There was so much hope for the starting rotation at this time last year that a lot of experts predicted the Mariners to compete for the American League West title, if not win it. Then they crumbled.
Despite sweeping changes this offseason, the Mariners will roll out a starting rotation to start this season that’s four-fifths of what they began with in 2008. Only Miguel Batista, 4-14 with a 6.26 earned run average, has been displaced.
Also gone, however, is Brandon Morrow, the hard-throwing young right-hander who the Mariners spent half of last season grooming into a starter. Last week, he decided that for the sake of his health (he’s diabetic) and the team’s needs (they’re without a true closer) he would rather pitch as a reliever.
What that has left the Mariners with is a rotation that includes the promise of Felix Hernandez, who’s mature by another year, and Erik Bedard, who will pitch with the incentive of a contract year. But there’s also the uncertainty of Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn, who lost 29 games between them last year, and Ryan Rowland-Smith, who has been converted from relief.
Last season: 4-15, 6.46
If there’s a pitcher who needs to make a complete turnaround from 2008, it’s Silva.
He came to the Mariners a year ago on a four-year, $48 million free-agent contract with the promise that his sinker would be effective at Safeco Field. He was anything but that, suffering through injuries, weight gain and a 0-6 record over his final 11 starts.
This is supposed to be a new year, and Silva reported to spring training as a truly changed man. He lost 30 pounds after a winter of better eating choices and rigorous workouts that included yoga.
But is he a changed pitcher? The spring training results are incomplete at best.
Silva worked with pitching coach Rick Adair on mechanical changes designed to create more downward plane and better movement on his pitches.
It has been a chore, although Silva has struggled not so much with his mechanics as he has with his mental state.
He was torched in his most recent exhibition start, blaming it on his desire to throw too hard, too perfectly even in the relatively relaxed setting of spring training.
“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.”
The Mariners need a completely changed Silva this year, not a guy searching for his confidence.
Last season: 9-11, 3.45 ERA
If Hernandez meets his prime goal _ to stay healthy all year _ he’ll eclipse what was a pretty good season in 2008 despite the record. He made 30 starts for the third straight year and reached the 200-inning mark for the first time. How good was he on a bad team? Hernandez made nine starts when he went at least seven innings and allowed less than two earned runs. He went 3-2 in those games.
Last season: 6-4, 3.57
If the conditions were ever ripe for a comeback year, this is it for Bedard. Unlike last year when he squirmed under the scrutiny of being The Guy who would help turn around the Mariners, Bedard is flying under the radar now. He can thank the arrival of Ken Griffey Jr. for that, along with the fact that Hernandez is the likely opening-day starter. Good health is essential, because Bedard was solid when he was pitching last year. He’s not a guy you can count on pitching deep into games, so keep the bullpen ready. But when he’s on the mound, Bedard will keep the score down.
Last season: 5-14, 4.69
It’s a surprise to some that Washburn is even on this team. The Mariners had a deal in place to trade him to the Twins late last season but team president Chuck Armstrong blocked it. So the Mariners still have a pitcher they’ll pay $10.35 million this year, and he’s trying to do what he can to earn it _ namely, by tweaking his repertoire. Washburn, who has relied on location and movement with his fastball to get hitters out, is mixing in more offspeed pitches, particularly a changeup.
Last season: 5-3, 3.42
Interestingly, Rowland-Smith is a converted reliever who would have started this season in the bullpen had Morrow remained a starter. Rowland-Smith made 12 starts late last season and made eight straight quality starts. He’s a big Australian with a fiery aggressiveness and isn’t afraid to challenge any hitter at any time. The Mariners want Rowland-Smith to define his pitching style and build a game plan around it.