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June 23, 2009 at 5:24 PM

Workload of Seattle Mariners bullpen is on Don Wakamatsu’s mind

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We can see Yuniesky Betancourt, above, getting some fielding tips from coach Bruce Hines during today’s batting practice. The Mariners can’;t afford any mistakes this week with a chance to pad their record against the woeful San Diego Padres. You don’t like to look ahead, but anything less than two wins out of three against the Padres would have to be considered a colossal disappointment. Adrian Beltre and Russell Branyan feel better, as does Ken Griffey Jr. All are in tonight’s lineup.
And fewer mistakes means starting pitchers stay in games longer and the bullpen is spared from throwing three or four innings per night. We mentioned earlier today that the Mariners have four guys, David Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Sean White and Miguel Batista, on pace to set career highs (as relievers in Batista’s case) for innings pitched and appearances made. They are also being used in consecutive games more so than other relievers within the division.
I asked manager Don Wakamatsu moments ago about whether he’s concerned about whether the numbers are something he’s got to be concerned with. Or whether, as relief pitchers with major league experience, this is just a natural evolution for some of these guys. Batista, obviously, is nearing the end of his career. But the other three are more or less starting out and will still have plenty of “firsts” that come naturally without necessarily setting off alarm bells.
“I think it’s on any manager’s mind,” he said, “the use early in a season shows up late. So, there’s times when we’ve been fairly careful. Like with Aardsma, if it’s three (in a row) or four out of five days, we make sure he doesn’t pitch that day. I know, just philosophy-wise, there are other managers that will go along with that. And (pitching coach) Rick (Adair) has reminded me (of that) every day.”
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Wakamatsu said the staff had some concerns that starting pitcher Jason Vargas might be tiring out. That was before he bounced back nicely in his last outing.
“You see some fatigue in these guys a little bit,” Wakamatsu said. “When you get to that point, you’d like to be able to back them off a little bit.”
And a big part of doing that could involve Shawn Kelley, who threw a simulated game of 33 pitches to live hitters earlier today. The plan now is for him to throw another bullpen on Thursday, then go to Arizona to pitch in some low level minor league games Saturday and Monday, than head out on a rehabilitation assignment with Class AAA Tacoma for two or three outings.
After that, he’d be recalled by the Mariners for their final homestand prior to the All-Star Break.
“It felt 100 percent normal,” Kelley said of the simulated game, adding that it was great to get the “feedback” of hitters reacting to his pitches.
Kelley hasn’t pitched in a game since the first week in May. So, this will wind up being a two-month layoff for a guy among the most effective of all Mariners relievers at getting lefthanded hitters out.
“It felt like it was a whole season waiting,” he said of the layoff. “And I’m still waiting. Until I get back here, out on a mound for Seattle, it’s still rehabbing.”
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Anyhow, we know what happened with the Mariners and their bullpen two years ago. I asked Lowe, a member of that 2007 bullpen, whether it matters that this team does not have as many arms who are first-year full-timers this time around. Not like Brandon Morrow, Sean Green, Eric O’Flaherty and Lowe himself to some extent back in 2007. Whether experience can help when it comes to pushing past personal milestones for workloads.
Lowe feels it does make a big difference.
“In the minor leagues, they always had a thing where if you threw two days in a row, they’d make you take a day or two off,” he said.
Not so in the majors.
“And that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “When you get up here, your arm has to get used to it.”
Lowe said he’s made the adjustments needed to push himself further than ever before.
“I think a lot of it is just mental,” he said. “Knowing that you’ve done it and you’ve kind of been down that road before. We’ve been in a lot of one-run ballgames. I think it takes a toll on you emotionally, but you’ve got to bounce back. Some nights, if you’re not feeling your best, you’ve just got to get in there, get three quick groundballs and get out. You just get through it.”
Kenji Johjima is to catch tonight for Tacoma, then DH tomorrow and will try to be behind the plate for nine innings on Thursday. After that, he could join the Mariners on their road trip.
Wakamatsu said Johjima will still be considered the No. 1 catcher but that Rob Johnson has earned more playing time and will be used more than just once every five or six days. Could be an interesting situation to monitor. Johnson’s catcher’s ERA of 2.65, still a highly debated stat, is the best in all of baseball at the moment among regular catchers.
Johjima’s is 5.00.
On Ryan Rowland-Smith, Wakamatsu said he had the option of bringing him up here to use in the Seattle bullpen. But he’d rather the lefty stay in Class AAA and work on logging enough innings to start once he gets back up here.
“The plan with Rowland-Smith is to let him pitch down there,” he said. “We don’t know which direction we’re headed in as far as the pitching. With Morrow, that’s a day-to-day thing. We still see Rowland-Smith as a big part of our future. He will more than likely be up here later in the year. It’s just a matter of letting him develop confidence with his pitches and building his pitch counts up.”
By the way, I spoke to Chris Woodward today and he said his groin is feeling better, though not 100 percent. He said he told the coaching staff he could play, but isn’t in tonight’s lineup. Turns out he hurt in leading off first base after getting on early in Sunday’s game.
“The dirt was wet and at one point, I broke for second and kind of slipped,” he said. “That’s when i hurt it.”
The lineups:
Padres (30-38)
—————————-
Gwynn, rf
Eckstein, 2b
Hairston, cf
A. Gonzalez, 1b
Kouzmanoff, 3b
Headley, lf
Blanks, dh
Blanco, c
Cabrera, ss
—————————-
Gaudin, rhp
Mariners (35-34)
—————————-
Ichiro, rf
Branyan, 1b
Beltre, 3b
Griffey, dh
Gutierrez, cf
Balentien, lf
Johnson, c
Betancourt, ss
Cedeno, 2b
—————————-
Olson, lhp
Umpires:
HP – Angel Hernandez
1B – Randy Marsh (crew chief)
2B – Marvin Hudson
3B – Lance Barksdale

Comments | Topics: Chris Woodward

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