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March 29, 2009 at 9:38 AM

Clement to AAA

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We’ve been hinting at this for a while now and today, it became official. Mariners catcher Jeff Clement will start this season in Class AAA. He has some defensive issues to work on, notably, his throws to second base. But also his all-around game-calling. He’ll get that chance playing every day down in Tacoma. Should spur some season-ticket sales there.
“Coming in, offensively I don’t think he had the greatest spring,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “But we believe he’s got a chance to be a great hitter. It’s just continuing that process. I think, defensively, he made some great strides. I think it’s just a little more maturity.”
I caught up with the team’s catching consultant, Roger Hansen, after he’d spoken to a disappointed Clement this morning. Hansen confirmed that the throwing part of Clement’s game is the thing he needs to work on most.
I’d imagine this means Rob Johnson has made the team and Jamie Burke will also head to Tacoma. This second part isn’t official, of course. A trade could also change things. But right now, it looks like a Johnson-Kenji Johjima tandem. There’s no point having Johnson and Clement fighting for playing time in the minors. Burke could fill his usual backup role with the Rainiers.
Back to the catching for a moment, I’d also imagine Adam Moore starts off at Class AA, not AAA as had been expected when camp began. As we told you the other day, the team’s priority is to get these young guys everyday playing time.
Johnson, by the way, got into a heated dugout exchange with Carlos Silva during yesterday’s game against the Angels. Wakamatsu told me it was only a brief exchange and was dealt with immediately and no lingering problems resulted.
“I’d rather we have that happen now than in the middle of the season,” he said, adding that there was no physical interaction between the pair, only verbal. “This is the place to work out any differences of opinion you might have about things.”
Especially if the team plans on taking Johnson north. Wakamatsu said he considered the case closed.
What isn’t “closed” is the team’s closer situation.
Wakamatsu had a series of meetings this morning with the coaching staff, Brandon Morrow and GM Jack Zduriencik about the possibility of transitioning the young pitcher back to a bullpen role with the squad — at least for now. We told you about that idea on the blog yesterday.
The idea of using Morrow as a closer is apparently on-the-table right now. But there are a number of things the team will have to look at first over the next week, primarily, making sure Morrow is ready and trying to get him into back-to-back games.
“I don’t want to jump ahead,” Wakamatsu said, “We’ll just see where he’s at from outing to outing.”
Morrow is apparently ready to make the switch back to the bullpen.
“Once we went down that road, where this year, he’s not capable of being in the starting rotation from the start, I think he was all on-board with it.”
At most, Morrow will get two or three more outings before the end of camp. The decision on whether he’ll close will likely be made next weekend when the team plays its final exhibition games in Las Vegas.



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