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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 21, 2008 9:24 AM

Happy Ryan Day

Posted by Geoff Baker

So, get a look at this statistic. Ryan Rowland-Smith makes his third start for the Mariners tonight since being recalled from Class AAA. Know how many games his team has won while he's been here? Uno. One. That's right, he's now starting his third trip through the rotation and in all that time, the Mariners have won a single game. They are 1-10 since he joined them to face the Rays. Happy Ryan Day, indeed.

I know, I know, this whole Happy Whoever Day thing is getting old. It was getting old when it was used only for Felix Hernandez, but the way he looked the other night you might as well use it for anyone.

And that's the problem. The team's starting pitching has been so bad that the M's now face a serious problem of trying to look competitive these final days of August. That's because the bullpen has been forced to pick up too many innings. The pen is already down Brandon Morrow, as he continues to build his arm for a starting role in AAA. And until some fresh bodies can be called up as part of expanded September rosters, what you see is essentially what you get. You can all thank Roy Corcoran for getting the team its once win in the second Rowland-Smith era. And remember, that win came in an 12-inning game at Anaheim.

The team was fortunate to catch an off-day break after that because, in the six games since, the starters have gone only 22 2/3 innings and given up 41 earned runs. Nope, you aren't reading that wrong. That's a 16.28 earned run average for the starters over the last six games. I know ERA supposedly doesn't mean much anymore, but I can tell you, their line drive and flyball rates were nothing to write home about either.

Frankly, the way the White Sox were swinging the bats, hitting anything within spitting distance of home plate, it wasn't going to matter who was on the mound. Groundball pitcher, flyball pitcher, knuckleball pitcher. They all got eaten for lunch. Trying to over-analyze or read any big-picture stuff into what happened against the White Sox is pointless. Sometimes, you're swinging the bats so collectively well that even a trio of Cy Young candidates would get pummeled. And the M's don't have any of those. So, they were smashed to bits. It happens. And you move on.

But the competition factor is now rearing its ugly head. The Mariners were already working Rowland-Smith and Ryan Feierabend into the rotation, so there are some growing pains there. And any time Hernandez, or Jarrod Washburn can't provide the typical six or seven innings, it's going to spark a crisis of sorts because there's no telling how the rest of the rotation will go. And now, having forced the bullpen to throw 26 innings the past six games -- not to mention five additional innings in that win over the Angels -- this is a team desperately needing Rowland-Smith to step up.

Otherwise, you get more results like the ones you saw this past week. Where the competition level is about what it was through the Round Robin portion of Olympic Women's Softball when the U.S. played anybody. A lot of 13-5 and 15-3 games. A lot of potential injury risk by over-using relievers. A lot of you don't think it matters, and in the overall context of a season you would be right. The season is done anyhow and this time is for playing kids to see how they'll develop.

But this is the nightmare scenario of what can happen in such situations. At this point, the team is probably glad Washburn is still here because he can usually be counted on to deliver innings. And that's what the rest of August, unfortunately, is going to be about. Starters logging enough innings to get this depleted rotation and bullpen through the month until fresh arms can arrive in big numbers. Come September, it will be easier for the M's to cobble their way through games when starters fail to go four innings or more.

Now? Not so much. This team needs some big starts in a huge way. Otherwise, the embarrassments of this past week will only be the beginning.

It's one thing to lose and lose and keep hopes alive for the No. 1 overall pick. Quite another thing to look totally outclassed the moment you hit the field. For the Mariners, it's been the latter. And that's not fun for any fan of baseball to see.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (11:37 a.m.): Happy Pete Day!

For M's Fan in COL Exile, for the last three months, Washburn has gone six or more innings two thirds of the time. Four of his five starts of 7+ innings have come during that stretch. I'd say that's pretty consistent innings-wise if you're looking for a pattern. Only Hernandez has done the same in this rotation.

For Gerald, no cherry picking. Unless we want to say that Ichiro's latest 200-hit season shouldn't count because he had a sub-.700 OPS in late-May. Or that Hernandez has been pitching like a guy with an ERA well above 4.00 in August because of one bad outing. Give it up. Washburn has tossed six or seven innings on a routine basis for the past three of the season's 4 2/3 months to date. You don't have to be happy about it, but it's a fact. Just like the fact the M's have 80 losses. You can't change it. Look it up. If you don't want to believe it, then believe that it really is 95 degrees outside and go hop in the surf at Golden Gardens.

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