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March 30, 2009 at 10:12 AM

Ryan Rowland-Smith: genius?

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A decision by Ryan Rowland-Smith to skip the WBC in order to “contend” for a starting job with the Mariners seemed a little misguided at first. After all, the guy standing behind him in the above photo from this morning was supposed to be the fifth starter in a rotation that already had the first four spots locked down.
But now, Brandon Morrow has abandonned all thoughts of being a starter and has returned to the bullpen where he’ll eventually be a closer. That leaves the job wide open for RRS to step in and take it. Yes, it will leave three lefties in the rotation and some would likely have to go back-to-back against the same team., But they’re not all soft-tossing lefties and that would mitigate some of the problem. Erik Bedard can crank his pitches up into the 90s while RRS is usually up around 90 at most. Lately, he’s been down around 86 mph this spring. I asked him about that a couple of days ago and he told me he had the same problem a year ago. It’s what happens to a lot of pitchers — even Morrow — at spring training. Takes time for their velocity to come around. It’s all a matter of building up your arm strength and endurance. And then, once the team heads north, a matter of the weather warming back up come May.
Seriously, there are plenty of pitchers who don’t find their true velocity until May. RRS cautioned that the velocity fans saw him hitting last fall came in August and September after the arm had already been loosened up for six months and gained strength throughout the season. He says he isn’t all that concerned by this because he went through it last year.
I asked Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu this morning whether it really mattered all that much that RRS had skipped the WBC. After all, the Aussie could have simply pitched for his country and given the M’s a bunch of stats to look at from the tournament, likely facing tougher lineups than he’d see on many days down here.
But Wakamatsu said he learned “a lot” by getting the up-close look RRS.
“Just getting to know him as a person, getting to know what a competitor he is and how sometimes his emotions affect his performance,” Wakamatsu said. “Some of the pitches that I think are his strengths and I really like and some of the weaknesses we need to continue to evaluate.
“So, a lot. I think it was critical for him to be able to be in camp for us to really get to know him. Amd those are the things that, had he not been here, would have been tough to evaluate that quickly.”
But does that stuff really matter? Will it really tell Wakamatsu all that much?
“You try to watch how guys compete in successful situations and when they’re not doing well,” he said. “I think those are all things that give you a little bit better of an idea of how to handle him during the year. Then when we get out, and the lights go on, and the season starts and they get in trouble, to have some type of relationship to go and talk to them on the bench without them not knowing anything about you. I think all those little things are critical about you.”
So, there you go. A tough call by RRS that may have gone very well.
Some interesting things to note for today:
Ichiro is hitting third in the order for today’s game against the Brewers in Maryvale, Ariz. RRS is starting that game, by the way.
Wakamatsu just wanted a different look and did not rule out batting Ichiro third at some point this season.
“I talked to him the other day and first off, he’s been outstanding in coming in here and saying ‘Whatever you need me to do to win and help this ballclub. He’s been off the chart.”’
Wakamatsu also had a meeting with his pitchers, not specifically because of all the runs given up the past few days. More to go over things like communication and bullpen routines. The manager took time to single out Kenji Johjima for the added commitment he’s shown at working on communicating with several pitchers since arriving in camp. This was a major issue early last season, if you remember. For now, Johjima is the No. 1 catcher and Rob Johnson is looking like his backup. So, to stay that way, Johjima will have to improve his communication with those throwing to him.



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