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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 21, 2009 11:15 PM

Baseball "fun'' again for Washburn

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Lots going on in tonight's 4-2 victory by the Mariners over the Tampa Bay Rays. Let's get to a few quick things:

First, I asked Don Wakamatsu about that Ichiro bunt with a runner on third and one out in the fourth inning. Wakamatsu took the blame, telling me it was a suicide squeeze bunt by Ichiro and that Yuniesky Betancourt had been relayed the wrong signal at third and been told it was a bunt attempt for a hit. And so, Betancourt held his ground rather than breaking for the plate.

Second, I spoke to Ryan Rowland-Smith after the game and he was a little more optimistic than he'd sounded beforehand. He'd spoken briefly with Dr. Edward Khalfayan and plans a more in-depth conversation with him today. He still hasn't been cleared to throw, but did say his arm feels better. There's still just some irritation in it and it looks like it will take RRS longer to get over this than he initially thought.

"I feel miserable,'' Rowland-Smith. "Just all the waiting around, but I have to be patient. It's not something too crazy like I'm going to be shut down for three months or something like that. It's just taking a little more time than I want it to.''

So, it should be a bit of relief that he's not thinking long term damage to the arm. He should know more after speaking with Khalfayan again tomorrow.

"I'm hoping we can come up with an action plan of some sort after that,'' he said.

Fair enough.

On to Jarrod Washburn, he earned himself a fair degree of respect in the dugout tonight by going back out for the sixth and seventh innings. Washburn had cramped up in the fifth, causing a mound visit by trainers, but finished off that frame and went two more scoreless after that.

"In the fifth inning, he was grabbing his side,'' Mariners first baseman Mike Sweeney said. "Many people would have gotten through the fifth, just shut it down and said 'Bullpen go get them!'

"But he went out there for two more innings and really showed the heart of a lion tonight. And that's what this team is about. Fighting for each other. Guys feed off that. When they see the starter going out there every fifth day, not just five and dive, and playing through injury, it means a lot.''

The Washburn I've gotten to know the past few years has always pitched that way: through pain and other obstacles. His real life persona is not quite what some fans have thought about him. They are entitled to their opinions, but he really did not receive a whole lot of run support his first three seasons as a Mariner.

Tonight, he got just enough,

As I suspected, he did indeed pitch around Gabe Kapler in that key fourth inning to load the bases. Washburn had landed a change-up to go 2-2 on Kapler, but with first base open and lefty Akinori Iwamura in the on-deck circle, he wasn't about to risk throwing something over the plate for the righty Kapler to crush.

"I called (catcher) Rob (Johnson) out there and said 'I'm going to throw two splits right here, if he chases it, great, if not, we've got Iwamura coming up. So, just block them','' Washburn said.

The strategy paid off when, after Kapler's walk loaded the bases, Iwamura grounded out.

Washburn was dead-on with his fastball tonight. He was able to spot it down and away, just in case the Rays were trying to cheat on the slider.

"Hopefully, it never ends, this is fun,'' he said. "All the guys in here are having fun. It's exciting, we're looking forward to coming to the park. Winning's fun. I'm out there yelling and screaming, I don't even know what I'm doing. But I like it when it's happening.''

Washburn is 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA. Not bad for a fourth starter. One big reason this first-place team is now 9-5. If he keeps this up, that $10.3 million salary might no longer be the first number quoted whenever his name is mentioned.

Now who ever would have dreamed that possible? Not him, that's for sure. But this early season has been full of surprises.

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