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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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April 7, 2009 3:41 PM

Mariners sign another closer

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look at Felix Hernandez, moments ago, obviously feeling good enough to teeter on his right leg -- the one he injured last night. He'll be fine. Now for some interesting news.

The Mariners have signed onetime major league closer Jeff Zimmerman to a minor league deal, but liked what they saw enough in a tryout to embark on a plan to get him up here at some point this season. Zimmerman, you may recall, is a guy who used to throw up around the mid-90s when he burst on to the scene in the late-1990s with the Texas Rangers. Yes, he knows current bullpen coach John Wetteland from those days as well. Oh yeah, he's Canadian. Another point in his favor. His brother, Jordan, pitched for the Mariners at one point.

The downside? He's 36 and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2001. That's when he was named the Rangers' pitcher of the year after notching 28 saves. The following spring, he suffered the first of a series of elbow injuries that required three surgeries -- two of them Tommy John operations. He's kicked around the minors since, then had a tryout or two the past couple of seasons. Apparently, he's now ready for one last crack at the big leagues.

What's surprising to me is that, if Zimmerman is indeed close to being major league ready, the Milwaukee Brewers didn't snap him up. The Brew Crew has looked for late-inning relief the past few years and have a Canadian GM in Doug Melvin and assistant GM in Gord Ash.

If Zimmerman cooked ham and eggs for breakfast this morning, they'd know about it. The Canadian baseball scene is a tiny place. But Zduriencik apparently got the jump on both his former colleagues through longtime ties with Zimmerman's agent, Dan Lawson.

"This kid was pretty good at one time,'' Zduriencik said. "We worked him out about a week ago. I know his agent, Dan Lawson. We had a conversation about him.''

After that, top Mariners scout Carmen Fusco went and had a look at him right at the end of spring training. Fusco went to Zimemrman's private workouts, came back, and was apparently very impressed. A few days later, the M's brought him into their minor league facility in Peoria, Ariz. for a private workout. Zduriencik was there, as was Don Wakamatsu, Fusco, pitching coach Rick Adair and Wetteland.

"What was impressive was for a guy that's been through what he's been through and considering the amount of time he hasn't been throwing,'' Zduriencik said, "we all looked at each other and went 'Wow!' ''

Zimmerman was throwing up to 90 mph, but what really impressed M's officials was how free and easy he was throwing.

He took a physical in Seattle yesterday, then completed it in Arizona today. He'll join a group of extended re-habbers at the team's facility in Peoria tomorrow.

"He will begin a program to get him ready to pitch for us this year,'' Zduriencik said.

Zduriencik could not offer a time frame, other than some point in the next six months.

"Between Zimmerman, Tyler Johnson and Chad Cordero, this could be the best extended throwing group ever assembled by a major league team,'' Zduriencik said with a chuckle.

This bullpen is going to look mightly crowded with closer types a few months from now.

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