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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 30, 2008 2:25 PM

Workout day

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look at broadcaster Dave Sims watching this afternoon's workout, still going on at Safeco Field. The final roster has been set with the placing of pitcher Anderson Garcia on the 15-day disabled list. Garcia hasn't pitched in eons, given the biceps tendinitis in his throwing arm, so that move is hardly a shock. Unlike the past few springs, the Mariners opted not to make a last-minute player importation from elsewhere. The M's have become famous for such last-minute additions. Thing is, though, they've rarely worked out. So, to make one this time for the sake of making one would have been foolish. I liked the idea of bringing in Reed Johnson, but so did the Chicago Cubs. Once Johnson was off the radar, there wasn't much out there better than what Seattle already has.

The bench moves yesterday caused quite a surprise amongst many observers. Count me in on that front. I wrote this week that there's no point trying to always be right about things and I was obviously wrong on some of the bench speculation. So, as I wrote last week, the thing to do next is to figure out why. In that spirit, I've spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out why the M's would go with only an 11-man pitching staff given their bullpen woes.

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What I've come up with is, they obviously get to avoid making any hard decisions on losing someone because they now get to keep everybody. So, that's the good news.

They don't have to risk losing Cha Seung Baek on waivers. They can also now use Mike Morse as a platooning regular with Brad Wilkerson and still have Charlton Jimerson (pictured above with Ichiro's interpreter, Ken Baron) as a backup outfielder who plays all three spots. And if they opt to start Jimerson, they can still have two pinch runners late and not have to worry about burning one.

That's the upside as I see it.

The downside is that the team appears to be using three roster spots to satisfy the skillset that one backup player often brings to a team. Jimerson, Willie Bloomquist and Miguel Cairo are three players whose main asset appears to be pinch-running ability. It's definitely not their bats. So, with those three guys on the team, I now expect to see the M's attempting to run their opponents out of the building late. Thing is, the M's have to get guys on base first.

I don't know about this decision. If the team was going to keep an extra position player, I'd rather it be a guy like Greg Norton, who could bring some serious pinch-hitting ability to the table. Pinch-hit for who, you ask? How about some of the lefty bats that get dominated by southpaw relievers? You know who they are. I know some of you have bemoaned the lack of a lefty bat off the bench as well. For me, the splits of some of the Seattle regulars are more worrisome batting from the left side of the plate. The team has addressed some of that by the Morse-Wilkerson platoon.

But if it were me, I would have avoided that debate altogether by going with 12 pitchers in the first place. A dozen arms is becoming the AL norm even for healthy staffs. But the M's have some serious question marks in their bullpen. Their two hard-throwing righties, outside of J.J. Putz, are Sean Green -- dominated by lefty hitters last season -- and Mark Lowe (pictured below walking behind Eric O'Flaherty), a guy who hasn't pitched in the majors since August 2006. Throw in the fact Miguel Batista has battled a bad back all spring, not to mention the struggles some of the starters had in Arizona, and there are a lot of little things that could go wrong for this team in April.

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I'd feel a lot more comfortable with R.A. Dickey's arm in that bullpen. I believe the insurance it brings far outwieghs the need to have three speed clones on the bench.

The Mariners were high on the idea of going with only 11 pitchers when camp opened. They assumed, probably correctly, that the durability of their starting five would enable them to pick up six or seven innings a night right off the bat. Manager John McLaren is big on letting his starters finish what they start and is willing to ride out a bad inning or two to see them get those seven frames.

So, I could understand the rationale back on Feb. 15. But this is now March 30 and things have changed. The bullpen is probably not as solid as it would have been with Brandon Morrow. Nobody knows how durable Lowe will be until he shows he's back under regular season conditions. The team has still only seen Batista go a week without back pain.

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This move of staying with 11 pitchers smacks of a team starting off with an intriguing idea and then not being willing to adapt when conditions change.

That's how I see it. I could be wrong. We'll see if this gamble the team is taking -- and carrying three strictly speed guys is a luxury few clubs will attempt -- pays off. I'm still picking the M's to win the AL West. So are a whole lot of other pundits making their predictions this weekend.

The M's are no longer underdogs in a lot of books. And when you're a division favorite, winning becomes a little bit tougher. Other teams can see you coming. And handcuffing yourself right off the bat with intriguing roster construction, or a bullpen that could be caught short if a starter or two gets knocked out early, is not what favorites do.

Seattle needs to jump all over the injury-depleted Angels this month. The schedule gets a lot tougher for the M's come May. If the Mariners can get through April in first place, without a bullpen setback costing them games, then this entire post will be rendered a moot point. The team will have dodged a bullet and kept all of its players in the process.

Thing is, I'm not sure it's a bullet that needed to be dodged. But that is why, as we've said, they play the games. We'll see what happens.



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