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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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July 27, 2008 2:36 PM

"That's not the same Washburn!''

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A stunned Blue Jays slugger Alex Rios (image may not be an exact likeness) watches as one of his two popouts and groudouts goes into the history books this afternoon. Rios had been .389 lifetime off Jarrod Washburn, but goes hitless today in a 5-1 win for Seattle. Washburn went eight innings, then was pulled at 101 pitches to allow J.J. Putz some work. Washburn could easily have gone longer, but allows just four hits and one run in notching the win.

He has not looked the same for two months. If Washburn had pitched like this all year, the M's might not be looking to trade him. Or, maybe they still would be. In any case, this was likely Washburn's final start for the M's and he goes out victorious.

By the way, as to whether this bolster's Washburn's trade values, this post says the Yankees are holding firm. That they'll take on Washburn's salary -- which many of us envisioned as a dream scenario back in May -- but will not include a top prospect (like Brett Gardner) in the deal. And there you have a reason for the trade holdup.

Perhaps this latest Washburn outing did strengthen Seattle's position. What you have right now appears to be a game of "chicken" where the first guy to blink winds up on the side of the road. What would help Seattle's position now, as I've said before, is a bidding war. A second team getting involved. If that doesn't happen, the M's may have to call New York's bluff and wait this out until Thursday, or blink.

Washburn talked after the game about how an improved change-up has benefitted him most during this two-month stretch of success. He's lowered his ERA down to 4.50, a drop of more than two runs since June.

"To me, the toughest part was trusting the grip and throwing it like a fastball with the exact same arm-speed,'' Washburn said. "That's the biggest thing, is you try to fool the hitters by selling it with the same delivery.''

He sold it today. The Blue Jays looked off-balance all-day. For HenryTracks in the comments thread, it's not just about fly balls and groundballs and dividing up ratios and stuff. It's how solidly those balls have been hit off him. Washburn didn't give up any hard-hit balls, other than the John McDonald home run.

You can gripe about it being a two-month "fluke", or maybe accept that perhaps the first two months was a "slump'' and that Washburn is what he is right now -- a league average pitcher. Maybe he's better than that now. He tinkered with a new change-up grip this year, then reverted back to his old one and found that it finally clicked for him.

Washburn admits it's been "a 14-year struggle'' to find a proper changeup.

"I have more confidence right now in all my off-speed pitches than I've ever had,'' Washburn said. "Which allows me to mix it up more than I have in the past. So, hitting the spots with the fastball and the off-speed is just a good recipe right now. I feel I've matured a little bit as a pitcher. I'm learning the secondary pitches and getting more comfortable with them and I feel I've really taken a step forward in my career.''

Yes, he was facing the Blue Jays. Yes, that team uses David Eckstein as a DH against lefties. But Washburn held the Boston Red Sox to three runs over 5 2/3 innings last week. About the same as Felix Hernandez, who gave up three runs over six frames.

So, time will tell whether this is a lasting change or not. For now, it's given the M's a trade commodity. That's more than you can say about a good part of this roster.

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July 27, 2008 11:55 AM

Washburn at Toronto Blue Jays: 07/27 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Yes, that is indeed Jarrod Washburn out there on the mound.

Jose Lopez just extended his hitting steak to a career high 14 games with an RBI single in the seventh inning. Seattle now leads 5-1. The M's could have had more, but with the bases loaded and one out, Jeremy Reed hit into a 1-2-3 double-play. Washburn is back out for the seventh, his pitch count in the low 80s. A complete game from him, perhaps? Why not? He's unlikely to be here past this start. Let his arm rip for 120 pitches. Then, tell the Yankees: "We'll take that Gardner kid and you take all Washburn's salary. As for Kei Igawa, I hear Tokyo's real nice this time of year.''

This seven-game losing streak more or less sneaked up on this team. I can't ever remember seven losses in a row happening so matter-of-factly, or routinely. I asked Jim Riggleman about that earlier today. He said he liked the effort the players were putting in. But he agreed, this team does tend to look as if it's just playing out the string at times. He insists that's not the case.

"I'm happy with the intensity that we play with,'' he said. "In the American League -- I think this happend to us in April, May and part of June...if you're not hitting in the American League, you really look flat. Because when you're not hitting, there's not much you can do.''

In other words, it's easier to play small ball in the NL and do those types of small ball things to generate offense and stay close in games. Not so much in a slugger's league. You can scratch a run or two across in the AL as well, but it's tough to keep pace with a bunch of homer-hitting clubs unless you can slug some homers, doubles and triples as well.

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Continue reading this post ...

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July 27, 2008 8:53 AM

Washburn still pitching today

Posted by Geoff Baker

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The picture above is of today's starting center fielder for the Mariners. Nope, it's not Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner. It's Jeremy Reed. Willie Bloomquist is the backup. And yes, Jarrod Washburn is still the slated starting pitcher.

Last I saw Washburn, he was sleeping on a couch in the visiting team's clubhouse here. There's little chance something would happen at the last minute. Remember, he has to sign-off on any deal. Once he's in the bullpen warming up, he can't take any calls. So, if you're hoping that a deal with the Yankees will be completed, just pray he doesn't get run over while taking a throw at home plate or something. Nah, something like that could never happen, right?

Anyhow, Mariners manager Jim Riggleman says he spoke to GM Lee Pelekoudas and was told there's nothing imminent. Riggleman added that he'd expect to be informed anywhere from 48 hours to 2 hours in advance of a deal -- not that a deal was going to be finalized, just a "heads up'' to be prepared -- in order to get his pitching lined up.

"No question,'' he said. "Lee would have talked to me about it.''

Well, we're within that two-hour window and he says he's heard nothing.

"I think, at this point, there's nothing that's going to happen (today),'' he said. "If something happens in the next five days, it's going to happen. But I just don't see it (today).''

Some of you have written in via email to ask why we haven't updated since yesterday's post-game. As we said during the Erik Bedard fiasco last winter, we're trying not to get carried away with all the rumors.

Here's what we know:

-- The Yankees and Mariners are talking

-- New York was apparently reluctant to assume all of Washburn's $13.5 million in owed salary, while the M's want the Yanks to eat all of it

-- At one point, New York proposed that Seattle take Class AAA pitcher Kei Igawa, owed $4 million in each of the next three years, to offset that Washburn salary cost

-- Seattle would want value if this wasn't a total salary dump. At this point is where the names of players like Cabrera, Gardner and Jose Vidro start getting tossed around. In other words, the M's get some value back in terms of an outfielder who can contribute to their squad at a low cost. The Vidro equation would see some more money taken off Seattle's hands and potentially give the Yankees a useful switch-hitter.

So, maybe the deal is simply a salary dump and nothing more. Or perhaps it expands to those other parameters I've just mentioned. But there is no deal in place. If there was, Washburn would not be preparing to take the mound.

Closest I've ever seen a player get to playing before a deal was struck? Without actually playing?

In 2002, Raul Mondesi was standing in the on-deck circle in the first inning of a game at Fenway Park. Before he could step to the plate, he walked back to the dugout and a new player came out. Mondesi had been traded to the Yankees (by Toronto) in exchange for a breathing body in a total salary dump. That body never panned out.

Needless to say, it was a long night of writing on a tight deadline. But with a pitcher, things are different. You can replace an outfielder at the last minute. Replacing a starting pitcher like that really messes a team up. So, I think this will carry over past this game.

Things to watch for?

Washburn's health, obviously. No collisions. No little arm twinges. His performance, too. If he gives up eight runs in the first three innings, the New York tabloids will have a field day. Also, let's see how he overcomes this distraction. It is a major one, no doubt.

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Gee, that Bryan LaHair doesn't mess around with the riff-raff in his fraternization with the enemy. Goes straight to the top. A look at LaHair, posing for a photo minutes ago with Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. Both men hail from Worcester, Mass.

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