By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — Everything is so much better this year for Seattle Mariners pitcher David Aardsma, and because of that he vows not to change a thing.
Aardsma has a clearly defined role as the Mariners’ closer, a $2.75 million contract this year and the security that comes with having finally achieved his major league goal.
“I have a contract and I have a job,” Aardsma said Thursday after the Mariners’ first spring training workout. “I’ve never had a job.”
Aardsma’s personal life is just as sweet; wife Andrea is due to give birth to their first child, a boy, on Father’s Day, and they are moving into a newly purchased home in Phoenix on Tuesday.
“Everything is awesome,” Aardsma said.
It’s so much different than last year at this time, when Aardsma came to the Mariners but had nothing — in a relative sense — after an offseason trade from the Red Sox.
He’d been little more than a journeyman reliever who already had pitched for the Giants, Cubs, White Sox and Red Sox in a five-year span. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and his people liked Aardsma’s powerful right arm, and after the trade they brought him to spring training without a clearly defined role in mind.
Oh, Aardsma had a specific goal.
He badly wanted to become the Mariners’ closer, but he went into camp with three things against him — two other competitors for that job, Mark Lowe and Tyler Walker, and not one save in his major league career. Walker took himself out of that competition early because of leg problems, and while Lowe was a definite closer candidate, he also had a power arm that seemed perfect for the eighth inning.
So it looked like Aardsma just might become the closer, until the unexpected happened late in spring training. Brandon Morrow, who began camp as one of the five starters, changed his mind about what he wanted to be.
Morrow decided he wanted to close as he’d done the previous season, and the Mariners swiftly went with him in that role. It backfired terribly.
Morrow spun into a mix of blown saves that changed his course again, this time a transition back into a starter. The closer job became Aardsma’s, although nobody ever told him that.
“They never officially said I was the closer. Not once, at least to me,” he said.
Aside that small detail, he converted 38 of 42 save opportunities with the third-most saves in Mariners history.
Aardsma comes to this spring training with the closer job in his hands, but he vows to work as hard this year to keep it as he did last year to win it. Nothing will change in his work habits, he says.
“I have to prove myself,” he said. “Never stop working hard. Never walk if I don’t have to. If I can run, then run. Be a leader, be the person who’ll look at you and say, ‘That’s the way it should be done.’”
Aardsma worked just as hard last year, but he lost sight of what it really took to be a closer.
“I wanted that job so bad that I lost focus on how to get it,” he said. “How do you get it? Strike one, stay ahead in the count, get guys out you should get out. Don’t let that walk get you. Those are things we worked on all last year. It took not having the job to get the job.”
The Mariners are being careful with catcher Rob Johnson’s workload at spring training after he had surgery on both hips early in the offseason, and he spent much of his time observing and not catching the pitchers Thursday.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “But we’re being smart about this.”
Johnson will strap on the equipment and catch bullpens this morning.
“Businesslike” first workout
Fifteen pitchers threw in the bullpen Thursday, and they all ran the dreaded 300-yard shuttle without an apparent mishaps.
“Overall, it was a quiet, businesslike day,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “It’ll get louder when the position players report.”
That will be Monday, when Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney are sure to bring more life — and a lot of gab — to the group.
The pitchers ended Thursday’s workout with their shuttle run, a timed event in which they run 50 yards out and 50 back, and repeat it until they’ve covered 300 yards. They must do it in less than 60 seconds or they’ll have to run it again.
“I’m just glad it’s pass-fail,” left-hander Ryan Feierabend said.
Wakamatsu said reliever Shawn Kelley was Thursday’s shuttle champion at 45 seconds.
Cliff Lee’s left foot continues to improve after he had minor surgery two weeks ago today to remove a bone spur. Wakamatsu said he’ll throw his first bullpen session on Wednesday. … Left-hander Erik Bedard played catch but may not throw off a mound until after camp ends. He had shoulder surgery in August and isn’t expected to pitch in games until May or June. … Felix Hernandez also threw a free-and-easy bullpen in his first time on a mound since the final game last year. … Nineteen-year-old catcher Steven Baron said he wasn’t terribly nervous going into his first workout in the big-league camp, but the moment struck him during Wakamatsu’s morning meeting before the team went outside. “I looked around at all the guys and thought to myself, ‘Wow! I’m in a big-league clubhouse!’ ” … Two pitchers weren’t in camp, Jesus Colome and Yusmeiro Petit. The team said Colome is finalizing his visa and is expected to arrive from the Dominican Republic today. Petit was given some extra time to handle personal matters in Venezuela and is expected to arrive today or Saturday.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog