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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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