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August 30, 2011 at 11:39 PM

The fine line between rebuilding and putting a major league product on the field

If you missed Geoff Baker Live! earlier (see replay above), we did a rundown on the possible September callup situation for the team. We began it by playing a clip from manager Eric Wedge. After, I did a rundown of some potential callups and obstacles the team will face getting them playing time. A viewer asked me what the team should do with Casper Wells going forward. Another viewer asked whether the M’s need to bring in another catcher this winter. Finally, here’s a loaded question i took a stab at. What do the M’s need to do in order to contend next year?
You’ve got to hand it to the Mariners. Through all of the rebuilding they’ve done this year, they still put a product on the field that competed for the division lead for half a season and has stayed competitive night after night whether they ultimately win or lose.
This was not one of those times. This was a game that reminded me of the home opener, where the Mariners were blown off the field by the Cleveland Indians.
That’s what this 13-6 loss to the Los Angeles Angels felt like tonight.
The difference between the two games? That first loss in April was by a Mariners team still struggling with confidence issues and seeking an identity.
This game was all about a rookie pitcher who was called up because of unusual circumstances and for the second straight game, raised doubts about his ability to compete at this level.
There is a big difference. Because as much as these last two months are all about player development and figuring out the future, the Mariners are still charging major league ticket prices and can’t force their paying fans to sit through too many more games that are 12-2 in the fifth inning because they put a pitcher out there who doesn’t belong.
Yes, that’s harsh.
But so far, in two big league outings, Anthony Vasquez hasn’t shown he belongs in the majors. He isn’t some stud first-round pick who figures to crack the rotation by 2013. He’s a late-round pick from 2009 who did a rapid climb through the ranks and was rushed up to the majors before he was really ready so the team could try this six-man rotation thing and spare Michael Pineda and friends a few more innings of work.
It was a nice idea. But it can’t be executed this way.
This team can’t punt games every sixth day by running out a guy who isn’t major league ready and won’t be any time soon. Vasquez looked just as bad in Cleveland last week but some luck and run support hid some of the blemishes. Not this time.
Can he get better? In theory, I suppose anyone can. But his back is now against the wall. As much as the M’s have turned the second half of 2011 into a tryout camp for 2012, they have to be bonafide tryouts. Fans have started to buy into the rebuilding for now. But you can’t abuse that trust by forcing them to watch minor leaguers who clearly aren’t ready.
The M’s have to figure out whether Vasquez will be ready anytime soon and if the answer is no, they can’t keep trotting him out there to get blown apart. At least, not at home. In front of another team’s paying fans, maybe, which is why he could indeed get one more start.
I asked Eric Wedge whether that would happen.
“We’re going to plan on staying with the six-man (rotation),” Wedge said. “But right now, we’ve got to step back and evaluate.”
Look, this isn’t a clarion call to run Vasquez out of town. It’s not his fault he got promoted this quickly and he did enjoy some pretty good stats in the minors the past two seasons. Maybe some time in the bullpen would enable him to work some things out.
But guys who start in the bigs two years out of college tend to be the top-end, higher strikeout types for a reason — they can get away with mistakes because of overpowering stuff. Not the soft-throwing, location guys who need to develop their accuracy and ability to read hitters over years of professional seasoning.
“It’s just going back to the basics,” Vasquez said. “Pretty much getting ahead of guys, executing pitches, keeping the ball down in the zone. I think if I do that, I’ll have a better outing.”


Well, yes, that’s a part of the problem. The other part is, Vasquez has never faced hitters quite the caliber of big leaguers before and the slow-moving stuff he got away with in the minors isn’t working up here.
It will never work until he takes his command — and probably some velocity — up a few notches.
“He’s never overpowered anyone by any means,” Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said. “But he’ll change eye levels, change speeds in and out. And I think the one thing we’ve seen in these two starts – which I just talked to him about – is that he hasn’t pitched a good game for him.”
Part of it is probably nerves. I asked Vasquez about that and he bravely gave the right answers about needing to make a mental adjustment.
“A little bit of it is nerves,” Vasquez said. “The first time up here, you try to get out of the gate the right way and it just hasn’t happened. But it’s a game of adjustments and as much as you make physical adjustments at any level, there has to be a mental adjustment too. You’ve got to be able to stay strong and stay positive mentally. That usually results in being able to relax and perform to the best of your ability.”
Look, as I said, none of this is really Vasquez’s fault. If anyone is to blame, it’s the folks who sent him to a major league mound before he had the ability to throw his kind of stuff to major league hitters without getting crushed.
If he gets another chance to demonstrate that he does indeed belong, it will undoubtedly be his final one. He’ll either make it or break it with that and he’ll do it on the road.
Because the M’s have already asked their home fans to put up with a lot at Safeco Field this season. They can’t — unless their hand is forced by injury — ask those fans to pay for major league tickets to a game that will be dictated by a guy they know isn’t ready.

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