Mariners relievers adjust to new roles
Assignments in flux with Morrow in Minors, Rhodes gone
CHICAGO -- The departures of Brandon Morrow and Arthur Rhodes from the Mariners' bullpen the last three weeks have created some growing pains for the remaining relievers. They are learning new roles under tough conditions."When you look at it, when we lost those two guys, we had to move everybody up and, quite honestly, it hasn't been good for our bullpen," Mariners bullpen coach Norm Charlton said. "The numbers reflect that. But I think it's good for them in the long run because it will make them better." Except for right-handed closer J.J. Putz, the revamped bullpen has several of the same relievers doing different jobs. Cesar Jimenez and Jake Woods are trying to provide late-inning relief from the left side, a job Rhodes did so well during his comeback season, and right-handers Sean Green, Mark Lowe and starter-turned-reliever Miguel Batista are the primary eighth-inning setup men -- Morrow's old job. Rhodes, 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA in 36 appearances, was traded to the Marlins on July 31. Five days later, Morrow was sent to Triple-A Tacoma to make the transition from reliever to starter, taking with him a 1-2 record, 1.47 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings and 10 saves in 12 save chances. "You can't replace either one of those guys," Charlton said, "and I've told our guys, 'You can't be someone you're not. You are what you are and have what you have and if you try to be something you're not, it won't work. Give us what you have every day, and if it doesn't work, we'll try something else.'" The adjustment period without Rhodes and Morrow has been a challenge. Between Opening Day and July 31, Mariners relievers were 14-20 with a 3.60 ERA and successful in 23 of 41 save chances while holding opposing hitters to a .236 batting average. Since Aug. 1, the 'pen has a 5-2 record, but is 0-for-4 in save opportunities with a 5.59 ERA, and opposing hitters are batting .286. "We're not stopping people from scoring runs," Charlton said. Charlton said he believes the current group of relievers will become more comfortable in their new roles and improve during the final five weeks of the season. It also will help that a stretch of playing more than two weeks of playoff-contending teams will ease some of the pressure. "Right now, we have [them] pitching late in games and they are not accustomed to it," Charlton said. "But the more experience you get doing it, the better you're going to get. But Cesar Jimenez or Jake Woods can't try to be Arthur Rhodes, and any of our right-handers can't be Brandon Morrow." Being themselves will have to suffice during the final 30-some games of the season. "J.J. is very, very close to being back to where he was last year," Charlton said. "We have to piece it together the rest of the way and hope the phone [from the dugout] doesn't ring as early as it has been this month." After all, it's never a good thing when phone calls are made in the early innings.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.