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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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August 5, 2008 11:29 PM

Putz "closes" ninth

Posted by Geoff Baker

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You see J.J. Putz, above, striking out Nick Punto to begin the ninth inning. Putz held the 8-7 lead through the ninth and picks up the win. But since he blew the save opportunity in the eighth, he doesn't get credit for a save here. You can't create your own save opportunity, get it? Anyhow, a wild way for Putz to do what he's supposed to, retiring the side in the ninth. Walked Justin Morneau after that then yielded a double to Jason Kubel -- who had two homers already on the night -- to put runners at second and third. Putz then walked Delmon Young intentionally to load the bases, but pinch-hitter Mike Redmond flied out to right. A night that began awfully for Putz and looked shaky throughout still ends on a good note. But this could be a nervy last two months in the bullpen. Putz's four-seam fastball lacked command tonight and that's what Mike Lamb hit for that two-run double in the eighth.

Huge night for Raul Ibanez with five more RBI. Also for R.A. Dickey, who allows just three runs over seven innings. Oh yeah, that Jose Lopez fellow also wasn't bad.

Like I said, I think Ryan Rowland-Smith is going to be rejoining this team fairly soon. It's going to be tough to kick Dickey out of the rotation. Not when Miguel Batista has closing experience and lasted just three innings in a start last night.

"I'd like to think I’ve done a pretty good job making a case to stick in there,'' Dickey said. "I don't know how many starts I've had, but I've had five or six quality starts and given us a chance to win.''

Dickey says it's ultimately out of his hands. He's used to that. As a loyal employee, he'll go along with whatever the team, decides.

From these eyes, it's a no-brainer. He goes six or seven innings a night. End of story.

"I'd like to be part of the solution,'' Dickey added. "And I feel that I could be.''

This team has a lot of tough solutions to find. It should do itself a favor by going along with the easy ones.


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August 5, 2008 10:08 PM

Minnesota Twins at Mariners: 08/05 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A younger look to the Mariners tonight, with four guys in the starting lineup who were in Class AAA at the start of the season. That would be Wladimi Balentien at DH, Jeremy Reed in CF, Bryan LaHair at 1B and Jeff Clement catching. Oh yeah, wait. R.A. Dickey is pitching. Make that five guys out of 10 if you include hitters and the starting pitcher.

Tell you what, if these Twins hope to be serious playoff contenders come September, they'll have to learn how to hold a lead. Jose Lopez just doubled home a pair off Joe Nathan in the eighth to put Seattle ahead 8-7 as we head to the bottom of the ninth. What a wild ride. J.J. Putz is still out there. He threw only eight pitches in the eighth. Hang on, folks!

Jim Riggleman had plenty to say about today's moves before the game. Hear a lengthy clip from him about the DFA of Jose Vidro right here in which he talks about why the team waited so long to make the move. Also, how he was surprised no one picked up Vidro in a trade.

"I couldn't believe the phone wasn't ringing for someone to take Jose Vidro,'' he said.

Here is some more audio from Riggleman on why Brandon Morrow was sent down now. Just a day or two ago, Riggleman was stressing the need to see J.J. Putz notch back-to-back-to-back saves (never mind just back-to-back). Now, all that's been forgotten, so I asked him why there was such an about-face in thinking. He told me it had to do with the fragile balance between giving fans their money's worth (meaning not losing every night) and building for the future.

"Every night, our guys are trying to win and our staff is trying to win,'' he said. "But we're not going to win the pennant.''

No, they most certainly will not win the pennant or anything else. I suspect, as I wrote earlier, that the sudden change has plenty to do with the need to address the rotation. That Miguel Batista start of three innings last night, not to mention some other abbreviated outings, will likely necessitate the call-up of Ryan Rowland-Smith by his next turn in the rotation. Might Batista go to the bullpen? Perhaps. At that point, you'd want to option Morrow down in any event. So, there was little chance of Putz getting three straight (let alone two consecutive) save opportunities by Thursday or Friday. So, you might as well get Morrow down to Class AAA right now. Which the team has done.

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Continue reading this post ...


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August 5, 2008 4:40 PM

Balentien tonight's DH

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Up above, a look at Ichiro and Jeremy Reed conferring in the outfield during today's batting practice, which is still going on. Can't blame Reed if he's asking "What does this all mean for me?''

It is getting to be a crowded outfield, now that Wladimir Balentien has been called up from Class AAA Tacoma following the DFA of Jose Vidro. We spoke to manager Jim Riggleman a short time ago and I asked him about the delays that have gone on in making this move. Asked him whether the injury to Jeff Clement had made him reluctant to jettison Vidro's healthy bat -- which had been hitting a bit better of late.

He flat out rejected that. Said this was all about Balentien.

"This is something we've talked about with getting Balentien here -- period,'' he said.

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OK, then. But again, if that's the case, why wait this long? Why not have called Balentien up on Aug. 1?

"He had been kind of hot and cold to tell you the truth,'' he said of Balentien, riding an eight-game hit streak. "He's been hot lately.''

Riggleman several times said he was surprised no one picked Vidro up in a trade. Makes me think there might have been something else going on behind the scenes. Perhaps there was a possible waiver trade to be made regarding Vidro (after the deadline) that fell through. Stuff like that happens all the time.

Otherwise, this whole Vidro and Balentien wait makes little sense.

Anyhow, Balentien is tonight's DH, batting seventh. Riggleman said there will be a rotation amongst the outfielders as to who will DH. Sometimes, Balentien, sometimes Reed and also Raul Ibanez. Riggleman said the DH thing won't happen a lot in Ibanez's case. Especially with him swinging the bat that he is right now. But he also mentioned that Ibanez has rarely had time off this year and that a DH stint here and there could give him a rest of sorts.

I caught up with Balentien just a few moments ago and asked him about going back down to Tacoma. He said it took him some time to get back in a groove again, but playing every day down there helped.

"It's hard when you aren't playing every day,'' he said. "It's hard to find your swing. But once I went down, after a few days, I had my swing back.''

Of course, Balentien had been playing every game for the M's before he kept swinging and missing at too many pitches.

"You need to make your adjusments quick if you want to come back to the higher levels,'' he said, nodding in agreement.

In other words, he can't slump like he did the last time and knows it. Rookie or not. He has to leave a positive impression.

Brandon Morrow will start in Tacoma tomorrow. He's on a 35-pitch limit, then goes into a regular five-day rotation, increasing each time as long as he feels OK.


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August 5, 2008 3:49 PM

Vidro designated for assignment

Posted by Geoff Baker

The Jose Vidro era ended today when the Mariners designated him for assingment. I just drove by him in the Safeco Field parking lot. I was headed in, he was leaving. The Mariners have 10 days to release, trade or demote Vidro to the minors -- a move he could refuse. Anyhow, he's gone.

Wladimir Balentien is back up.

Why did this take so long after the July 31 deadline?

My guess is it had to do with Jeff Clement's health. Clement was going to see quite a few DH at-bats. No use getting rid of Vidro if the guy who will take a lot of his at-bats is on-the-shelf. Now that Clement is feeling better, Vidro goes.

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August 5, 2008 2:22 PM

Morrow sent to AAA

Posted by Geoff Baker

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You may have heard the news that Brandon Morrow has finally been optioned to Class AAA Tacoma, where he'll be groomed as a starting pitcher. I got the news 20 minutes ago, but have been driving home from the North Cascades and unable to update the blog until now.

Tacoma reliever Jared Wells will take his roster spot, for now. I don't expect that to last much longer than a few days until Ryan Rowland-Smith is ready to make a big league start. Rowland-Smith pitched the other night, so he doesn't have to be called up right away. This way, the M's have a few days to figure out whatthey'll do with the rotation and who moves to the bullpen. Is it R.A. Dickey? Or Miguel Batista? Or neither? Will they bounce Dickey and Rowland-Smith around between starting and relief? The team has to figure this out. If Batista can only get one or two of his pitches over consistently, then maybe he belongs in the bullpen to compensate for the loss of Morrow's hard-throwing arm.

Thing is, if you know you're going to bring up a starter in the next few days -- whether it's Rowland-Smith or Ryan Feierabend -- then the discussion about J.J. Putz being able to go back-to-back-to-back becomes moot. Chances of the team getting that many save opportunities in a row are slim. You might as well make the move and bite the bullet now. This way, you'll get Morrow back for a start or two before major league teams start filling their rosters with AAA players come September. Morrow striking those guys out as a starter won't mean much as far as evaluating him for next year. You want him facing major leaguers a bit in 2008.

Here's what interim GM Lee Pelekoudas had to say:

"We have long viewed Brandon as a starter,'' Pelekoudas said. "He pitched his way onto the team in 2007, giving us an opportunity to acclimate him to the Majors in a relief role and, at the start of this season, we thought his greatest value to the team in 2008 was in the bullpen.

"However, as our season progressed and it became obvious we were not going to reach the goals we had entering this year, we began internal discussions on the best time to convert Brandon back to a starting role. We believe that giving him time to stretch out in Tacoma and then, hopefully, make some starts for the big league club before spending the 2008 off-season preparing to come to camp as a starting pitcher for 2009 is the best route for his development.''

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August 5, 2008 7:58 AM

Is Guillen M's man?

Posted by Geoff Baker

Plenty of you have written in since last week's latest episode involving Jose Guillen in Kansas City. Guillen has strongly denied an ESPN Deportes story that he is not on speaking terms with Royals manager Trey Hillman and wants out of KC. Some of you have mentioned a possible match for the Mariners, in which they could jettison the remaining salary of Carlos Silva in exchange for the final two years, $24 million owed Guillen.

The Mariners need some extra outfield power and Guillen's 16 homers, 73 RBI look -- on the surface at least -- to be a possible solution. His clubhouse presence was appreciated in Seattle. From what we saw in KC the brief time I was there last month, the young Royals were playing hard as well. Even if Guillen wasn't getting along with Hillman, that's not neccesarily a bad influence on the team itself. Only if they let it become one. Former Royals pitcher and current broadcaster Paul Splittorff agrees. From what we've seen, Guillen has driven in runs. More runs than any current Mariners player until Raul Ibanez went nuts in last night's seventh inning. He is producing.

But how well?

As of yesterday, Guillen's on-base percentage was at .295. That's too low. Too much like a whole lot of other Mariners have put up this season. His on-base-plus slugging percentage of .757 is also rather ordinary for a right fielder. To me, it's a lot more indicative of what might lie ahead than his 73 RBI. So, that gives me great hesitation. As good as Guillen was last season, and as strong a clubhouse presence as he was, his numbers matter as well.

The last thing this team needs is another Carl Everett. Guilen isn't quite where Everett was with the M's in 2006. But his numbers have fallen. Outside of his RBI total, which is dependant more on other runners ahead of him getting on-base than an OPS total.

That's my take. What's yours? For now, unless a further look at the numbers showed something more indicative of why his OPS is down 60 points from last year, I'd pass. You could get close to that production from Wladimir Balentien, I'd suspect, once he stops striking out every second at-bat.

On other fronts, let's see what happens with Brandon Morrow today. That start by Miguel Batista last night was discouraging to say the least. The M's could use another starting arm up in Seattle. Ryan Rowland-Smith looks to be about ready. Moving Morrow now so he can transform to a starting role and calling up Rowland-Smith to take his roster spot could be in the cards. This rotation needs more innings.


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