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March 18, 2011 at 4:27 PM

Mariners prepare to have “bullpen day” tomorrow to try to sort out crowded field of candidates

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That’s Matt Tuiasosopo in the photo above striking out with the bases loaded in the ninth against former M’s farmhand Kam Mickolio to end the game. Seattle takes an 8-5 loss after a ninth-inning implosion by closer Brandon League.
An error by Josh Wilson helped cause Seattle’s undoing that frame, but so did three walks by League. With the season opening two weeks from today, the M’s likely have the most unsettled bullpen in the majors.
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You have League closing, then a bunch of question marks. Today, League was one of the questions. But he’s typically been OK once games start to count.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he has a limited idea of who is going to enter a game before League works the ninth.
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“We just don’t have them yet,” he said. “We’re still working on it, I think that’s going to work all the way to the final day of camp. There’s still some uncertainty and obviously, with the competition, there are just so many roles open right now.
“We just have to wait and let it all play out. I think that when you look at some of these non-roster guys and even some of the younger kids, sometimes it just takes one outing for it to click, or for them to find it. We just have to keep running them out there until we see something that makes sense for us.”
To help that process along, Wedge has scheduled a bunch of relief pitchers to work tomorrow’s game from start to finish.
“We’re kind of using tomorrow as a bullpen day,” he said. “And giving some of our bullpen guys a chance to face their “A” lineup early on in the game. It’s at that point in time in camp where we need to do that. We’ve got quite a few guys there who are just on the cusp, on the fringe. We really have not made any decisions yet with the exception of a couple of the obvious guys. We need to keep running them out there and seeing them. The best way to evaluate them is for them to face big league hitters.”

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Wedge admitted this is far more than he’d usually be using relievers in key situations against big leaguers early on.
But it’s tough to evaluate guys when they’re facing Class AA hitters in the late innings. Also tough to find innings for all the relievers who need them, which is why Garrett Olson got put on waivers before being claimed by Pittsburgh.
“Here’s the thing,” Wedge said. “Obviously, roster spots for us are at a premium and we just didn’t feel he was going to break camp with us.”
Olson’s strike-throwing issues were the number one thing working against him.
He’s not the only pitcher to have trouble commanding the zone this spring. The M’s desperately need two or three of their bullpen candidates to step up and show something these final 12 days or so, or they’ll be entering the season with fingernails a bit short.
Today, we saw Denny Bautista and his 13.50 ERA hold the D-Backs to one hit over a scoreless inning while striking out two. Bautista had a rough start to camp but has been steadily improving.
Aaron Laffey and Jamey Wright also had a hit apiece against them in working scoreless innings. It’s possible that both could be in the final bullpen.
Franklin Gutierrez sat out a second straight day with a stiff back but is expected to be in tomorrow, while Jack Wilson had a full workout after skipping Thursday’s game for personal reasons. Wilson is also due back in there tomorrow.
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Milton Bradley was real fired up after his home run in the third inning. He could be seen giving some hard high-fives to a number of teammates.
“He’s working hard,” Wedge said. “He’s a competitor. He just needs to point that in the right direction. He’s a perfectionist at heart too and sometimes that works against him. But he’s had a good camp. We just need to keep him on line.”
Jason Vargas gave up his first runs of the spring today, but otherwise looked fairly good in throwing 67 pitches over five innings. Vargas allowed four runs — three earned — while fanning three and walking none.
“I’m just trying to stay consistent throughout however many innings we’re out there,” he said. “Whether it be five innings, or six or seven. I’m just trying to stay consistent.”
Wedge said Vargas “is a great example of a young man who really trusts his stuff. He lets his defense work behind him. Works ahead, tries to stay ahead. They got a little bit aggressive on him there and got to him. But he made some adjustments. He’s still throwing the ball well.”
The bullpen? Well, not so much. Needs work. We’ll see it again tomorrow.



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