Madritsch Defies Odds, Could Change M's Plans

Mariners left-hander Bobby Madritsch is pitching like an all-star. Like the first-round draft pick he never was, the 28-year-old rookie has been spectacular in his seven starts since being called up in July. While this surprises nobody in the M's organization or anyone that has watched Madritsch pitch over the course of the season, he sure wasn't the guy we all thought we'd be raving about right now.

Anyone that knows anything about baseball knows that pitching is what gets teams into the playoffs and ultimately wins championships. From opening day to game seven of the World Series, the pitcher is the most important member of any team and is in total control of the outcome of every play of every game.

This is the reason why so many were high on the Seattle Mariners' farm system over the past few seasons. Clint Nageotte, Travis Blackley, Cha Seung Baek, Ryan Anderson, Rett Johnson, and Matt Thornton, among others, were the golden ticket that the Mariners were going to ride into the sunset sometime this decade.

Instead, the gem of that treasure chest full of jewels appears to be Bobby Madritsch. Not a top draft choice by the Mariners or a big name signing, the Chicago native took the route of the independent leagues and signed on with the M's in 2002 after catching the eye of the M's scouts as a member of the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League.

The first pitcher promoted to the big leagues this season was right-hander Clint Nageotte, but only due to an oblique injury suffered by Madritsch, who was clearly the pitcher most ready for the big leagues on Tacoma's prospect-laden roster.

Madritsch had to wait until he was healthy to get the call but when he made his first start on August 5 after four relief appearances, who would have thought he'd put up numbers that could change the off season target list of a team in need of a heavy makeover.

The 6-foot, 210-pound southpaw is 4-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 11 appearances, seven of which were starts. In 60 innings pitched, Madritsch has allowed just 49 hits while walking 22 and striking out 40.

In his seven starts, Madritsch has failed to reach the seventh inning only once and has gone eight innings three times. This is a very impressive showing for a rookie pitcher, even if he is advanced in age for a first year player.

While seven outings is still a small sample size to evaluate a pitcher's talents, Madritsch has caught the attention of the Mariners and could alter GM Bill Bavasi's attempts to sign two starting pitchers this winter.

Bavasi could instead look to add one starter rather than two, and use the extra financial resources to revamp the offense and the bullpen even further.

This is why building from within is a vital part of a franchise's ability to compete for years at a time. An effective prospect saves the team payroll, as well as players that may have been traded away to obtain that necessary piece of the puzzle somewhere down the road.

Jose Lopez, George Sherrill, and Madritsch have likely played their way onto the roster for next season, while Jeremy Reed could still earn such a distinction in the season's final month.

Maditsch, however, is clearly the shining star of the group of 20 that were called up from the minors this season and has had the biggest impact of an M's rookie starting pitcher since Gil Meche in 1999. If you weren't convinced of the Native American's numbers because three of his starts came against lowly Tampa Bay and Kansas City, take a look at his last outing versus Boston, baseball's best offense.

Eight innings, five hits, no runs allowed, and five strikeouts against a lineup that boasts two of the top MVP candidates in the American League, last year's AL batting champ, and seven offensive all-star bats. That's as impressive as you can expect a rookie hurler to be.

While Madritsch lacks the fastball of a Randy Johnson or the biting slider of a Johan Santana, he does possess a three-pitch arsenal that has kept some of the league's better hitters off balance each time out.

The most effective pitch for Madritsch this season has been the changeup. Equipped with a fastball in the low 90's, the former independent leaguer goes right after hitters with a fastball-change-slider combination that reaches a velocity differential of as much as 15 mph.

It's this "change up" effect that has made the M's rookie a success in the big leagues.

While Madritsch is able to change up the attack of some of the game's best hitters, can he change up the winter approach of his own general manager?

The answer will likely be yes, and Madritsch should have no problem starting 2005 with a spot in the M's starting rotation when Spring Training breaks next April.

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