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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 7, 2008 10:46 PM

Ibanez HR wins it

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Raul Ibanez rounds third and heads for home after a walkoff solo homer to lead off the ninth against Rays reliever Dan Wheeler. J.J. Putz gets the 2-1 win after pitching out of a jam in the top of the inning with runners at the corners and only one out.

Seattle tied the game in the bottom of the eighth on a Yuniesky Betancourt sacrifice fly that scored Wladimir Balentien and ended Andy Sonnanstine's night.

Eight brilliant innings from Felix Hernandez, who gets a no-decision. When I say brilliant, it's not because he had his best stuff. He clearly didn't. But he was smart enough to figure that out and still try to get by hitters on brains instead of brawn.

The key? A sinker that confounded the Rays time and time again.

"The difference that I see in Felix now is, tonight, he clearly didn’t have his best stuff and he's still into the eighth inning,'' Ibanez said. "He didn't try to strike everybody out. He was pitching-to-contact, for sure.

"So, a legitimate ace.''

Ibanez threw that last line in there. So, I went back and asked him what he considers an ace to be. Remember, this is one of the most overused terms in the baseball lexicon. Every pitcher with an ERA in the low 3.00's who can throw a complete game here and there is dubbed an "ace'' at one time or another.

But there's a difference between a guy who can be counted on to throw eight innings of one-run ball and a No. 1 starter who might do it once in a while. Remember, it's been nearly seven weeks since Hernandez went more than six innings. But Ibanez explained that he feels an ace is "a guy that your team and the other team knows that they really have their work cut out for them that day.

"And as an opposing club, you come in and know you may have to alter your game plan in a big way.''

Putz said this of Hernandez: "Felix didn’t have his best stuff by any means. That shows you what kind of pitcher he is. To be able to go out there without having his best stuff and dominate for eight innings...I think it shows you his maturity. That he's growing as a pitcher.''

Putz is growing, too. At least, growing back to where he was before all of his injuries this season. He gassed up the fastball when he had to tonight. And his splitter dropped out on Dioner Navarro when it had to in that ninth inning.

"The big thing is getting your arm strength back,'' he told me. "The secondary pitches are the ones that suffer when you don't have your arm strength back. When you have that arm strength, you have that confidence in your secondary pitches.''

A big hit tonight by Balentien. Another by Bryan LaHair that moved Balentien into position to score the tying run on that Betancourt sacrifice fly. The Mariners had failed in two prior attempts to score off Andy Sonnanstine with a runner on second and none out, so obviously, all three players figured big in that tying rally.

Amd Ibanez? What more can you say? He's the Player of the Week. And it's only Thursday.

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August 7, 2008 8:49 PM

Tampa Bay Rays at Mariners: 08/07 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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This is the best I've seen Felix Hernandez look in a long time. Considering the caliber of the team he's facing, maybe his finest game since that one-hitter at Fenway Park. I'm serious. Forget strikeouts. He doesn't need them. Keeps mowing hitters down 1-2-3. As efficient as he's ever looked. You want to be a true ace -- one who goes seven-to-nine innings routinely, this is what you have to do. He's doing it -- very well.

Unfortunately for him, Andy Sonnanstine retired a franchise record 17 in a row at one point. So, it's still 1-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth. A four-hitter by Hernandez so far.

One of the most exciting young teams in baseball is visiting town tonight. Somebody forgot to tell the Seattle baseball community. Quite the tiny crowd tonight (OK, it's actually 25,423 but looked pretty small to start off. Still hardly a packed house). I guess Rays Nation has yet to catch on as a traveling pack.

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Continue reading this post ...

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August 7, 2008 5:16 PM

Batista to bullpen

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look at Jeremy Reed, above, getting some work in at first base. With the logjam of outfielders, expect to see Reed perhaps getting some playing time at the position. We've known since yesterday -- well, since Brandon Morrow went down to AAA to be honest -- that Ryan Rowland-Smith would likely be starting this weekend. The logic being that Miguel Batista would replace Morrow in the bullpen. Batista was scratched yesterday from his coming Saturday start and manager Jim Riggleman confirmed today that Batista is off to the bullpen. Riggleman keeps leaving open the possiblity that Batista will start again this year. As for Rowland-Smith, the manager won't officially announce who will start until he absolutely has to, in case an injury or some unexpectedly heavy bullpen use scuttles the current plans beforehand. But it won't be Batista out there at the beginning. Maybe not the rest of the year.

"Any time we put him in the bullpen, it seems like there's been a need to put him in the rotation not too long afterwards,'' Riggleman said.

The manager is just being nice. If all goes according to plan, Batista is done starting in 2008.

"Without Morrow down there, we'd like to have him down there,'' Riggleman said of Batista in the bullpen.

Once a few weeks go by, it will be too late to stretch Batista back out again. And what's the point?

In fact, what we're seeing here could be a prelude to 2009.

The way J.J. Putz has looked, there will be some question marks at the closer position heading into next spring. I've been asked over and over again whether Brandon Morrow could be bullpen bound again next season. My answer is always a cautious one. Yes, he could indeed be back in the closer spot next year if Putz falters early -- sort of like Jonathan Papelbon with the Boston Red Sox in spring training of last season. Papelbon was pegged to be a starter, but after numerous pitchers failed as closers -- including Joel Pineiro -- it was back to the bullpen for him. Boston only won a World Series doing the flip-flop.

But -- and this is a huge but -- that scenario only makes sense if the Mariners plan on contending in 2009. If they don't, it makes more sense to stick with the Morrow plan and come up with an alternative. That could be Mark Lowe, though he'll have to show better command than he has this year.

It could also be Batista. Don't forget, he's been a closer before. If you need one in a pinch, there could be worse ones out there. In my ideal world, Batista next year becomes a high-priced set-up man for Putz. Let's face it, trading Batista will be rough, unless he's packaged with some real gems. I can easily see the bullpen in his immediate and distant future.

That way, the team gives No. 1 draft pick Josh Fields a chance to learn to pitch in less pressure-packed situations -- if indeed he makes the team next spring, which is still a longshot. Not everyone is going to rise through an organization as quickly as Morrow did.

Yes, Fields will sign at some point in the next eight days. Stop worrying. This is all a part of the process. He's a reliever, not a future Hall of Fame shortstop. Even if his agent is Scott Boras.

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August 7, 2008 10:12 AM

Adam Jones revisited

Posted by Geoff Baker

A year ago at this time, the debate was raging as to whether the Mariners should insert raw rookie Adam Jones into the starting lineup at the expense of any one of a number of regulars. In fact, in the history of this blog, Jones and the debates that swirl around him have generated more site traffic than any other player with less than a full season to his credit.

Well, Jones has just finished his first season in the big leagues. He has a broken foot and is almost certainly done for the season.

His final batting line?

A .279 average, .320 on-base percentage and .405 slugging percentage. He hit seven home runs and drove in 50 runs. His .725 OPS ranked 13th out of 17 major leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances at the centerfield position. Same with his home runs totals. In other words, he hasn't set the world on fire with his bat yet, much as we've seen -- albeit in fewer at-bats -- from Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien over here in Seattle.

Playing the kids, as we've mentioned, requires patience and isn't always the quick ticket to the playoffs.

But wait. There is a second component to what Jones does, given how he plays centerfield. His defense, naturally, has to be taken into account. The author of this very interesting Reds blog has crunched more numbers than I can fit in my brain at one time and come up with a system for ranking the overall contributions of every player. Calls it "Total Value Measures". He's adjusted it for positions as well, a centerfielder being more valuable than a first baseman defensively and such.

The numbers only run up to about two weeks ago but you get a fair indication of what Jones accomplished in his first season for the O's. By that measure, Jones is the seventh best CF in the AL. So, right in the middle. But overall, in the majors, he rated 10th best.

That's right in the top third. Not bad for a first season. So, while Jones did not threaten Joe DiMaggio on any scale, as some projections (taking artistic liberties here) might have had you thinking a year ago, he did indeed show signs of that promise projected for him. Hopefully, he recovers quickly and can put in a full season next year. Ditto on the guy the M's received in a trade for him.

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