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February 6, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Mariners gain some experience, back-end bullpen help with two signings

The Mariners not only added Taiwanese left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo to their midst, as expected, earlier today, but then tacked on veteran right hander Shawn Camp. Both have been given one-year major league deals by the Mariners, meaning they will very likely be on the squad that leaves spring training.
For a team that had no real southpaws in the bullpen when the winter began — other than long relief types — the Mariners now have multiple. Between George Sherrill and Kuo, the team has lefties who can deal with both situational and set-up roles.
I spoke to GM Jack Zduriencik about this today and he said Sherrill has always been seen as more of a lefty-on-lefty specialist.
“You don’t want to pigeon-hole him into that, but that’s more of what he is,” Zduriencik said.
Kuo, meanwhile, is a guy who has demonstrated strikeout ability against both lefties and righties when he’s right. In other words, he could make for an eighth-inning set-up type for closer Brandon League.
The thing to watch with quo is his health — both physical and mental.
There have been a plethora of arm surgeries over the years and then two well-documented cases of “the yips”. That’s a type of anxiety disorder where players become unable to complete routine mechanical tasks. In Kuo’s case, he started launching balls out of the bullpen while warming up in 2009, then sent a ball soaring over the second baseman’s head last year and could not throw a strike subsequently while warming up in the bullpen during a game.
The Dodgers placed him on the DL after that.
Photo Credit: AP

Kuo was an all-star in 2010 between the two episodes and the Mariners hope he returns to that form.
“The people we talked to felt pretty good about it,” Zduriencik said of where Kuo is at right now in dealing with the issue. “They felt he was doing pretty well. I spoke to him personally and got a good feeling about where he’s at.”
Zduriencik has not seen Kuo throw since his struggles last year. So, it should make for an interesting first few bullpen sessions down at spring training.
If Kuo is back to full health, he could be an intriguing piece.
Mariners fans might remember Camp as the Blue Jays relief pitcher tagged with the blown save last year when Seattle rallied from 7-0 down the final few innings to beat Toronto 8-7 on a walk-off hit by Luis Rodriguez.
His strikeout rate has been falling the past several seasons, so it remains to be seen how effectively he can be used and where. But he appeared in a team-high 67 games with Toronto and his groundball rate of 67.3 percent since 2004 ranks 11th best among AL relievers over that period. He was at 66.1 percent last year.
Camp and League teamed together for two seasons in Toronto in 2008 and 2009.
“It’s going to be a young bullpen, so the fact you have two veteran guys…certainly adds a little to the equation,” Zduriencik said.
Actually, the bullpen is no longer all that young.
League turns 29 in March and will be entering his final year before free agency, Sherrill is in his mid-30s, as is Camp while Kuo is 30. As for younger arms, the M’s still do have Tom Wilhelmsen entering just his second big league season and Shawn Kelley vying for a late-inning role while fellow youngster Charlie Furbush has a shot in long relief.



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