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February 13, 2011 at 1:18 PM

Closer battle unlikely to involve younger arms

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Don’t forget to watch our 2011 debut of Geoff Baker Live! tonight at 6 p.m. PT.
This might sound like it goes without saying, but don’t expect Dan Cortes or Josh Lueke to be vying for the closer role that could be vacated for most of April by a rehabbing David Aardsma. I spoke to Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis this morning and he told me that while he hasn’t ruled anybody out just yet, it’s highly unlikely one of the younger, untested arms will be looked at with any seriousness.
“You can’t rule out a younger guy that we have with the staff,” Willis said, “but I don’t think it’s fair to be pushing an inexperienced guy into that role right away.”
In other words, if Cortes or Lueke just blows everyone away and appear ready to step in come April 1, the team will give them a hard look. Otherwise, the experienced arms will get the nod.
Willis doesn’t want to handicap the race right now, but three names he mentioned were: Brandon League, Manny Delcarmen and Chris Ray. Delcarmen and Ray both saw time near the back of the bullpen for Boston and Baltimore, respectively, and can bring some heat.
Ray was the Orioles’ closer in 2006 before being sidelined partway through 2007 by Tommy John ligament transplant surgery on his right elbow. Ray missed all of 2008, then struggled with his mechanics in his 2009 comeback year.
He felt better last season, splitting time between the Rangers and Giants. Ray was dealt to San Francisco in the Bengie Molina swap and wound up getting a World Series ring despite being left off the post-season roster.
“I was a good time,” Ray said of the playoff run. “It was like, for the first time, when you do something for 180 days, you feel like it’s all paid off in the end.”
Ray still throws about 94 mph on a consistent basis, but says he’s a changed pitcher since before the surgery.


“I’ve had to learn to pitch a little bit more,” he said. “When you struggle like I did in 2009 when I came back, it’s not the same as when you’re first starting out and trying to blow everyone away with your stuff. You have to show them something different.”
Ray began mixing in a two-seam fastball more often as an alternative to his four-seamer. He really felt like he got his mechanics back under control last season.
“Last year, I broke more bats throwing inside to right handed hitters with my two-seamer than I have at any other time in my career,” he said.
Ray also began working in a curveball to a repertoire that also includes a slider and changeup.
Like Delcarmen, he began his career as a highly-touted fireballer. Now, he’ll try to resurrect that career with the Mariners.

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