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May 14, 2009 at 4:44 PM

The two that got away

That was one quiet and stunned group of Mariners players that left for the airport here in Texas. Now they face the Red Sox for three in Seattle, and with Erik Bedard scratched from his start on Saturday, they will go with three pitchers who weren’t in the rotation at the start of the season. Heck, two (Garrett Olson on Saturday and Jason Vargas on Sunday) weren’t even in the majors. Chris Jakubauskas, who works Friday, was in the bullpen until Ryan Rowland-Smith went on the DL.
The big issue, of course, is what to do about Brandon Morrow. Don Wakamatsu didn’t second-guess his decision to send out Morrow for the ninth, despite watching David Aardsma breeze through the eighth. Here is what Wakamatsu said:
“You can sit here and say the gamble was just as big not to put him in there, You have to find out about your players. You never want it to end that way, but he has to be in that situation.
“You take a lot of confidence away right there (if you don’t put Morrow in the game). He had to find out. Again, no one wants it to end that way. But to be able to play that caliber baseball is what we’re looking for.”
You know what? I agree with him — for this game, it was right to put Morrow back out there. He’s your closer, show some confidence, back on the horse, etc., etc. But they did find out something, or, really, confirmed some things that had been becoming apparent — they found out Morrow is struggling mightily, that he doesn’t have command right now, that he’s too fastball-reliant.
I certainly have not lost faith in Morrow, long-term, as a potentially dominant closer. But that doesn’t mean he should necessarily close right now. He has barely pitched 12 innings all year, including spring. He had a stint on the DL for biceps tendinitis and stepped right back into the closer’s job without any rehab or stint as a setup man to re-adjust. In retrospect, that probably was a mistake. Now it probably behooves the Mariners to either allow him to work out his troubles in a setup role, or to close in Tacoma for awhile to regain his confidence and command. Either way, they have an obvious fill-in replacement in Aardsma. Don’t sell it to Morrow as a demotion, but merely a chance to get in the work that was denied him in spring trainining and early in the season. They can’t afford to let too many more games get away. These last two losses have been absolutely devastating.
Now, a word about Felix Hernandez, who was a stud today. I know there was some concern about his velocity, which was mostly in the low-90s, but peaked at 94 on a couple of pitches. He and the Mariners say this was by design. They were focusing on his two-seamer — his sinker — and it proved to be an effective strategy, as Felix blanked Texas on four hits over seven innings. He was shaky early, but really found his rhythm after the second inning.
Here’s Wakamatsu on Felix:
“He came out competing, and that’s what we’ve talked about, his maturity level. I think he battled through some command issues during the course of the game. Early in the game, he had a lot of pitches, and he ended up battling through. I think there’s a couple plays that hurt him — the pickoff at first, and a couple plays we didn’t keep the double play in order that might have stretched him a little further. But there’s nothing I can say about his performance I didn’t like. He went out and put us in a two-run lead.”
On his velocity, Wakamatsu said: “It’s tough, sometimes, because not all ballpark gun readings are the same. Against a club like this, you tend to want to move the ball rather than throw a four-seam fastball at 96. He did more of that tonight — pitched a little more tonight.”
Catcher Rob Johnson said, “Our game plan was to stay down in the zone with his sinker.”
Felix had lost his last two starts, giving up 16 hits and 12 runs in a combined 10 innings.
“Today was important for me,” Hernandez said. “The difference today was my location. In the third, I started feeling better. I got my location. I got all my pitches working.”
Hernandez said he threw “everything — two-seamer, four-seamer. My two-seamer was great today. My location was outstanding.”
Hernandez, by the way, stood behind Morrow, despite having a potential victory ripped away.
“For me, he’s one of the great closers,” he said. “You’re going to have a couple of bad games. You have to keep going, that’s all.”
Here’s some Morrow quotes, from my game story that will be up on the web soon:
“We should have won the series,” said a grim Morrow as the Mariners hurried off for their flight back to Seattle, lugging the baggage of nine losses on their last 10 games.
“But because of two-thirds of an inning – and both days by me…It’s tough to swallow.”
Morrow acknowledged that his game plan needs to change.
“I need to start mixing my pitches,” he said. “I feel like a pitching machine out there.”
Asked if his 2-1 pitch selection to Chris Davis was the right one, he replied, “It’s the right pitch when it’s located correctly. That one was just up and over the plate.”
And his emotions? “I guess there aren’t any emotions until he hits it over the fence. And then I’m pissed.”



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