Shaky Bullpen Holding Mariners Down

Seattle Hardball contributor Eric Yang gives the M's bullpen low marks so far this season in the first of a series of progress reports on the first two months of the Mariner season.

In 2007, the bullpen was one of the Mariners' strengths, with J.J. Putz leading the way with 41 saves in 43 chances and reliever Brandon Morrow proving himself to be a future dominant set up man. George Sherrill was a lefty specialist who could also pitch at times to righties with effectiveness. Guys like Sean Green, Eric O'Flaherty, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and later Mark Lowe would fill their roles nicely, making the bullpen effective and shutting opponents down after seven innings. This group of would help the team to an 88-74 record --- the best the M's have had in five years.

Fast forward to 2008, and even the once reliable closer J.J. Putz has not been himself. Putz was on the DL for nearly a month, and has struggled to regain his form. George Sherrill was traded to Baltimore, where he is performing well as the Orioles' closer. That left the team with a bunch of guys who have never been in the closer's role for any length of time. That spelled trouble for the month that Putz was out. . While Putz was away the bullpen had several meltdowns that resulted in losses.

It's been nearly a third of the season and the bullpen has not performed to last year's level. In fact, the bullpen has taken at least two steps back from where it was a year ago.

Grade: C-

Why so low of a grade? Well the first few weeks of the season after Putz got hurt the bullpen gave away at least two games that should have been won. The rest of the season so far hasn't been much better. There were games that were within reach, and when the starter came out, the game got away due to bad location and inexperience. Now that Sherrill is gone, Eric O'Flaherty stepped in and failed miserably. He blew game after game until he was sent to AAA to work on his confidence and get his mechanics back in shape.

Putz has blown one game already this season and that's half of the total he did a season ago. Other guys like Green, Lowe, and Morrow have been inconsistent this season unlike in years past. Lowe is just coming off a surgery that no one has ever had before. His fastball has lost some velocity and it will take a year for him to get back to 100 percent. Green, however, has always had trouble with his sinker and it can vary on appearance. Sometimes it sinks and sometimes it doesn't. If he wants to be an effective reliever, consistency will be the key to him staying with the team.

Morrow is an interesting guy in the bullpen as he was the setup man last year. He hasn't pitched particularly well and his long-term future remains at a starter, although the Mariners have recently said that he will stay in the bullpen this year. He was drafted number three overall in the 2006 draft as a starter, but so far the team seems satisfied with him as a reliever. Next year could be interesting if they decide to trade Washburn or Batista to open a spot for Morrow in the rotation, where he would be most comfortable.

The rest of the pen has been a complete mess. Cha Sung Baek was the long relief guy and had a lot of struggles. On May 23rd he was designated for assignment and eventually traded. There have been a few guys like R.A. Dickey and Roy Corcoran who have been up this season with mixed results. One bright spot in the bullpen has been the return of Arthur Rhodes, who has pitched well when called upon this year. He may not be throwing as fast, but is getting the job done thus far.

If the Mariners want to come back from their awful start they need the bullpen to get better and stay consistent. That includes Putz who needs to shut down games in the 9th inning like last season. If there isn't big improvement, then the M's are in trouble. But if the bullpen can keep the team in games late, the Mariner hitters will at least have a fighting chance to win some games.

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