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May 31, 2009 at 11:44 AM

Mariners reliever Brandon Morrow: a “step” in the right direction

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We’ll have Geoff Baker Live! today, coming up as a post-game show at 5 p.m. Pacific time.
You can see by looking at the ballpark, on another overcast day, that it’s one of those “kids” days here. They are parading around the field as I write this, meaning the Mariners are hitting in the indoor cages. Speaking of “kids”, I know many of you are concerned about Brandon Morrow, who gave up the two eighth inning runs last night that appeared to sink his team until the miracle comeback in the ninth.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said immediately after the game that, results aside, he was pleased with some of what he saw out of Morrow. He repeated that contention this morning, going into greater detail. It seems that Morrow has been working in the bullpen on changing the landing step he takes when he delivers a pitch.
“You look at the results and you’re not exactly happy about them, but he’s making some adjustments down in the bullpen that I’m real happy about,” Wakamatsu said. “A lot of that has to do with his finish and his delivery and the front leg landing in a controlled position and I thought he did that extremely well yesterday.
“There were a couple of balls, obviously the one that Vlad (Guerrero) hit was down and in — it was a tough pitch. And then the ground ball to the right, if it was a little bit over he probably has a double play. I saw better command out of it. I saw better angle out of it. It’s a step in the right direction.”
I know many of you are rolling your eyes right now. Can’t blame you for being in a “show me” mood with Morrow. But remember, all the problems he was having as a closer relate to command issues. If this process helps improve that command, then it is indeed a positive step. The balancing act is getting Morrow to work on that in games without torching those contests.
“Yesterday was the first day I even did it in the bullpen,” Morrow said. “I can tell the difference, but it’s tough to go out there and use it in a game for the first time when you’ve hardly tested it out before.”
That said, he felt good using it. He told me he would never have tried it in a game had he not felt comfortable enought in the bullpen prior. All that said, he’s still disappointed in the results he garnered, saying it’s never a good thing to give up two critical runs in a situation like that.
As I said, it’s a work in progress. And a question mark whether we’ll see him back in the closer role at any point in June.
The Mariners have a new catcher in there today as Guillermo Quiroz makes his 2009 debut in the majors. Quiroz was a backup with the Orioles all of last season and caught today’s M’s starter Garrett Olson (photo below) three times while the latter was a Baltimore starter.
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The pair also teamed up as a battery once in Class AAA Tacoma this season.
“It makes it easier, yes,” Quiroz said. “You have a guy that you’ve caught before and you know what he does. We’ve been talking the last couple of days about the hitters.”
Quiroz says he’s seen changes in Olson from last year to this one.
“I think he’s become a little more mature,” he said. “And I think his control has gotten better, just in the way he’s been spotting his pitches. Last year, he went through a stretch where he’d lose control and it really started to hurt him.”
Wakamatsu likened Quiroz’s hitting to that of Jamie Burke — meaning it needs some work. That’s why Quiroz had yet to appear in a game last week, spending his time instead working with hitting coach Alan Cockrell behind the scenes.
“He’s a guy that uses his body a lot, not enough hands,” Wakamatsu said. “Those are the things that, as he starts to do that, we’ll see some more contact.”
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Many of you have written in to ask why Wakamatsu hasn’t moved Russell Branyan to the clean-up spot, a fair question given Ken Griffey Jr.’s 0-for-19 slump on this trip and overall lack of power this season. Griffey is back in there at No. 4 this afternoon.
So, I put the question to Wakamatsu and he told me Branyan just doesn’t have a good feel for the role.
“We put him there for a little while and he literally, at that point, didn’t feel very comfortable in there. He felt that he had to do a lot more. We’ve talked about trying to just keep guys having good years. He’s pretty comfortable in that five-hole and it’s not his fault. He keeps producing in that spot and I’d rather not change that at this point. Who knows a month from now.”
Part of the problem is that, despite Branyan’s veteran status, he almost has to be treated like a new player.
“Absolutely,” Wakamatsu agreed. “Just because it is a new role for him in a sense, where he’s had the ability to sustain it and be in that lineup over a long period of time.”
Just getting used to seeing his name in there every day, even after a bad game, has taken some getting used to for Branyan. He’s never been an everyday guy before, or had this kind of success for so long.
“We’ve got to get him to that belief system,” Wakamatsu said. “And I think he’s starting to believe in himself.”
The lineups: (brought to you by cards4life)
RF Ichiro
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Ken Griffey Jr.
1B Russell Branyan
2B Jose Lopez
C Guillermo Quiroz
LF Endy Chavez
CF Franklin Gutierrez
LHP Garrett Olson
3B Chone Figgins
RF Bobby Abreu
DH Vladimir Guerrero
CF Torii Hunter
LF Juan Rivera
1B Robb Quinlan
C Mike Napoli
2B Howie Kendrick
SS Erick Aybar
RHP Ervin Santana
p.s. The way it works in the majors, folks, is that the managers set their lineup when they feel like it. Sometimes, it’s put out early, sometimes, due to injury, it comes out late. Whining about it won’t get it up here any quicker. Understood? Good.

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