Two months ago the suggestion would have been preposterous.
In spring training, such as it was this year, the Mariners looked like a team that was going to score a lot of runs, or rather, they looked like a team that was going to HAVE to score a lot of runs just to keep themselves in games.
Randy Johnson was going to be the stopper, Chris Bosio was the veteran who knew how to pitch in the big leagues and after that, there were only questions.
Here it is the middle of June, the Mariners just lost their fourth straight game Wednesday and underneath that frustration, a personality has developed.
All of a sudden, this is a team whose strength is pitching. And after he watched Tim Belcher - acquired off the scrap heap a month ago today for pitcher Roger Salkeld - lose a difficult 2-1 decision, Seattle manager Lou Piniella was considering the wisdom of old-time baseball.
Part of that has to do with the continuing success of Johnson, Bosio and Belcher, part of it has to do with the sharp, professional outing turned in Tuesday by Saloman Torres, and another part of it must have something to do with seeing the Kansas City Royals, who swept the Mariners, up close and personal.
In the absence of Ken Griffey, Jr., and Jay Buhner, out with injuries for a couple more months and about a week, respectively, Piniella has to lean hard on the strength of his team.
“The four Kansas City pitchers are all young and strong, that allows them to do it,” Piniella said. “Here, I’m not sure we can do it, then again, I’m not so sure we can’t, either. It would be something we’d have to find out by trying it.”
He sounded inclined to drop the fifth starter from the rotation for now. And if he needed encouragement, Piniella could have had it from Kansas City manager Bob Boone, the former catcher who cut his teeth managing for a couple of seasons in Tacoma.
“Everyone is making a big deal of it and we just don’t see it that way,” Boone said after his team’s record improved to 25-18. “Every time there’s another off day, everyone gets an extra day rest and it’s not like this is something radical or different. You know, baseball teams used four-man rotations for 100 years because it seemed to be the right amount of rest in between starts, so it isn’t as though we just discovered something brand new here.”
It is the little things that win baseball games when the big boys are out of the lineup, like the well-placed bunt, the routine fielding plays and most of all, playing to your strength.
In the case of the Mariners, playing the best baseball in franchise history, a fifth starter is beginning to look like a luxury they can’t afford. Johnson, Bosio, Belcher and Torres should carry the load for a while, at least for a few weeks until Buhner gets back in the lineup and regains his stroke.
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