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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 27, 2008 8:02 AM

Rowland-Smith may be more ready

Posted by Geoff Baker

So, three wins in a row by the Mariners. I'll be doing my Talkin' Baseball segment on KJR AM 950's Mitch in the Morning Show at about 8:20 or 8:30 this morning (whenever Mitch is ready) and I'm sure it will be more upbeat than in the past. By the way, for Scanman in the comments thread, I prepared the Dennis Raben video below just for you, taken yesterday when I took in that rain-shortened, 4-2 win by the Everett AquaSox over the Vancouver Canadians in Class A action. Raben has a few words for you at the end. He shags some flies, gets down some practice bunts (bunting in the M's system?) and then takes BP. Also talks about his recent finger injury.

And again, for those who missed it last night, here's a video of 18-year-old Jharmidy DeJesus, the AquaSox third baseman, hitting a three-run homer for Everett in the third inning to bring them back from a 2-1 deficit.

Now, on to this morning's post...

For all the hype over the transitioning of Brandon Morrow to a starting role, justifiable concerning his first-round draft status, it may be Australian hurler Ryan Rowland-Smith who proves the big story of the final month of the 2008 season. That will surprise just about everyone except for those who know Rowland-Smith well. He doesn't exactly carry a chip on his shoulder. He's a little too grounded for that. But he does have this driving energy of a guy counted out a little too quickly, all-too-often throughout his life as a baseball player.

He's the one who was cut from his country's under-19 baseball squad shortly before it was to play a tournament in Canada, a trip the pitcher's family was planning to make and had looked forward to. He was also cut from an under-14 state team in Australia. His mother said "politics" had plenty to do with it.

Rowland-Smith wasn't exactly a prized draft recruit like Morrow. He was also claimed as a Rule 5 draft pick -- which some players will feel is an honor, while others view it as a sign of rejection.

He'd worked out as a starter this past winter, only to be relegated to bullpen work after the Erik Bedard trade. He was also slotted behind Morrow at the time as to who would get first crack at starting had the Bedard trade fallen through.

We saw how Rowland-Smith viewed his re-assignment to Class AAA when he was to become a starter. He was not happy to be going back down. Regardless of how it would help him attain his dream of starting. With each "setback" in his career, each perceived slight, Rowland-Smith has come back stronger, hoping to prove he belongs. You want guys who can do that playing on your team. Not bitter hardcases, but self-motivators who believe in their talent and will seize their limited opportunities. That's what big-league ball is all about. It's not about draft slots and God-given talent. Aside from a minute percentage of players, the majority of big leaguers are pretty close to each other on the talent scale. And the ones who make it and have productive careers are the ones who can seize the day. Who can make the most of the limited chances they get. Some players get more chances than others. Rowland-Smith is smart enough to know he may not get the Morrow type of opportunities.

That's not a knock on Morrow, it's reality. When you're a No. 1 pick, you'll have plenty of chances to fail.

Not when you're Ryan Rowland-Smith from Australia.

Rowland-Smith just tossed seven innings of two-run ball against a Twins team fighting to make the playoffs. A team that bashed him around pretty good in Minnesota two starts ago. It's the second straight seven-inning "quality start" tossed by Rowland-Smith.

Morrow continues to adapt to the starter transition in Class AAA. He's struggling to go four or five innings (or two or three innings in the earlier stages, for those who want to nitpick this morning). Yes, he's been on a pitch count through the transition, as Beef mentioned, but if you go only four or five innings in the minors, which he's now struggling to do, giving up six runs in 4 2/3 last night, that can translate to two or three innings in the big leagues, where hitters are more adept at working counts. One way to get deeper, even on a pitch-count, is to not give up a bunch of hits and runs. Morrow will have to improve on that once he's up. Preferably beforehand.

Rowland-Smith, don't forget, has years of minor league ball and Olympic experience behind him. He's been seasoned as a pro ballplayer. Morrow has not benefitted from that. He was thrown into the big-league fire right away to help the M's out. That lack of pro experience might mean it takes him a little longer to adjust to his new role. For all of the talk about Morrow adding that injection of youth needed by Seattle's rotation, it may, in the end, be Rowland-Smith who proves more ready to be that needed dose.

In the end, it could be both. We'll see. You don't learn everything in the final five weeks when your team is out of contention. And there is still plenty of time for Rowland-Smith to have a string of bad outings. But what if this isn't a fluke? And what if both Morrow and Rowland-Smith earn shots at the rotation for next spring?

If that's the case, Miguel Batista had better be prepared to resume his career in the bullpen. And the Mariners had better get to work this winter at correcting their confusing decision not to deal Jarrod Washburn when they had the chance two weeks ago.

If Rowland-Smith keeps this up and Morrow at least shows some spark of promise, a rebuilding team simply can't afford to "block" either guy in a rotation where three of the five spots (Felix Hernandez, Carlos Silva and Erik Bedard) will already be filled by guys who are untouchable or untradable.

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