SEATTLE — Of all the knocks on the Seattle Mariners’ starting pitchers this season — oh, was there a lot to knock — their lack of stamina had more impact on the season as any.
From top to bottom, the starters didn’t pitch the innings needed to avoid the bullpen crumble that eventually took the Mariners out of contention during the stretch drive.
On Saturday, Miguel Batista gave a taste of what the Mariners have missed and what they will demand more of in 2008.
He pitched eight innings, throwing a season-high 123 pitches to do it, and beat the Texas Rangers 5-1 at Safeco Field.
No Mariners starter will come close to the 200-inning mark this season _ Jarrod Washburn finished with 1932/3 and Batista was next with 193. Today’s starter, Felix Hernandez — the young ace-in-waiting who was limited to 200 innings last year — will reach 190 only if he pitches a complete game.
Among manager John McLaren’s mandates for 2008 is a change in the pitching mentality, and the pitch counts.
“I’d love to see our pitchers go 125 pitches and save our bullpen,” McLaren said. “But it seems like pitchers are satisfied with six sometimes.
“I grew up watching Nolan Ryan and he was throwing 170 pitches every game. I know he’s the exception, but we program these guys to go 100 and die. We’ve talked about it a lot and we’ll talk about it some more. We need to re-evaluate it and get our pitchers thinking they should go to the end of the game. If you don’t have it that day, maybe we’ll cut you back. If you throw 125 pitches, maybe the next time we won’t throw you as much. If you need an extra day, we’ll give you an extra day.”
On Saturday, Batista was that exception.
He held the Rangers to a single by Sammy Sosa in the second inning, an RBI double by Brad Wilkerson in the second and a single by Jason Botts in the fourth. He retired 16 of 17 hitters before walking Wilkerson with two outs in the seventh with his 116th pitch.
McLaren trotted to the mound to check on his pitcher after that one, and Batista said he was fine.
He went on to get the next out, plus three in the eighth, before Sean Green retired the Rangers in order in the ninth.
There were bigger names in the free-agent pool of 2007 than Batista. But now that the season is one day from ending and evaluations can be made, not many better deals than Batista.
For $126 million over seven years, Barry Zito gave the Giants a 10-13 record. For $52 million over six years, Daisuke Matsuzaka went 15-12 for the Red Sox, who also paid $56 million just to negotiate with the Japanese star. And the Dodgers are paying Jason Schmidt $47 for three years, but got a 1-4 record in return before he had season-ending shoulder surgery in June.
He’s costing the Mariners $25 million over three years and gave them a career-best 16 victories.
“He had a real good year for us,” McLaren said. “Innings, wins, everything.”
The Mariners won their 87th game with Batista and an offense that slapped Rangers starter Kevin Millwood for 11 hits, including Raul Ibanez’s 21st home run.
Ibanez, who probably won’t play today as Adam Jones starts in left field, has 103 RBI.
“At one point, there was some doubt if he could get 100 RBI,” McLaren said. “But he’s such a professional and such a standup guy. He kept working at his game and got healthy. He’s been a major contributor to this ballclub year-in and year-out, and he will be next year also.”
Two others, Adrian Beltre and Jose Guillen, remained stuck on 99 RBI and have a last chance today to reach 100. McLaren said he would tweak the lineup, moving Beltre out of the second spot in the batting order, in hopes of getting him more RBI opportunities.