Mariners Start Youth Movement

InsidethePark.com's Jason A. Churchill spoke to Clint Nageotte just days before the pitcher was called up to the big leagues for the very first time. Find out what he had to say about the possibility, and how much the struggles of the parent club are noticed down on the farm. Who is Nageotte replacing on the roster? Who could be the next prospect to get the call?

We all knew this day was coming, sooner or later. Nobody actually believed that the current core group of Mariners veterans would play forever. Nor did anybody think that the organization would be able to count on the same crew to get them through the first decade of the new millennium. But I think I can speak for many when I say; we sure didn't think it would happen this early in this particular season. But it has begun.

The Mariner called up right-hander Clint Nageotte Friday morning and flew him into Boston to join the club at Fenway Park. The move had been anticipated by all involved, although the ultimate route to the Mariners clubhouse ended up being a bit different.

Rumors were flying earlier in the week that Nageotte would be moved into the Rainiers' bullpen in order to prepare him for the same role with the M's. After missing his scheduled start in Thursday afternoon's washout versus Iowa, Nageotte is headed straight for the Mariners bullpen to make his major league debut.

The 23-year-old Ohio native wasn't expecting anything this soon but made it clear that he would be ready, and admitted that it is something he thought about on occasion.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it." Nageotte said. "It's something I have always thought about. But right now I am just focused on what I need to do here. We are playing well here."

Nageotte, a starter by trade, will be used in the bullpen with the Mariners and likely will follow the same route to the starting rotation as Joel Pineiro. Pineiro made 22 relief appearances in the majors before landing a permanent role as a starter. Many other top starting pitchers began their MLB careers as relievers and have gone on to stardom as rotation stalwarts. Nageotte will be the next Mariner to attempt such a feat.

The season-long struggles of the Mariners is not something that Nageotte let get to him too much, even though the Rainiers do tend to catch the last few innings of the Mariner broadcasts after their own ballgames. The 6-foot-3 slider-specialist stays on task with the help of fellow Rainiers starting pitcher Travis Blackley.

"Travis and I help each other out." Nageotte said. "Last year and this year, whether I'm following him (in the rotation), or he is following me, we try and keep each other focused."

As prepared as pitchers need to be in general, Nageotte will go through stages of nervousness, anxiety, and finally excitement, as he sits in the outfield bullpen at historical Fenway Park, awaiting the phone call from visiting the dugout.

Tacoma left-hander Matt Thornton went through the same process a few weeks back, after being called up while the team was in Baltimore.

I was all jelly-legged until they got me up (warming up)" Thornton said. "After that I was just anxious and excited to be there."

Friend and teammate Travis Blackley spoke for himself and the entire Rainier roster from his taxi cab on the way to Tacoma's game in Las Vegas on Friday.

"I'm happy for him. We're all happy for him," Blackley said. "I always want to see him do well."

Blackley received a phone call early Friday from pitching coach Rafael Chaves. The message left by Chaves asked for the 21-year-old to call him back as soon as he could and said that it was urgent. The urgency was that Chaves and Manager Dan Rohn needed to tell him that Nageotte had been called up and that he was needed on the hill for the game later that evening.

Nageotte was notified of the decision late Thursday night and has not spoken to any of his former Rainier teammates as of yet. Blackley isn't sure he will hear from Nageotte right away.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't (call) with everything he has going on right now," Blackley said.

Nageotte should see some action right away, as the M's bullpen is in shambles after Gil Meche's bomb outing Thursday night in Cleveland. Left-hander Ron Villone could be inserted into the starting rotation in Meche's spot, which is scheduled to come at home against the Toronto Blue Jays next Tuesday.

To make room for Nageotte on the 25-man roster, the Mariners designated outfielder Quinton McCracken for assignment.

Don't be surprised if this is just the first of many moves the Mariner front office decides to make before the All-Star break. With veteran shortstop Rich Aurilia, among others, struggling at the plate and the bullpen still in need of consistent help, Tacoma could again be burglarized for the benefit of the Mariners.

George Sherrill has been prepared for weeks, and infielders Jose Lopez and Justin Leone could be ready for primetime duty. The club, however, has made it clear that until they have an every day starting position for Lopez to play, he will remain in Tacoma. They don't want him sitting on the bench, wasting valuable developmental time. Aurilia's day could be numbered. In single digits.

Leone's recent experiment in the outfield, while a very successful one, does not remove him as an option at third base. The 27-year-old slugger has all the skills to handle the hot corner on a daily basis.

Left-handers Travis Blackley and Bobby Madritsch are also candidates to see time in a Mariner uniform this season. Madritsch is scheduled to return to the Rainiers' rotation this Saturday in Las Vegas after skipping two starts due to an oblique injury.

Which ever direction the Mariners end up turning to next, the youth movement has begun, and Clint Nageotte is the first of the new blood.

Clint Nageotte Profile

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