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Fixing the Ms

The Seattle Mariners currently sport a team ERA of 6.23–more than a
quarter of a run higher than the next worst team in the American League.
Shoulder injuries to Butch Henry (torn labrum) and Mark
Leiter
(torn rotator cuff) thinned an already anorexic staff and have
prompted the ever-reactionary Lou Piniella to cook up unsavory recipes for
continued pitching chaos. While Piniella cloaks his inability to handle a
pitching staff behind a dense haze of finger pointing, let’s look at
changes and suggestions that could bring stability and long-term success to
his tormented pitching corps.

  • Maintain an eleven-man staff. The Mariner starters are averaging
    just under 5 2/3 innings per start. With a ten-man staff (assuming a
    five-man rotation), the average reliever will pitch around 100 innings–a
    staggering figure. Despite near-daily beatings, the Mariners were the only
    team in the majors employing a ten-man staff up until a few days ago. This
    absurdity was due to an overabundance of corner outfielders that happened
    when the M’s traded for Brian Hunter, Their First True Leadoff Man
    Since Vince Coleman (TM pending). Woody Woodward apparently hopes to happen
    upon another GM concluding a three-day bender and bleed him for a quality
    middle reliever in exchange for the likes of Matt Mieske. Since
    comparable outfielders/pinch-hitters are available on the waiver wire or
    any Triple-A farm club, Mariner management is playing a waiting game that
    they are destined to lose.

  • Scrap the four-man rotation. According to Piniella, this idea came
    to him in the middle of the night, which sounds about right. Johnny Oates
    tried it with the Rangers when John Burkett was on the DL, and they managed
    to play .500 ball for those two weeks. If the Rangers can only tread water
    with a deep bullpen and a manager who knows how to handle pitchers, what
    are the odds of success for the Mariners with an overworked bullpen and Mt.
    Piniella?

  • Drop Jeff Fassero into the long reliever/spot starter role. Fassero
    has been slapped around badly, logging but three quality starts in 11
    tries. Until 1999, Fassero was a power-pitching southpaw with a fastball
    that consistently found the low 90s. However, his velocity is down 3-4 MPH
    this season and he hasn’t made the necessary adjustments; he’s still
    working up in the strike zone. The results can be found in outfield
    bleachers around the league, as Fassero has allowed a major-league leading
    17 home runs in 63+ innings. A switch to the bullpen would give Piniella
    another long reliever who he feels he can trust (i.e., a veteran), and it’s
    a role that Fassero is familiar with, having worked in relief his first
    three seasons in Montreal.

  • Move John Halama into the starting rotation. No hurler on the
    Mariners is being underutilized more than Halama, a crafty left-hander with
    pinpoint control on a staff that leads the league in walks. Currently
    rotting in the bullpen, Halama deserved a spot in the starting rotation
    based on an excellent spring training, but the prevailing Lou Spew (TM also
    pending) was that a team shouldn’t have three soft-tossing lefties in the
    starting rotation. With Henry on the shelf, the reasoning is no longer
    applicable. An old rookie at 27, Halama is physically and emotionally
    mature enough to handle the rigors of being a starting pitcher on a
    Piniella-managed team.

  • Make Ken Cloude is the team’s permanent fourth starter. Although
    Cloude has appeared more comfortable in middle relief than as a starter
    this year, this move must be made because of the alternative–Mac Suzuki.
    Cloude has a starter’s repertoire, featuring a fastball in the low 90s and
    a hard slider. As with many Mariner pitchers, Cloude’s failures have less
    to do with ability than confidence. Piniella needs to insert him into the
    rotation and assure him that the job is his–period. Cloude’s career is at
    a precarious junction and, if not handled properly, he will become the
    latest ex-Mariner moundsman who mysteriously blossoms in another organization.

  • Limit Freddy Garcia to no more than 110 pitches per start. As the
    only effective starter on the Mariner staff for the first seven weeks of
    the season, The Chief has occasionally run up some excessive pitch counts.
    Piniella makes no bones about the fact that he believes that the solidly
    built Garcia should be able to handle throwing 115-120 pitches per start,
    regardless of his being just 22. Rany Jazayerli’s

    Pitcher Abuse Points

    puts Garcia’s PAP/Start at 13.1, with an Age Adjusted Workload of
    35.0. While this isn’t Leyland territory, only a Chili Davis line
    drive off Garcia’s shoulder has saved him from the mistreatment that led to
    Kerrygate.

  • Provide the young pitchers with an opportunity to succeed. A recall
    from the minors that consists of two appearances totaling 1 1/3 innings
    does not constitute an opportunity. Having a rookie make his major league
    debut with the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth inning, and Manny
    Ramirez due up, is not maximizing the rookie’s chance for success. Walking
    a hitter with a five-run lead in the eighth inning should not guarantee a
    bus ride back to Tacoma the next morning.

  • Give prospects Ryan Anderson, Gil Meche and Joel Piniero a full-season
    at Double-A New Haven.
    Woody Woodward was scouting in Connecticut two
    weeks ago and returned to the Northwest with only Jordan Zimmerman in tow,
    praying to the ghost of Branch Rickey that he is a mirror image of his
    brother, Jeff. Piniella has stated that he won’t hesitate to recall any
    member of the under-21 trio if he feels that they can outperform the
    pitchers on the big league club. All three have struggled with the 15-27
    Ravens, with Meche having recently improved his ERA to 3.38–by far the
    best of the bunch. If Piniella makes such a move, it is simply another
    ill-conceived attempt to catch lightning in a bottle. Can you imagine large
    corporations operating without a coherent employee development plan the way
    Mariners do?

Based on previous campaigns, there is no reason to believe that Lou
Piniella and Woody Woodward have any idea how to remedy the problem using
their existing players and financial resources. Long-term vision, a
commitment to youth and patience are required. Piniella is completely
intolerant with inexperienced pitchers and, as such, is comically miscast
in his present player development role. Probably the best one can hope for
is that he doesn’t go completely gaga and trade Ryan Anderson for Jaime
Navarro.

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