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May 30, 2009 at 5:00 PM

Ryan Rowland-Smith to start for Mariners on June 11 in Baltimore

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Ichiro, seen above, takes a 22-game hitting streak into tonight’s contest, one shy of the third-longest in team history and three away from his franchise record of 25 set just two years ago. I asked Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu what it takes to put a streak like this together, given that it’s the fifth time in Ichiro’s career that he’s had a 22-gamer.
“It’s not a fluke that a guy like that has consistency in his game,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s so strong mentally that you see the exact same approach day in and day out with him. Even if he does struggle a little bit, he seems to find a way to get either an infield hit, hit the ball the other way or pull the ball. So, he has a lot of weapons and obiously the ability to still run at his age allows him to do that.”
Wakamatsu was asked whether teams still play their defenders in to guard against Ichiro’s infield hits the way they used to.
“I think it’s changed maybe a little bit,” he said. “Some teams still play him similar to what they did when he was first in the league. I think he’s lost maybe a little bit but not a whole lot when he’s up and running. When he first came into the league, if it was a two-hop ground ball to shortstop, he was safe. Now, maybe it’s three.
“But I find different teams play him a little bit different. Some teams play him way in, some teams play him left side in more than the right side. But again, it’s his ability to do different things, spread the ball around and make contact on tough pitches. He’s been a tough out his whole career.”
By the way, Ken Griffey Jr. has found Ichiro’s “tickle spot” and had him on the ground, during warm-ups, tickling him until Ichiro could be hurt crying out in laughter and pleading for him to stop. Tried to get a picture, but missed it. Still, I got the one below. Hopefully, the crew at Lookout Landing can add it to their collection of my shots.
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Wakamatsu says Ryan Rowland-Smith will throw a bullpen session today, then another in Seattle on Tuesday. After that, he’ll pitch for Class AAA Tacoma on Friday and then — if all goes well — make a start for the Mariners on June 11 in Baltimore. So, that’s another two weeks or so of shelf time for the lefty, but Wakamatsu, as he said yesterday, wants to get him up closer to 100 pitches.
“We’ll feel a lot better about his progression if he’s starting in that (AAA) game, not worry about the pitch count and assume we’ve covered all our bases,” he said,
The way it slots out, he’ll be stepping into the rotation spot currently occupied by tomorrow’s starter, Garrett Olson. So, this could indeed be a brief showcasing to the team for Olson, unless he goes out and throws a one-hitter or something.
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OK, I’ve got some questions answered for some of you.
First off, that whole thing last night about Yuniesky Betancourt getting a visit from third base coach Bruce Hines (photo above) in the middle of a plate appearance and then dropping down a sacrifice bunt with two strikes. Well, the Angels were in the middle of a mound conference and Hines felt it was as good a time as any to go up to Betancourt and deliver a message — what he called an “oral sign” rather than the regular hand gestures from third base.
“I said ‘Two strikes now, you’ve still got to get the bunt down’,” Hines said.
In other words, Betancourt was being told flat out that he had to get the job done because he hadn’t been able to on prior pitches. There would be no question of him swinging away because of the two-strike count.
“I wanted to make sure the message was distributed,” Hines said.
So, there.
As for Shawn Kelley , he likely won’t be back with the Mariners for another month or so. And that’s coming straight from him. He hopes to be throwing off a mound by about June 7 or 8 and then go out on a rehabilitation assignment a couple of weeks after that. As a reliever, he wouldn’t need as much time as a starter to get back, in theory. But we’ll see.
Kelley told me he’s back to functioning normally in day-to-day life since tearing his oblique muscle. That’s a painful thing to have happen and he was in agony initially.
“The first few days are tough,” he said, “because just sitting down, standing up, getting into bed, getting out of bed, sneezing, coughing, is just brutally painful.”
It didn’t help that Kelley has allergies and kept having to fight the urge to sneeze. When he lay in the trainer’s room initially, well-menaing teammates tried to cheer him up by cracking jokes and he had to fight back the urge to laught because that also hurt too much.
Kelley still doesn’t know exactly how he injured himself. He tweaked the side a bit on a prior pitch, but then, after the ensuing one, “It felt like I’d been shot. Or stabbed.”
Wakamatsu had some troubling news about lefty reliever Tyler Johnson , who is rehabbing with Class AAA Tacoma. It seems he’s having some arm issues and was throwing only 84 to 86 mph his last outing. That’s about three miles per hour down from where he’d been, so the team is mulling over whether to shut him down for now or rest him a day and send him back out.
As for Carlos Silva, rehabbing a shoulder problem. Wakamatsu told me he doesn’t see how the pitcher can make it back before the All-Star Break, We’ll see whether he gets back before August. Could be a tall order.
Many of you keep writing in to ask about Chad Cordero and Jeff Zimmerman. Both are still in extended spring training working at building up arm strength. Cordero was expected to be ready around June, but that’s not going to happen. His velocity has apparently stayed flat and is not climbing as the team expected it would. He’d gone home for the birth of his child and the team had hoped a few days’ rest doing that would bring the arm back stronger. But there’s been no positive news on that front since.
So, what you see in the bullpen could be what you get.
No, Brandon Morrow is not hurt. He threw 52 pitches the other day and got a few days to rest. Wakamatsu toyed with the idea of warming him up last night, but had Miguel Batista get up instead, opting to rest Morrow.



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