Clint Nageotte: "All I Can Do is Pitch"

PEORIA, Ariz. - The second round of cuts came this past Wednesday, and starting pitcher Clint Nageotte's name was on the list. The Mariners right-hander knows what his next move is, and it doesn't involve sulking, complaining or asking why.

Clint Nageotte got the news last Wednesday that he was sent to the minor league camp to continue his spring training with the Tacoma Rainiers.

While it wasn't the news he was looking forward to, the 24-year-old is not taking the move lying down, nor is he sitting around and complaining about it.

"Today was the day. I didn't want this day to come, but if it was going to come, they gave me some time," said Nageotte. "They wanted me to get my innings up. It's at the point in spring right now when innings are hard to come by and I just happened to be the guy. I've got options left and they've seen me pitch, so they basically know what I can do."

Instead of feeling bad for himself, he'll work on some things and get himself ready to pitch. But not for the Rainiers. For the Mariners, of course.

Nageotte's stay with the big leaguers wasn't a failed attempt to make the team, but more of a move made by the club with two weeks remaining in the Cactus League season to start the formation of the 25-man roster.

"So early in the spring, the way things happen, you really never know," said Nageotte. "All you really want to do is work on stuff. But when it comes to trying to make the team, you only have so much time to work on it."

Nageotte's time ran out, and now he joins the Triple-A group in the minor league camp with more than just an idea of what he wants to accomplish during the final few weeks of spring training.

"Coming down here I really want to work on my change-up," Nageotte said of his gameplan. "And if I establish that and locate my fastballs, I feel like I can be a front line starter."

The Ohio native has no added qualms about heading to Tacoma and working his way back to the big leagues, and while he prefers to serve as a starter, the slider specialist has no problem with coming out of the bullpen, especially if that's the way the club feels he can help out most.

"It doesn't bother me at all, coming up from Tacoma," said Nageotte. "I prefer starting, I don't mind relieving. But I definately prefer starting, because that's what I've done and that's what I'm used to. One thing they might do is test me out in the bullpen and see how I react, but you never know. I just do what they tell me."

The demotion, if you want to even label it as such, will not deter Nageotte's efforts, and he refuses to view it as a negative notch on his young career.

"I know they have a plan right now, and it's about that time where they want to start slotting guys and getting them ready," he said. "So all I can do is be ready for when they call."

Nageotte made just three appearances in Cactus League play, pitching five innings and going 0-1 with a solid 3.60 ERA. The M's 5th round draft pick in the 1999 First Year Player's Draft allowed three earned runs on six hits, while walking just one batter and striking out two.

The limited action, all in relief, made it tough for a pitcher of Nageotte's makeup to put forth his best performance. The right-hander has spent all five of his pro seasons in the starting rotation, making 110 appearances, 103 of them starts.

Trying to make the team as a reliever wasn't exactly the way he would have chosen to go about the already-tall task.

"You'd think it'd make it easier (as a reliever with less innings for things to go bad), but when you are starting, you can afford to have a 30-pitch inning because you can come back with a couple real quick innings. But if you're relieving, two runs is a lot of runs. When you are starting, a two run inning isn't bad."

There has been a lot of talk, within and outside of the organization, that Nageotte's talents are better suited for the bullpen. Nageotte understands the reasoning behind the thought.

But does he think he can stick in the rotation?

"When my change up is working, definitely," he said. "But if I'm only a two-pitch pitcher, it's tough to go through the lineup three times and only have two pitches - unless you're really putting those pitches where you want."

With the Mariners last summer, Nageotte worked 36.2 innings, allowing 48 hits and 27 walks, while compiling a 7.36 ERA in 12 games.

Nageotte, like most other young players, will remember the time he spent in the majors last season, and learn from it.

"Last year I got my feet wet a little bit," said Nageotte. "And experience gives you a test before a lesson."

But what happened to the pitcher that led the Texas League in strikeouts in 2003? Where had the low-90's heat gone? Why was this great slider we all heard about half as effective as it should have been?

Nageotte had an excuse, though he won't even think about using it. Lower back problems sidelined the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder for the final five weeks of the season. The pain didn't show up out of the blue, it's part of Nageotte's physical history and removed his "stuff" from the top drawer and tossed it into the medicine cabinet.

"I hate making excuses because when you have a ball in your hand, you control everything," said Nageotte of his arsenal being robbed of velocity and command. "It's been a problem for my whole career. But when it flares up, I've pitched through it."

In the past, Nageotte had told the team trainers when his back was a little sore and received a little time off, or in cases, some extra treatment to stave off any added discomfort. So when the pain hit, long before the DL stint that began in late August, why didn't he go to the team and fill them in?

That's easy. Nageotte wants to be a big league pitcher.

"Anytime you fight through some injuries, especially when you've put yourself in the situation I was in, the last thing you want to do is complain about not feeling right," Nageotte said of his trip through the league with a bad back and less than Nageotte-like stuff. "You don't want any opportunity to slip away."

Nageotte will have another opportunity this season to impress the Seattle brass and get back to the big leagues. Healthy again and feeling strong, there is no reason that the right-hander can't regain his stuff and be back in a Seattle Mariners uniform in no time.

And nobody knows this better than Nageotte himself.

"If I pitch well," he said, "I know they are going to be calling me."

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