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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 8, 2009 4:26 PM

Ichiro, Morrow, and Corcoran

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look above at Mariners relief pitcher Roy Corcoran, who turned in one of the better outings of his major league career Tuesday night in setting down six in a row on just 22 pitches. You can see Ronny Cedeno, tonight's starting left fielder, trying to make Corcoran laugh as he's being interviewed on FSN by Brad Adam. Down below, Jose Lopez takes his best shot at making Corcoran crack up. Watch for the interview during the pre-game show. I spoke to Corcoran pre-game as well and will relay you comments further down in the blog.

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By the way, yes, Cedeno is primarily in there tonight because the M's are trying to get their players in there this first week. After that, we'll see more separation and likely some established roles and playing expectations. Look for Rob Johnson to catch tomorrow afternoon and maybe for Matt Tuiasosopo to get in the game as well.

On to Ichiro, his blood test results are back and the team says he's improving. The plan is to use him as a DH in an extended spring game tomorrow. He could get as many as 10 ABs in that game, which is common in these things as a rehabbing player can often lead off every inning or be used more than once in a frame. After that, he'll be re-evaluated.

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said he'd like to get ichiro into at least three games before he returns to action. It's not yet certain whether he'll join his teammates in Oakland, or simply hook up with them in Seattle. There is talk that Ichiro will work out at Safeco Field on Monday, but that's yet to be finalized.

As for Brandon Morrow, the answers to what happened last night are apparently long and complex. Nobody can say for certain exactly why he came off the rails but a general theory emerging amongst team officials is that this is part of the growing process he needs to go through to become a closer.

Part of it is learning to overcome some of the mechanical setbacks that might occur out on the mound. Another is the fact that Morrow has to accept his new role. He is no longer a replacement arm for J.J. Putz. So, in fact, while he had sopme closing experience last year, this time around is different because he is expected to succeed. Last year, if he failed, it could always be dismissed as the fact he was just a starter-in-waiting and biding his time at this closer thing.

Not any more. It's now his full-time job and the safety net has been removed. So, whether these things are running consciously through Morrow's mind or not, he has to come to terms with his role and the expectations on him. But he also can't press and cause himself to do things he wouldn't normally do.

Mariners bullpen coach John Wetteland tried to spell all of it out for me, best he could, in a lengthy conversation today. Wetteland went through his own struggles at times in growing into a closer role. It wasn't until he went to the New York Yankees in 1995 -- already recognized as one of the game's top relief arms -- that he fully felt comfortable as a full-time closer. That everything really clicked for him, physically and mentally.

He asked me to think back to those times when I watched him as a fan while he was closing for the Expos in the early 1990s. I was covering police and homicides back then and spent many a night in our paper's "cop shop'' room listening to police scanners and watching Wettleland do all kinds of things that drove me nuts. He was good, yes. He got those final outs when needed more often than not. But he could also walk the bases loaded at times. I remember one critical game in Pittsburgh in 1992, a must-win game in September, when Wetteland loaded up the bases with two out, then sent a pitch sailing over the batter's head. Somehow, the guy swung at it and prevented the winning run from being walked in by Wetteland.

The point of this story is -- as Wetteland told me today -- that for all of the great numbers a closer puts up, there will always be bad times. There will be nights when command deserts a pitcher. When a home run is given up. It's all part of the package and the good closers are the ones that learn to put it past them. Who remember what it was that worked when they were successful.

It's not just Wetteland, who spoke to Morrow at length about many of these topics today, holding these opinions.

A growing consensus is, after getting the two quick outs, he started missing on a few spots, then simply could not slow himself down, get gathered, and make it work for him again. His pitch selection wasn't the greatest. With one out to go, a two run lead and no one on base, there's no sense nibbling, or throwing pitches that will miss the zone. So, in essence, it was a snowball effect of sorts. He got behind on that third hitter, then saw his command get worse and worse as he tried to fix things.

Now, the minute I write this, folks are going to go: "Ah, ha! He's mentally weak. Not tough enough to close out games!''

That's not true. At least, not yet. He simply hasn't closed out enough of them to have the tools to fall back on when things start getting rough. Mental and physical tools. The coaching staff is working with him on it.

But the idea that you can just take any hard thrower and make him a great closer right off the bat should be laid to rest with this experience. There is a process to it. And a huge part of it is mental, not statistical. There's a reason the Mariners are tabbing Phillippe Aumont as a potential closer and it has everything to do with his toughness and mindset.

Anyhow, that's my attempt to offer a simple explanation for a complicated subject.

Why did the Mariners choose to make Morrow the closer after all his spring struggles with command. I asked GM Jack Zduriencik that question today and he told me Morrow had "earned a shot at the role'' more than anybody based on his past performance. Let's face it, there weren't many standout performances in the bullpen this spring, but the M's cut a lot of guys some slack. Guys like Miguel Batista and Corcoran. So, Morrow was cut the same slack.

I asked Corcoran about that today. About whether he thought he'd have gotten a chance to make this team in previous years had he put up such poor results with no track record.

"If I did that last spring, I probably wouldn't have made any of their minor league teams,'' he said.

So, yes, timing is everything.

Corcoran said the Arizona air made it tough for him to get movement on his pitches.

"That has a lot to do with it for me,'' he said. "I rely on movement. If I don't have it, it will be a long inning. I'm not one of those guys who can go out there and throw 97 mph.''

Hence, the seemingly instant improvment against the Twins.

"It's your first outing, you're locked-in big time,'' he said with a shrug. "That's what they asked me to do, go in there, throw a lot of contact.''

That contact turned into quick outs and enabled him to conserve his pitch count. Corcoran was, of course, helped by Yuniesky Betancourt's leaping grab of a soft, knuckling liner by Nick Punto to end the seventh inning. The play was huge because it spared Corcoran from having to face the top of the order.

Anyhow, we're getting close to gametime.

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