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June 1, 2009 at 7:22 AM

Bullpen burnout forced Mariners to stick with David Aardsma

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Yes, I know yesterday’s game was painful to watch. We can see here how, in the ninth, Vladimir Guerrero gets a little lucky, blooping an RBI hit to right that makes it an 8-7 game.
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For me, that hit keyed the inning. It forced the M’s to walk Torii Hunter, because you just can’t let him beat you for the umpteenth time. I’d rather take my chances with Juan Rivera. Unfortunately for the Mariners, closer David Aardsma walked him to force in the tying run.
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Anyhow, let’s look at why the Mariners left Aardsma in there.
We’ve already discussed it on yesterday’s show, but Aardsma was working in his fourth consecutive game. He did have a day off on Thursday, but still, that’s a heavy workload.
What were the alternatives in the seven-man bullpen? Well, you take out Chris Jakubauskas because he’s the long guy. Denny Stark? He’s not a guy the team has been using when it’s ahead and I don’t think he’s at the stage now where you want him out there in the ninth. A complete deal breaker. Mop-up duty for now. Plus, you need somebody to send out there for extra innings. So, that leaves Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Sean White. Miguel Batista and Brandon Morrow.
Let’s look at Morrow for a second. He pitched Saturday night, giving up two runs. Yes, the team likes what he’s doing with that plant step, but the results haven’t been there. He threw 52 pitches in a game in Oakland, needed a few days off, then gave up two insurance runs in the eighth on Saturday in a 23-pitch outing. Not really the guy you want out there in the ninth. He just lost his closer role, remember?
Batista threw 1 1/3 innings, yielding a run. Not great, but the M’s had a three-run lead, so it was OK. He’d also thrown 29 pitches to go with his 20 the night before. So, the team pushed him as far as he was going to go. he was done.
White had worked the Friday game, throwing 11 pitches over 2/3 of an inning, and also the prior game in Oakland — with a day off in-between — throwing 11 pitches over 1 1/3 innings. On Sunday, he threw 24 more pitches over 1 1/3 innings, keeping up his outstanding job. But he was done. Bringing him out in the ninth would have been pushing things too far.
So, you’ve got Aardsma or Lowe.
Lowe had worked the prior two nights, not allowing a hit or a run. But this would have been his third time in a row. The team has been conscious of trying to get him rest because he tends to lose command at a moment’s notice. He’d worked four of five games on the last homestand, throwing 21 and 28 pitches in the final two games and yileding five runs in that Saturday night affair against San Francisco. He threw only one game in Oakland. blowing another save, then had a day off. But then, he’d worked both games in Anaheim and was depleted. Don Wakamatsu felt he was more depleted than Aardsma and didn’t want to use him at all.
So, we got to see Aardsma again. And it was a disaster.
What could have gone differently? Two things come to mind.
Garrett Olson could have gone seven innings. I know, it’s asking a lot from a spot starter. But he had an 8-1 lead and was at roughly 60 pitches to start the sixth. That’s why he was left out there when a few baserunners got on. He had some runs to give up. One or two, it would have been fine and he could have started the seventh with an 8-3 lead. But he let things come undone in the span of about three pitches. Batista was warming up in the bullpen, but Olson didn’t leave him time to get warmed up. Like I said, it all happened quick. With a pitch count that low, and the bullpen nearly gassed, you can’t pull a starter at 60 pitches because things get a little hot with an 8-1 lead. I thought Wakamatsu managed that inning correctly. Olson had to go deeper and did not get the job done, plain and simple. Had he gone seven, you could have had Batista and White close out the game with a four or five run lead.
The next big issue was the lack of add-on runs in the eighth. If Ichiro scores from third with fewer than two out, it’s a three-run lead heading to the ninth. Or maybe more. A three or four-run lead is infinitely easier to protect than a two-run advantage. Even a struggling, gassed pitcher can fluke off three outs — Aardsma did get two of them — before a team scores four or five runs to win the game. That didn’t happen. Once they got two to tie it, the Angels relaxed and waited for their pitch. No hurried swings. A different story if it’s a three-run deficit you’re trying to overcome.
And that, friends, is why they lost this one. The bitterest kind of loss to swallow. The starters need to go deep, something tonight’s pitcher, Jarrod Washburn, knows all too well. He took some poundings for the team last year and may have to do it again tonight if he doesn’t pitch well.



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