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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 23, 2008 9:49 AM

Shields out, Sexson has bursitis

Posted by Geoff Baker

UPDATE (10:52 a.m.): Apparently, the M's just figured out that Brandon Morrow's minor league game won't be until 1 p.m. That means I'm staying put here. The Angels game will have to wait. For Andrew in the comments thread, I think Reed Johnson would be an excellent pickup for the M's. Can do all the little things right, like bunt, steal bases, use a takeout slide. Had a .390 OBP out of the leadoff spot in the order in 2006. Oh yeah, can also hit and plays good defense. Not much to dislike. Does get hurt from diving after balls and stuff. But would be a great bench addition and could start two or three days a week if needed. To keep using the same cliche, he plays the game the right way.

Brandon Morrow will pitch in a minor league game in about 40 minutes, along with Carlos Silva. The game will take place a few hundred yards from our press location, so I'll be there. The M's are doing this so that the Angels won't get an advance preview of the two when the teams meet this afternoon in Tempe, Ariz. Yes, I'll be at that game as well.

In the anything-you-can-do, we-can-do-worse department, the Angels have shut down set-up man Scot Shields. He might not be ready to start the year. If so, that's right up there with Morrow, or worse.

Lots of panic going on in the comments thread of our last post. Nothing like a little negativity to get this blog hopping. Here's some more for you: Richie Sexson has bursitis in his shoulder and received an injection to help it this morning.

The team says it's nothing serious, that he'll play tomorrow. They say he got it while sleeping.

I won't dispute that. But I will relate an anecdote from my own, quite undistinguished athletic career. As a junior college football player in 1987, I had bursitis in both shoulders and when I slept on either side at night, my arm would be numb and temporarily paralyzed when I woke up in the morning. Now, technically it was sleeping on the arm that caused my shoulders' fluid-filled bursa sacs to become that inflamed, where it became so bad that I couldn't feel my arm. That's the part that happened when I slept. During the daytime, though, both shoulders hurt like you wouldn't believe. I took painkillers and all types of stuff. But when you're getting pounded daily, or actually just trying to use the shoulders, they keep hurting.

What causes bursitis? I was told it was the constant pounding on my shoulders that got it going. Now, how this relates to Sexson is anyone's guess. He's obviously not getting his shoulders pounded on like a football player would. But swinging a bat and throwing a baseball (it's his right shoulder) does put strain on the shoulder area. What's the point of all this?

To tell you that while the M's say Sexson's bursitis is nothing serious, I'm sure they're hoping this really is just a minor, sleep-caused problem and not something borne out of his daily baseball activity. If so, Sexson could be in for a long and painful season. Bursitis isn't the end of the world. But it's a nagging pain in the butt. Well, OK, the shoulder. And that's the last thing Sexson needs. We saw how he did last season when hampered by other nagging pains.

OK, on to other stuff...

I think some of you are overstating your case when it comes to the team's backups. This ballclub will not sink or swim based on whether it's Mike Morse, Greg Norton or Charlton Jimerson rounding out the bench. The M's rarely use their bench. AL teams use it less frequently than NL squads and the M's use it less than just about any other AL squad. Morse, as I said earlier in the week, will not be a .500 hitter when the games count. He does look like a very solid hitter this spring, though. If it were my team, I'd be leaning towards keeping him over a speedster like Jimerson. That's because the Mariners already have Willie Bloomquist and Miguel Cairo for those roles. If Jimerson is better than those other two at speed -- and that makes you want to keep him over Morse -- then the M's have to ask themselves why Bloomquist and Cairo are on the team.

Yes, the roster construction is looking a little questionable. Nothing new in that department. Was going on long before I showed up.

But will Morse make or break this team? No, he will not.

The way this team plays the game will help make or break it. We talked about this yesterday and one of you astutely pointed out a story out of Detroit that the Tigers are going through roughly the same thing right now. I agree that this problem tends to creep up on a lot of teams, especially with the real season so close to starting. Spring training is a drag. But all that said, I don't beleive this Mariners team is that much better than the Angels at this stage that it can afford to go stumbling into April.

When I picked the M's to win the division last week, there were some specific reasons. But if the M's trip over themselves in April and stumble to a so-so .500 record against some of the league's weaker teams, they will be behind the eight-ball going forward.

So, in my book, that's a reason to be concerned over these late-spring doldums. This team does have to come charging out of the gate to seize on opportunities the Angels have left out there with their pitching injuries.

Mariners manager John McLaren plans to take two of his rehabbing pitchers, Chris Reitsma and Mark Lowe, and test them out on back-to-back days (over multiple innings) later this week. Best of the two will likely make the club heading into the regular season.

ADDITIONAL NOTES (12:19 p.m.): This one is for AKMariners Fan in the comments thread. In looking back at Reed Johnson's last three seasons (which are the only ones we should look at when it comes to judging a player present-day) which of the numbers below gives you the best sample size?

398 AB
461 AB
275 AB

If you guessed 461, go to the head of the class. So, in a year he logged 461 at-bats, Johnson put up a .390 OBP and an .869 OPS.

It's true those numbers declined to .305 and .625 last year. But why? Let's see, that's the year Johnson had only 275 at-bats. Hmmm. Maybe he was hurt? Guess what? Seven games into the season, Johnson developed a herniated disc problem in his back. Went on the DL and was never the same after. Seems he's gotten all of that straightened out and is now healthy again. So, why are the Blue Jays going with Shannon Stewart instead of Johnson? Same reason behind most of their moves. Money. Johnson was set to earn more than double what Stewart will pull in. Not every team is run like the M's. The Blue Jays, even with a higher payroll, do tend to penny-pinch where they can.

Even if you don't believe Johnson is an .869 OPS guy, he was at .332 OBP and .744 OPS three seasons ago, with 398 at-bats in a healthy year. Johnson was a part-timer for much of that year before slipping into more regular duty. Not fantastic numbers, but good enough for a backup outfielder who plays very good defense.

If you want to go to previous seasons before that to find worse-off Johnson numbers, you can. But why? What relevance could his first and second full seasons in the majors have to present-day? In his most recent, healthy season, with more than 450 at-bats, he had an .869 OPS. Mike Morse hasn't done that in the majors yet. Morse's "career OBP of .365" was not accomplished against major league pitching (well, OK, it was, but not as a full-time player. As a September call-up, but he's facing Class AAA pitchers half the time in those cases). Bottom line? One guy is a five-year major leaguer, the other is still trying to crack a major league lineup at age 26. Please. Also, for lefty-righty splits, you could do far worse than Johnson.


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