Left-hander Robles is relieving in Venezuela, but he’s still a starter

While watching Cliff Lee put on a clinic and looking through the Mariners’ winter ball statistics a few minutes ago, I noticed an interesting line by highly regarded M’s pitching prospect Mauricio Robles, who’s pitching for Lara in Venezuela.

The 21-year-old left-hander is 0-0 with a 0.00 earned run average with three strikeouts and no walks in 2 1/3 innings of relief over three games for the Cardinales.

The zeroes are nothing new for Robles, who went 3-1, 3.54 in five starts at Class AAA Tacoma this season after going 6-6, 4.11 in 22 starts at Class AA West Tennessee. Combined, he struck out 154 in 142 innings in the regular season.

What’s so abnormal about the winter ball numbers? It’s not the numbers; it’s that they’ve all bee in relief. Robles has been a starter most of his minor league career and all 27 of his games this season were starts.

Are the Mariners testing these waters to see if Robles can be a left-handed relief specialist, which they haven’t really had in their bullpen since Arthur Rhodes was on the team in 2008?

Not at all, says Pedro Grifol, the Mariners’ minor league coordinator.

“He threw a lot of innings this year. We wanted to limit his innings (in Venezuela) and still wanted him to pitch,” Grifol said. “So he’s getting his innings out of the bullpen. We have every intention of keeping him as a starter.”

So forget the notion of Robles being a left-on-left specialist.

“He is way too talented to be a left-on-left,” Grifol said.

In addition to Robles, several other Mariners prospects are playing winter ball for Lara (managed by Class A Clinton manager — and former AquaSox skipper — John Tamargo with pitching coach Jaime Navarro, who was with Class AAA Tacoma this year). Here are their numbers:

• Third baseman Alex Liddi: .250/.350/.668 with two doubles among his five hits in six games.

• Catcher Jose Yepez: .235/.235/.513 in five games.

• Right-hander Dan Cortes: 0-0, 0.00 with one strikeout and two walks in three innings over three games.

• Right-hander Jarrett Grube: 0-1, 4.50 ERA in one start.

• Left-hander Cesar Jimenez: 0-0, 0.00 with two strikeouts and a walk in three innings over three games.

• Right-hander Scott Patterson: 0-0, 2.08 in 4 1/3 innings over three games.

• Left-hander Jose Jimenez: 0-0, 0.00 with a strikeout to the only hitter he has faced.

The Cardinales also have another player familiar to Mariners fans — right-hander Cha Seung Baek, who tried out with the M’s at spring training (and was turned away) and pitched briefly this summer with Orange County (managed by former Mariner Paul Abbott) in the Golden League. Baek is 1-0, 1.86 in one start.

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