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February 4, 2014 at 10:44 PM

Previewing Peoria: Plenty of questions for the Mariners’ unproven bullpen

Another day, another preview.

Let’s take a look at the bullpen because if we have to discuss its failures of last year, we might as well do it early and move on. Of course, the Mariners could add a few arms to this group in the coming days. But we’ll go with what we know so far.

The bullpen wasn’t good last year. In fact, it was pretty awful – probably second worst in the American League behind the Astros. There were injuries, failures, overuse and poor results.

relievers individual stats

Those numbers aren’t pretty. Need more?

relief splits

The Mariners tied a club record with 13 walk-off losses, and led MLB with 27 losses in the final at-bat of the game. There were also 15 extra-inning losses – a new club record – including the final eight in a row.

The bullpen did lead MLB with 535 strikeouts and ranked second with 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings. But it also had 224 walks – third most in baseball.

It goes beyond stats.

Coming into last season, if you would have told me that Yoervis Medina would have made 63 appearances and was closing games for a period and that Danny Farquhar would be the closer by the end of the season, I’d have questioned your sobriety or sanity.

But that’s what happened. Medina made the second most appearances and Farquhar converted 16 of 18 saves to end the season.

Where did it all go wrong?

Well, it started with the injury to Stephen Pryor, who went suffered a strained lat on April 14 and never pitched again. Within a few weeks of the season starting, the Mariners’ top set-up man was gone.

And then there was the implosion of closer Tom Wilhelmsen. After a brilliant start where he went 11-for-11 in save opportunities, allowing one run in 18 innings pitched, it all fell apart when he dropped the third out while covering first base against the Cleveland Indians on May 20. Then this little stretch of games followed and he lost his closing job.

wilhelmsen 2

Eventually he got it back, but then lost it again and was even sent to Triple A Tacoma to find his fastball command and lost confidence.

Besides Wilhelmsen, the failures of Carter Capps, who was traded to the Marlins in the offseason, was a major factor. The hard-throwing right-hander could never find consistent secondary stuff to compliment his high-90s fastball. Left-handed hitters abused him. The splits were so dramatic.

capps

He was sent down to Triple A Tacoma on July 11 and was called back up in August.

Pryor being hurt and Wilhelmsen and Capps struggling led to call-ups and shuffling of roles. Oliver Perez, who was posted a 1.39 ERA and .207 batting average against in his first 35 appearances, ran out of gas. Medina was a nice surprise. He showed flashes of dominance. But his tendency to allow base runners to start innings and the increased workload also were issues. Farquhar was solid contributor and his strikeout percentages were outstanding. Some people were frustrated by Furbush, but he was very good when used properly. Unfortunately, Eric Wedge put him in some difficult situations because of the inexperience of other relievers.

As we head into this spring, there is a lot of unknowns. I mean, who would pencil in as having a spot in the bullpen for certain – Furbush, Farquhar and Medina.

Here’s a list of the invited “relievers”

Right-handed pitchers

  • Jonathan Arias
  • Logan Bawcom
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Logan Kensing
  • Stephen Kohlscheen
  • Dominic Leone
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Hector Noesi
  • Stephen Pryor
  • Ramon Ramirez
  • Chance Ruffin
  • Carson Smith
  • Tom Wilhelmsen

Left-handed pitchers

  • Joe Beimel
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Nick Hill
  • Bobby LaFromboise
  • Lucas Luetge

Of the right-handers, it will be interesting to see if Medina’s command will improve. The Mariners shut him down from winter ball because of the increased usage. He has that heavy sinking fastball. Obviously, Wilhelmsen has the talent to be effective. But where he is with his command and confidence will be watched closely. Could he take back his closer spot from Farquhar? Will he ever be that same dominant force that we saw at the end of 2012?

Pryor, who had surgery at the end of last season, will be throwing by spring training, but likely won’t be ready by opening day.

Ramon Ramirez has 423 big league relief appearances. At age 32, he may have something left to give the Mariners. Noesi is Noesi. He’s out of Triple A options, meaning he’d have to make the 25-man roster out of spring. I don’t see it happening. He has talent, but just simply can’t find ways to use it and be effective.

Bawcom, Smith and Leone are all possibilities. Bawcom was the Rainiers’ pitcher of the year. He led all of the Mariners’ minor leaguers with 21 saves in 24 opportunites. He held opponents scoreless in 40 of 51 appearances. He had 64 strikeouts and 24 walks in 65 innings pitched with a 2.91 ERA.

Smith and Leone will try to do what Shawn Kelley did in 2009 and jump from Double A Jackson to the big leagues out of spring.

Smith was the Mariners’ 2013 minor league relief pitcher of the year, going 1-3 with 15 saves and a 1.80 ERA in 44 appearances. He allowed just five earned runs in his last 32 relief appearances and no runs in his last 16 2/3 innings pitched. Smith was a non-roster invitee to spring training last year and pitched well in that opportunity.

Leone is a hard-throwing college right-hander that the Mariners drafted in the 16th round of 2012 draft out of Clemson. He went 1-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 16 appearances with Jackson after being promoted from Class A High Desert. Leone struck out 17 batters in 18 innings with five walks.

With Furbush slotted into the bullpen, Luetge and Beimel could be in competition. The Mariners did carry three lefties last season at times. Beimel is an interesting candidate. He missed all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery. He made 30 relief appearances in Triple A Gwinnett last season, with a 1-2 record and a 4.36 ERA. He’s a straight left on left guy with a track record of past success. He made 393 appearances from 2006-11, which was the 4th-most of any MLB left-hander and in that same span. Nick Hill likely won’t make the club, but it’s good to see him back after injuries basically derailed him for two years.

Of course, the whole complexion of the bullpen could change if the Mariners sign a veteran closer type. They’ve been linked to Fernando Rodney. If they add him, then Farquhar could slide down to a set-up man.

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