Cortes is mowing ‘em down in Venezuela (when he isn’t walking ‘em)

10:15 P.M. UPDATE: Those David Aardsma rumblings are starting to grow legs. The Denver Post is reporting that the Colorado Rockies have talked with the Mariners about acquiring Aardsma, a former high school star in Denver. The Rockies also are interested in free agents Grant Balfour, Todd Coffey and Jon Rauch, according to Troy Renck of the Post.

Here is his story.

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While trade rumors have swirled around arbitration-eligible closer David Aardsma the past few days, there’s another hard-throwing right-hander with the Mariners doing some nice work in Venezuela.

Nobody would dare say at this point that Dan Cortes could be a replacement in the Mariners’ closer role if Aardsma is, indeed, dealt. Cortes has pitched a whopping 5 1/3 innings in the major leagues.

But, in an organization that has a decent collection of hard-throwing relievers, Cortes may be in position to deliver the most immediate impact. His fastball has topped 100 mph and the Mariners sent him to winter ball in Venezuela so he could experience a decent level of competition while seeing how he fares in a high-energy environment.

Pitching for Lara, Cortes has gone 10-for-10 in save opportunities with a 2.79 earned run average in 19 1/3 innings over 21 games. Before anyone gets too uppity about what Cortes is doing – and how it could make losing Aardsma a little easier to take – there’s his walk/strikeout ratio with Lara. He has struck out 13 but walked 21.

Gulp!

Let’s get real here. Cortes may make the Mariners’ roster out of spring training but he won’t be their closer if Aardsma is gone. Brandon League, who saved six games this year, would be next in line. Cortes, though, could become a key element of a bullpen that could have a very different look. Besides League, Garrett Olson remains and Shawn Kelley will be back at some point after having elbow surgery in September.

Chances are good we’ll hear a lot out of spring training about guys like Anthony Varvaro, Josh Lueke, Jose Flores, Justin Miller, Charlie Haeger, Royce Ring, Chris Seddon and Denny Bautista.

And, of course, Dan Cortes.

“He’s pitching some big games in Venezuela,” Mariners minor league director Pedro Grifol said. “His walks are a little high. But let’s see what comes out of that experience. We won’t really see the fruits of the experience until he toes the rubber here. Most of the time, kids go through an experience and don’t make the adjustment until they get back and reflect, ‘This is what I did or didn’t do.’ A lot of kids leave the season and come back and they’re different players. They will re-live that moment — that one at-bat or one blown save — and sometimes it makes them a better player when they’re back.”

A few other notes out of winter ball:

• Outfielder Michael Saunders’ winter season with Lara ended not long after it began. He batted .192 in 26 at-bats over 10 games before the Mariners pulled him back after he suffered a bruised forearm in an outfield collision. Grifol said Saunders is OK, but the injury prevented him from working on issues with his swing that that Saunders and Class AAA hitting coach Alonzo Powell had addressed earlier this fall.

• Alex Liddi batted only .218 in 110 at-bats with Lara and is back home for the offseason. Liddi batted .281 with 15 homers and 92 RBI this year at Class AA West Tennessee, and one theory is that he wore down in Venezuela after nearly a full year of baseball. “He’s had over 700 plate appearances this year, and he accomplished what we needed for him to accomplish,” Grifol said. ”I’d hoped for him to do a little better (at Lara), but he’s a young kid who’s going to go home, get strong, come back and be ready to go again.”

• Grifol said third baseman Matt Mangini, whose plans for winter ball were scrapped because of the quad injury that plagued him late in the season, is fine after spending much of the fall rehabbing at the Mariners’ facility in Peoria, Ariz. “He left healthy and he’ll be ready to go for spring training,” Grifol said.

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