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April 7, 2009 at 9:52 PM

Morrow still the closer

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Yes, it was a tough night all-around for the Mariners. As I mentioned earlier, they played well enough to win this game for 8 2/3 innings. Did some little things right yet again, starting with the aggressive baserunning by Yuniesky Betancourt.
The bullpen, as a unit, did its job before the ninth inning.
Roy Corcoran got my vote for pitcher of the game, shutting the Twins down as he did after that three-run rally off Erik Bedard in the fifth. It took Corcoran only 22 pitches to get through the sixth and seventh, then David Aardsma did a good job in a 1-2-3 eighth.
Brandon Morrow looked fine in setting down the first two hitters. But then, a nightmare like none he’s had before at the big league level. Morrow just lost his command, plain and simple. Vanished. Nothing worked. This wasn’t a mental thing, where he was thrown off by the rowdy crowd. It was a purely mechanical, physical thing.
I asked him about it and he told me that, out on the mound like that, a pitcher can’t make instant mechanical corrections. It’s all about trying to make your pitches. You can’t be thinking about footwork, delivery, release point and such.
That’s for between-outings work and he’ll need to do it. He was missing his spots by a huge margin.
“I’m going to get it back,” Morrow said. “It’s just tough to have it fall apart at a time like that.”
Very tough indeed. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu went with Morrow as his closer despite very little success shown in spring training. Morrow has had command issues all spring long, other than his final outing in Las Vegas last weekend.
I thought the Mariners might go with Miguel Batista as closer instead, just to start things off. And, as we’ve told you all spring, after Morrow, Batista would be the first guy the team turned to. They did tonight, as they tried to end the game once Morrow started walking everybody in sight.
The first hit Batista gave up, a Denard Span chopper, was simply a bad break. Span is quick up the line and once the ball hit the turf you knew he’d be safe. Adrian Beltre wisely held the ball as a run scored.
But the next hit, by Alexi Casilla, was simply a bad pitch. Batista said it was supposed to break outside. Instead, it cut right back across the heart of the plate.
Game over.
Wakamatsu is insisting that Morrow remains his closer. He’ll use him again as early as Wednesday night if he has to.
“He’ll be back out there,” he said. “It’s a process we talked about. A little bit of learning. We’ll get him back out there again.”
Wakamatsu was asked whether it was “a leap of faith” to annoint Morrow the closer after so shaky a spring.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “We talk about that. You’ve got to stick with these guys and again, we’ll send him back out there and see how he does.”
So, there you have it.
Morrow wants to “get out there as soon as possible” and says he’ll eventually get his command issues worked through. He’d worked on simiular problems in the minors with M’s pitching guru Dave Wallace last April after a similar spring training slowed by injuries.
This time, he simply hasn’t had the time to work through those issues. But he says he’s tried to implement many of the things he and Wallace worked on a year ago to resolve command woes.
“Everything felt right,” Morrow said. “And then…I don’t know what to say.”
This game probably wouldn’t have been so close had plate umpire Chuck Meriwether called Michael Cuddyer out on strikes when he took that 2-2 pitch down the middle from Erik Bedard in the fifth. Instead, Meriwether, who gave the M’s a dubious call at first base in Monday’s opener that saved them from a big inning against, ruled it a ball.
Don’t ask me,” Bedard said with a shrug and a grin.
A couple of pitches later, Cuddyer stroked a two-out, two run single that cut Seattle’s lead to 4-3.
Funny how baseball works, isn’t it?
Anyhow, I thought Bedard pitched very well. He struck out eight guys, including Justin Morneau to end the fifth after Meriwether’s non-call.
“You’ve got to try to minimize the damage,” Bedard said. “You can’t let a big hit ruin your day. You’ve got to keep battling and try to get him out.”
The Mariners did that most of the night. They just couldn’t close the deal.
Hey, they’re still a .500 team. They didn’t just blow the pennant tonight — tough as this one was to swallow.
Batista says Morrow just has to forget about it.
“There are 160 more (games) left,” Batista said. “And a long career for him to start thinking about that. He’s going to be the closer for this organization for years to come. He’s got to just wipe it off and go get them tomorrow.”
I’m curious to see how the M’s respond. This is a test of sorts.
A year ago, the M’s were a few outs away from going 2-0 when J.J. Putz blew a save in the ninth and Seattle wound up losing to the Texas Rangers. We all know what happened in four of the next five games that followed.
The M’s have outplayed the Twins the first two games here and can still win this series. We’ll see how quickly they actually do shake this off.



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