By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — It seems certain that the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen on April 6 will be very different than what they’ll have June 6.
With one week remaining in the exhibition season, there’s so much uncertainty — Who’s the closer? When will there be a left-handed specialist? How many relievers will they need? — that what they have now is not only unsettled, it’s unsettling.
Nobody among the current group of relief candidates has thrown well enough in spring training to convince manager Don Wakamatsu he has a closer. The guy with the most experience, Chad Cordero, is throwing well in his bullpen sessions but remains a rehab patient from shoulder surgery last year and probably won’t be ready until mid-May.
Wakamatsu’s best choice for a left-handed relief specialist, Tyler Johnson, faced hitters for the first time Saturday morning in a simulated game. But it’s highly doubtful he’ll be on the opening-day roster as he’s being brought along slowly after shoulder surgery last year.
Who fills those slots? Stay tuned for an interesting week.
Wakamatsu said Saturday that he prefers to have one pitcher to finish games rather than a closer-by-committee approach. However, because of injuries and ineffectiveness, nobody has taken hold of that job.
Right-hander David Aardsma has a 3.38 ERA in eight exhibition innings, but he doesn’t have a major league save.
Veteran righty Miguel Batista had 38 big-league saves, including 31 in 2005 with the Blue Jays. But he’s 38 years old and is coming of a season of back problems and a 6.26 ERA, not to mention his struggles at spring training this year. He has a 5.06 spring ERA and hasn’t pitched consecutive scoreless outings.
Nobody among the closer candidates — Aardsma, Batista, Roy Corcoran, Mark Lowe, Randy Messenger and Tyler Walker — has pitched in back-to-back games yet this spring.
None of the closer candidates went unscathed Saturday.
Miguel Batista gave up two hits, a walk and threw a wild pitch in 12⁄3 innings; Roy Corcoran allowed two hits, two walks and a run in one inning; and Randy Messenger was hammered for four hits and six runs in one-third inning.
Establishing a closer is “going to come down to the very end,” Wakamatsu said. “There are a lot of decisions we have to make.”
Brandon Morrow remains an enticing possibility, but the Mariners continue to prepare him as a starter.
ANOTHER SLOPPY START
Carlos Silva continued what has been an ugly stretch of pitching by the Mariners’ projected starting rotation.
He gave up 11 hits and seven earned runs in 31⁄3 innings of the Mariners’ 16-9 loss to the Angels. On Thursday, Felix Hernandez allowed seven runs and 10 hits in six innings against the Royals, and on Friday, the Rockies thumped Erik Bedard with six runs on four hits, four walks and a hit batter.
In each game, the Mariners’ starters struggled to control their fastball.
Silva, who threw 83 pitches, said there was nothing positive to take from Saturday’s game.
“I was trying to throw the fastball inside and I was missing with the pitch,” he said, adding that he struggled to grip the ball in the dry conditions. “The ball seemed soft, like the ball had a powder or something. That happens a lot down here.”
Silva, who finished 4-15 last year, said his main problem is that he’s trying too hard.
“I want to do so good, I want to pitch so well and I screwed up everything,” he said. “In the bullpen, I throw as good as anybody. I am so calm and relaxed that I can do what I want to do. In the game, when there is a hitter at home plate, I want to do more than I probably am capable of doing.”
Tyler Johnson, on the comeback trail from rotator cuff surgery, finished a 30-pitch simulated game with a crisp slider for a swinging strike.
“I feel like my stuff is sharp and I’m capable of getting guys out,” he said. “But I do feel like I can tune up some more. ”
Johnson’s control wasn’t consistent Sautrday, and that’s what the Mariners need to see before deciding he’s ready to join the team as their left-handed relief specialist.
“What he’s showing me is that he’s got quality life to the fastball and he’s got a quality breaking ball and he’s got a live arm,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Those are the positives.”
It’s unlikely that Johnson will start the season with the Mariners, and he’s fine with that now after coming to spring training determined to be on the opening-day roster.
“I said to him from Day 1, ‘We’re going to be careful with you. … from your best interest and our best interest, I’d rather be a day late than a day early,’” Zduriencik said.
Ken Griffey Jr. has a five-game hitting streak, with a .400 average, three doubles, a home run and seven RBI in those games.
TODAY IN CAMP
Mariners vs. Royals, 1:05 p.m. in Peoria, Ariz., (KIRO radio, 710 AM and 97.3 FM; FSN TV). Left-hander Jarrod Washburn starts for the M’s against right-hander Kyle Davies for the Royals.