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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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April 14, 2008 3:19 PM

Finally, a 12-man pitching staff

Posted by Geoff Baker

You've all heard the news by now, that Eric O'Flaherty was indeed optioned to the minors, going to Class AA West Tennessee to find his game again. Coming up will be R.A. Dickey and Arthur Rhodes. Mike Morse goes on the DL. Expect to see Rhodes used as the second bullpen lefty. Can't imagine the Mariners would put him in the eighth inning role right away. John McLaren will address the media in an hour or so and the clubhouse doors haven't opened yet. So, until then, it's all guesswork.

Some of you continue to harp on the semantics of what I wrote about McLaren's decision to stick with O'Flaherty after yesterday's fifth inning. Again, here's the entirety of what was said. You don't burn a bunch of bullpen arms after five innings of a 4-0 game. Once it became a 7-0 game, what's the harm in riding O'Flaherty all the way? Even at 7-2 or 7-3 going to the seventh, the game is pretty much a done deal. O'Flaherty was the second lefty and it was his job to go multiple innings if needed. In a 4-0 game in the middle innings, with the M's trailing, he was needed in that capacity. You don't use three pitchers to do the job of one guy in a game getting out of hand. At 4-0 through five, it was starting to get that way. At 7-0 through five-plus, it was out of hand.

This has nothing to do with any pre-season predictions by me. It's merely smart baseball when you have a bullpen that's undermanned.

Want to criticize McLaren for sticking with an 11-man pitching staff, leading to him being undermanned? By all means. Heck, I've done it. With that extra arm now in there, decisions like yesterday's won't have to be made every day. But if you've used up your only real long man as a starter and you pull your second longish type after only one inning, you may have to burn your entire bullpen worth of one-inning guys to finish a game you're probably going to lose in any event. Even if the M's were to have won yesterday's game, emptying the bullpen to do it would have been nuts. Yes, it was important for the M's to sweep. But not if they were to leave themselves exposed the rest of the week by doing so. They can sweep the next series. The sooner they start sweeping, the better their record will get. Funny how that works.

For some of you, last time, it doesn't matter that you played ball from Little League on up. This is not Little League. Anyhow, my Mariners playoff predictions aside, I thought this entire 11-man pitching staff idea was flawed from the get-go -- even before J.J. Putz went down. Once Putz was injured, I could not believe the staff stayed at 11. That's finally been corrected. And the team did not sustain lethal damage in getting to this point. Yes, a sweep and a 7-6 record would have been preferable to 6-7. If it helps you feel any better, the team's Pythagorean expectation based on runs-for/runs-against is now 7-6. So, according to that (tongue firmly planted in cheek) it's all gravy from here.

We'll point out the very serious problems when they become very serious. On April 14, the most serious problem was sticking with an 11-man pitching staff. The problem has been rectified. We'll see on April 15 whether any other moves need to be made short-term.

NOTE (3:49 p.m.): To answer a question from Mariners 2008 down below in the comments thread, indeed I do think McLaren is trying to avoid a repeat of last season's bullpen collapse. He's already on-record, along with Norm Charlton, saying that former manager Mike Hargrove managed last year's bullpen like a guy trying to save his job rather than do what was best for the pen's long-term health. But even if last season's bullpen collapse did not occur, most managers in his situation would have handled it the way he did yesterday by riding O'Flaherty into the ground and saving his other arms.

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