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July 28, 2010 at 4:16 PM

Ryan Rowland-Smith says he needs a “mental break” from things

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Didn’t realize it right away, but I was the first media person to speak to Ryan Rowland-Smith today after he emerged from a workout session. The first thing he did was apologize to me for the brevity of his answers after last night’s performance.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to speak to you guys,” he said. “It’s just that I couldn’t get the words out. I was all choked up when I tried to speak.”
Naturally, I told him he didn’t owe anyone an apology. It was quite clear to all of us that he was devastated by the night’s events and we didn’t need him to go on about it for several paragraphs at a time.
You see, these are the kinds of things that a lot of people, including teammates, media and fans, like about Rowland-Smith. It’s why they pull for him to succeed. He’s a down to earth guy. I remember introducing myself to him for the first time in the visitors’ clubhouse in Minneapolis back in 2007. He’d been up a little while, we’d nodded hello a few times, but never spoken. Rowland-Smith wasn’t speaking much to anyone in those days, given his status as a raw rookie who was somewhat awed by everything going on around him. You have to remember, he came from Australia, where making it to MLB is an enormous longshot for anyone playing baseball.
We started speaking and he told me he hadn’t met any of the other media guys yet. He’d just talk like a regular guy, asking questions about me, my life, where I was from, that kind of stuff. It wasn’t like a ballplayer nervously awaiting an inquisition from a reporter. I’d later learn that he’d gotten a lot of that from his father, a celebrity trainer of sorts in Australia, who told him to never consider himself above anybody. Rowland-Smith was drilled by his father to always sign autographs, make time for fans, and never to “big league” anybody no matter how successful he became.
And now, three years after I first met him, I can honestly say he hasn’t changed. Not a whole lot of guys I can say that about.
And now, unfortunately, he’s hurting big. He knows his career is hanging in the balance and that he has to improve or he might not get another rotation shot. Nor too many more big league chances. This game is too fleeting.
“I know I’ve got my girlfriend, my family and friends and a pretty great life,” he said today. “But people have to understand, there’s this part of my life, being a pitcher, that’s one of the most important things in my life as well. It’s what I do. And when it isn’t going well, it just hurts me so bad inside.”
Rowland-Smith has done all the positive thinking he can this season. He’s tried to relax, to look on the bright side, to keep working and to hope for better things to come.
Now, he just needs a break.
“It’s a physical break, yes, but for me, it’s also a mental break and I think I need that right now,” he said. “I need to step back a bit, see where I’m at and take it all in.”
Yeah, his back was hurting last night. He felt he might have been a little dehydrated, which contributed to it. And the back has, he said, been “niggling” at him for a while.
But make no mistake. Lots of pitchers feel nagging pains in their backs or arms as seasons go on by. This gives the M’s a reason to put Rowland-Smith on the DL and not have to risk losing him to a waiver claim if they try to send him to Class AAA.
This way, he can continue to do some work, without getting wallopped by big league hitters. And give himself the mental break he needs.
The way he’d been going, every game was almost a life-or-death struggle for him to prove he belonged in the rotation. Each mistake just compounded the pressure.
“You get off to a tough start and then it just snowballs,” he said.
Now, he can free his mind a bit and get back to work on the side.
As I wrote last night, he’s still got a ton of supporters hoping he’ll succeed. But he could not be allowed back out there to face big league hitters after what we witnessed last night, as good a guy as he is.

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Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said Luke French will be available to pitch tonight and the next few days if another starter gets blown out early. French is also a candidate to pitch in Rowland-Smith’s spot on Sunday, as long as he doesn’t have too much extra work leading up to that date.
French was supposed to start for AAA Tacoma last night, so the team has some flexibility here.
He was pulled from last night’s start, then, midway through the game, travel arrangements began being made for him after Rowland-Smith imploded. French woke up at 3 a.m. and took a 6 a.m. flight out here.
“I’ve just been continuing to work and refine some of the things I’ve been doing all year,” said French, who was up here a few weeks back, made one appearance, then was sent back down to AAA.
Franklin Gutierrez is back after taking last night off for unspecified family reasons.
Jose Lopez is still dayt-to-day with that hamstring tightness.
“It’s more of a knot than a pull,” Wakamatsu said. “So, he came in today and it felt pretty good.”



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