By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — Thursday delivered a mix of encouraging and discouraging news for the Seattle Mariners, particularly in regard to their pitching.
On the field, the Mariners carved their way through a sloppy final game in Arizona that resulted in a 9-4 loss — and starting pitcher Ian Snell apologizing to manager Don Wakamatsu.
In the clubhouse, the Mariners got their most encouraging reports yet on the state of ailing pitchers Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard. Lee played catch again and felt no pain, and Bedard pitched off the bullpen with some serious velocity that showed how far his shoulder has come since surgery in August.
Snell, who’ll pitch the second game of the regular season Tuesday at Oakland, admitted he clearly wasn’t focused in his final exhibition start against a Chicago White Sox squad filled with Class AA players.
Snell allowed 10 hits, one walk and six earned runs in five innings. He worked ultra fast, once smiled at a White Sox hitter who’d doubled off him and generally didn’t have his head into it.
When Wakamatsu walked into the clubhouse after the game, Snell met him at the door and they disappeared into the manager’s office. Five minutes later, Snell emerged.
“I told him, ‘I’m sorry,’” Snell said. “This won’t happen in Oakland.”
With Lee’s status uncertain through April, the Mariners must depend upon their relatively unproven pitchers behind opening-day starter Felix Hernandez. While spring training results often indicate little about a player’s regular-season performance, Snell’s month was marked with the same inconsistency that plagued him last year after the Mariners acquired him from the Pirates.
Snell pitched one of his best games on March 27 when he held the Dodgers to four hits and three runs in six innings, but followed it with an unfocused outing Thursday.
“His location wasn’t very good and I thought he was up in the zone,” Wakamatsu said. “You’d still like to see the command out of Snell. You don’t know with a lot of these guys until the lights come on what you’re really going to get. But he came out of it and he was healthy. We’ll see.”
For the second straight day, Lee played catch for five minutes — half of that time from one knee to take the strain off the injured ab muscle, and the other half throwing normally. He increased the distance by 10 feet from Wednesday, and he’ll play catch again today and Saturday in Arizona before joining the team in San Francisco.
While it seemed like a rudimentary session of catch, Lee couldn’t emphasize how good he felt and how much he had to hold himself back from really letting the ball go.
“I feel like I can throw the crap out of it, but I know I can’t do that right now,” Lee said. “I know I need to ease into it.”
Lee has had this injury twice before in his career and once experienced a setback when he felt so good that he cut loose a little too much, too soon with his throwing.
The Mariners still don’t know when Lee’s appeal will be heard on his five-game suspension. His scheduled hearing was postponed on Monday because not all of the necessary participants could take part.
Nobody is putting an official timetable on Lee’s recovery, but the end of April seems very possible, especially with him feeling as good as he does now.
By then, Bedard could be well on his way to rejoining the team ahead of schedule as well.
He threw off the bullpen mound Thursday for the second time this week. Wakamatsu has called these sessions more “touch and feel” more than pitching, designed to get Bedard accustomed to throwing on a downward plane.
“It was a little more than touch and feel today,” head trainer Rick Griffin said. “He threw really good in the bullpen. We’re really, really excited for him.”
It has gone so well that the Mariners have a fairly precise plan that, barring setback, could have him back in May.
He’ll throw bullpen sessions through the rest of this month, then begin facing hitters.
“The month of April is the time to spend on the mound, build his arm strength and progress forward,” Griffin said. “After we get through April and get through the bullpens, then we hope to be in a position to determine when he’ll start pitching in games.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog