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July 7, 2009 at 9:01 AM

Jarrod Washburn sets the tone as Seattle Mariners prepare for B-Day

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Yes, that’s right folks, it’s B -Day for the Mariners.
That’s “B” as in Bedard.
The rest of this 2009 season should come into focus a little more clearly tonight as Erik Bedard steps back on the mound for the first time in a month. In fact, should the Mariners wind up doing anything post-season-wise this year, tonight could go down as a pivotal point in that quest.
For me, what Jarrod Washburn did last night should clarify something that’s been obvious for this entire season. He’s not the same pitcher he was for the first two years of his four-year contract here. The turnaround began roughly a year ago, then faded somewhat as injuries caught up to him last August. But then, he picked up this spring where he’d let off last summer, improved his sinker, then reaped the benefits of an improved outfield defense — the infield D, led by Chris Woodward, wasn’t too shabby in this game either — to take his game to the next level.
His last four starts have seen Washburn go at least seven innings on three occasions, while striking out 18 and walking only five. He’s delivered eight consecutive starts of at least six innings while allowing no more than four earned runs in any of them.
So, yeah, his trade value is high. But so is his real value to the Mariners right now. And you have to factor that in when considering what to do with Bedard.

The reality is, there have only been two starts all year when Washburn did not go at least six innings. As Don Wakamatsu noted last night, Washburn is an unbelievable competitor and a bigger presence in that clubhouse than he usually gets credit for from some quarters. He spared the bullpen big-time last night and really, has been doing so all season.
For me, the Washburn turnaround began last year when he stopped worrying about the lack of run support he was getting. All pitchers say they don’t care about it, but of course they do. Every starter wants to be a 15 or 20-game winner. And Washburn has been cursed. His string of no-luck outings, with his team scoring two runs or fewer, has impacted roughly 50 percent of his starts dating back to when he was in Anaheim in 2005. No pitcher should have to endure that. And precious few have in the history of this game. But I truly believe that, starting in May 2008, he began to blank that from his mind entirely.
I do think it was on his mind heavily in 2006 and 2007 as he tried to live up to the contract he signed and impress Seattle fans. Make a home here. All players want to do that. He’ll never admit it, but of course he did. You really think pitchers want to end up like Carlos Silva?
In some strange way, the fans turning on Washburn in large segments as they did early last year might have helped — might have given Washburn nothing more to lose. He’s never told me this, so it’s just me interpreting what I’ve seen. I can tell you that, by last May, Washburn was well aware of the venom being spewed towards him in many fan quarters. So, the PR battle was pretty much lost. At that point, what else would there be than to forget about the numbers entirely and simply go out and pitch your butt off every single day?
The cynical have suggested he was pitching to get traded last year and for a contract this year. You can never rule that out. But seriously, in May and early June of last year, the notion he could get traded for anybody was generally scoffed at. So, the whole “pitching to get traded” notion seems a little far fetched. Maybe by early July, sure. But overall, I tend to think that Washburn, scorned as he was by fans, simply decided to stop worrying about it and devoted 100 percent of his energy to doing what he could on the mound.
He suggested that much to me back in spring training this year.,
I may have erred last night in suggesting Bedard is the second-best pitcher on this team. Right now, Washburn is. Bedard will have to step up to the mound and prove he’s the No. 2 guy before he gets automatically annointed as such.
And my, won’t that make this a tough call for the M’s if he does?
In my book, it’s not that tough a call.
If Bedard can pitch well enough for other teams to give up something of substance for him, the Mariners will have to ask themselves when the next time will be that they can having a starting three like this in the rotation again. There is a reason contending teams want to trade for guys like Bedard and, yes, Washburn.
And right now, the Mariners are a contending team, whether most of you want to accept that or not.
The prospects, or young players you get for Bedard, or Washburn, could help the team in 2010. But we don’t know whether that team will have Russell Branyan back to hit 21 first-half home runs. Don’t know whether they will have Adrian Beltre’s first-half defense. Or Washburn’s first half. Or Bedard. In fact, there’s a good chance none of that will be around next year. So, all of that has to be considered.
I tend to agree in principle with Dave Cameron and his USS Mariner post of yesterday suggesting that the team could target a shortstop instead of a third baseman and move Jose Lopez to third and Yuniesky Betancourt to second. Not that this absolutely has to be the course, but I do agree the team should not limit its search to third base. I do think targetting a shortstop and shifting some players around is a plan that can work. Not because adding a third baseman would create a logjam in September and the playoffs once Beltre returns. Good teams love to have problems like those. You live with them in October and sort it all out later.
No, I like that idea because then it possibly does give you a young shortstop for the future, something this team needs. And a natural shortstop might give the M’s a better defensive allignment than an adequate glove at third coupled with the usual poor defense from Betancourt at shortstop.
But if Bedard or Washburn is the cost of acquiring such a shortstop, then I’m not in favor, for reasons already stated. This team will always be challenged offensively, regardless of which bat is added. It will need all of the pitching and defense it can muster, along with adequate — as opposed to miserable — offense to contend.
You could acquire a veteran shortstop, like Jack Wilson, but that’s a two-month solution because of his contract and leaves you searching for another shortstop in the off-season. Non-contending teams like the Pirates won’t want to take on a veteran like Miguel Batista. So, you’d have to deal a younger arm from the bullpen and assume a bloated contract. That’s why, for me, a potential deal for Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins works better because it’s a more rare chance for two contending teams to swap inflated contracts for pieces they need. It’s a good fit. Maybe the Mariners swallow some of the $1 million in remaining salary difference between Atkins and Batista (assuming the Rockies are interested in such a deal with Batista as a main component), but that’s preferable to giving up a young arm and eating about $3 million in remaining money difference as they would in a trade for Wilson.
You could get the Pirates to eat the contract money, but then you still give up a young arm for a guy who won’t be here in 2010. As opposed to swapping Batista for Atkins.
But I agree, there are many ways to tackle this problem.
And frankly, I wouldn’t guarantee Betancourt the second base job either. The way Woodward is playing, I’d make Betancourt fight with him for the right to get on the field. Woodward has done everything asked of him and more. He’s just not a guy a contending team can run out there every single day at a power-hitting third base position. But I do think he’s a guy who’s shown he deserves to be up here on this team.
A team that, as long as it keeps winning the majority of games it plays, should be going forward into August with a rotation fronted by Hernandez-Washburn-Bedard.

Comments | Topics: Chris Woodward


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