Seattle hurlers working on fewer walks
High number of free passes not yet of concern to Wakamatsu
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The salt-and-pepper fu manchu that Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair wore during the first month of Spring Training is gone, but not because his pitchers have been walking so many batters that the salt was getting more prevalent than the pepper.
He just got tired of grooming the whiskers every day.As for the 74 free passes issued in the first 16 Cactus League games, Adair said, "patience is of upmost importance right now and we are going to be patient. It will be better at the end [of camp]. There is no doubt in my mind." Adair believes the situation will improve when the projected five-man rotation begins pitching every fifth day, and the still wide-open bullpen picture becomes settled. The rotation has been incomplete for the past two-plus weeks -- since right-hander Brandon Morrow became ill. He recovered from that, but encountered soreness in his right forearm and has made just one appearance this spring, on March 1. Left-hander Erik Bedard had a good thing going, tossing 4 2/3 scoreless innings with one walk, before being shut down with a sore muscle in his right buttocks. He returned to action on Monday, pitching one inning against the Dodgers at Peoria Stadium. Right-handers Felix Hernandez and Carlos Silva each made one appearance before leaving camp to join Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, leaving left-handers Jarrod Washburn and Ryan Rowland-Smith to carry the load among remaining starters. Rowland-Smith has logged the most innings -- nine -- and Washburn is next with 7 1/3. "I don't want to use this as an excuse, but we're missing four guys in the rotation that should be pitching four or five innings by now," Adair said. "The biggest thing right now is that a lot of guys have pitched a lot and we haven't had a chance to do their physical work on the side between outings." Any mechanical adjustments are being made in game situations. "That is very difficult to do and a lot of times it can snowball," Adair said. "Basically, that's what has happened." The snowball has rolled into the final two-plus weeks of camp, and manager Don Wakamatsu would like to see better results. The Mariners' 74 walks are next-to-last in the American League to the Rangers' 79. Tampa Bay has the fewest with 38. "There are a lot of guys [on the pitching staff] that have the ability to [command the strike zone] and there are other guys that need some maturing, maybe in the Minor Leagues," Wakamatsu said. With so many starters out of action and so many split-squad games, the Mariners need all the arms they can get. Pitchers that have no chance of being on the anticipated 12-man Opening Day pitching staff are still in camp. "When we get narrowed down here, I think that's when we'll start getting concerned if those things continue," Wakamatsu said of the walks. "I try to look at positive of most things. To me, it's going to be whether they are nibbling or whether they are attacking the strike zone. "We've talked about it being one thing if they are getting hit down here, but if they are giving free passes. No manager in baseball likes that." Wakamatsu pointed out earlier in camp that teams that issue the fewest walks almost always are the teams that win the most games. And teams that walk the most hitters usually are the teams that lose the most games. Four AL teams walked more than 600 batters last season and those teams -- the Mariners, Tigers, Orioles and Rangers -- had the highest earned run averages. "We have talked about the emotional side of it and how about, when the lights go on, the pressure will increase, and what you're doing down here will be a reflection on how we evaluate guys," Wakamatsu said. The jury is still out on most of the pitchers still in camp and those who step up and find the strike zone with regularity from here on out have the best chance to open the season in Minneapolis.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.