before Opening Day. Just over two weeks before he’d have to take the mound as a fifth starter.
So, it’s realistic that — if Morrow does indeed begin the year with the M’s as opposed to in Class AAA or AA — he’d be doing so for an inning or two per night. From there, he could build up arm endurance until he was ready to start. It’s what the Yankees did with Joba Chamberlain last year.
Or, there’s another possibility. One the M’s are not discussing out loud right now. Perhaps, if Morrow is effective in a short role in the majors in April, that’s what he keeps on doing. This bullpen isn’t exactly rounding into form. The team has no closer, no situational lefty and a bunch of would-be setup men bombing in their bids to be the main late-inning guy.
“It’s wide open, to be honest with you,” Wakamatsu said.
For the first time, Wakamatsu indicated he’d be bringing seven relievers north. That means a 12-man pitching staff, which pretty much ends the chances of Reegie Corona, Jamie Burke, Mike Morse and a bunch of others making this team. There’s nothing final yet, but that’s the plan for now. And no wonder. The bullpen is a mess.
So, no wonder the idea of starting Morrow off in that pen, rather than down in the minors, has not been ruled out. The M’s, I’m sure, will downplay all of this the moment the whole “Morrow’s development is being compromised!” cry arises from the masses.
But it is what it is.
Wakamatsu was given the “out” on that several times this morning and didn’t take it. The fact is, the team is considering going into the season with Morrow as a reliever. We’ll let the rest of it unfold according to how it does and pick up from there.
Oh yeah, Jason Vargas was sent down to Class AAA today. So, he’s out of the starting and long relief picture for now. Wakamatsu said the organization views him as a starter and wants him to get more consistent in the minors. Once again, that’s a route the team could opt to take with Morrow as well. But for now, the team has yet to decide on that, as you’ve seen above. Garrett Olson remains here and is still being looked at for either the fifth starter or long relief spot. So is Chris Jakubauskas, and of course, Ryan Rowland-Smith.
Strap on your seat belts. The next two weeks could be quite a ride where this pitching staff is concerned.
Today’s lineups:
> Oakland Athletics (12-9-1)
> 11 Rajai Davis CF
> 6 Travis Buck LF
> 15 Ryan Sweeney RF
> 32 Jack Cust DH
> 35 Landon Powell C
> 10 Daric Barton 1B
> 22 Jack Hannahan 3B
> 56 Cliff Pennington SS
> 70 Adrian Cardenas 2B
> —————————–
> 50 Jerome Williams RHP
> Seattle Mariners (10-11-1)

> 7 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
> 21 Franklyn Gutierrez CF
> 24 Ken Griffey Jr. LF
> 5 Mike Sweeney DH
> 9 Jeff Clement C
> 27 Matt Tuiasosopo 3B
> 13 Chris Shelton 1B
> 12 Mike Morse RF
> 1 Reegie Corona 2B
> —————————–
> 49 Garrett Olson LHP



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