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March 28, 2009 at 10:49 AM

Morrow could indeed head north…in bullpen

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The guy in the photo above, not laughing, is Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. He doesn’t have a whole lot to be laughing about these days, given the uncertain status of both his starting rotation and bullpen. And one of the pieces that could be added to that bullpen in the next week is — you guessed it — Brandon Morrow.
Now, we’ve obviously been down this road before, just a week ago in fact. So, let’s spell things out nice and slowly.
Morrow is still projected as a starting pitcher by the Mariners.
He will not start the year in the team’s rotation, given the sparse number of innings and preparation work he’ll have done down here.
The Mariners have two options — start him in a minor league rotation in Class AAA, or bring him north and let him build up his arm in what is now a shaky-looking pen.
Zduriencik and I chatted about these options for about 10 minutes today after we’d finished watching lefty reliever Tyler Johnson throw a simulated game. Given all that transpired a week ago, with manager Don Wakamatsu’s clarification of comments he’d made about Morrow, I decided to phone Zduriencik back just to make sure my ears were not playing tricks on me.
So, it’s possible, I asked, that Morrow could break camp in the major league bullpen?
“Oh yes, certainly,” Zduriencik said. “Without a doubt, that’s very much a possibility.”
Zduriencik went on to talk about how the team has a number of question marks, health-wise, in both the rotation and bullpen and that could play a role in determining what gets decided in the next week. One other consideration will be whether the staff and front office feels Morrow would be better served building up multiple innings as a starter — on a five-day rotation — in the minors. Or, could he build up his arm in the major league bullpen throwing fewer innings more frequently?
“Everything’s still up in the air right now,” Zduriencik said. “Nothing’s been decided. You’ll see that in this next week, a lot of decisions are going to have to be made. And in the end, the route we decide to take will ultimately be one that’s in the best interests of the ballclub and the best interests of the individual.”
The M’s have yet to decide how to slot Morrow if indeed he goes to the bullpen. Zduriencik talked of using the final week to perhaps insert Morrow in the sixth, seventh, or eighth innings.
So, that begged the obvious question.
“How about closer?” I asked. “Have you ruled that out yet?”
“I’d rather not comment on that right now,” Zduriencik said.
So, there you have it. Straight from the GM’s mouth. My educated guess on this is that the M’s would not be using Morrow as the closer. More as a middle relief, or set-up type, especially to start things off. Right now, there are question marks about how just about the entire bullpen slots out because of health issues that have arisen. The team will be making calls on that this week. And make no mistake, this decision won’t be happening in a box when it comes to Morrow. He’ll have input as the team tries to gauge his comfort level. But ask any player and they’ll tell you they want to be in the majors.
Johnson, as we told you yesterday, will not break camp as the situational lefty. The team will likely not carry a short-inning lefty to start the year. But the big decision appears to be with the team’s closer. Once that gets decided, a lot of other roles could fall into place.



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