M’s send Morrow to Tacoma

Move opens roster spot for newly acquired Hannahan

SEATTLE – The Brandon Morrow Experiment has taken another turn, this time to the minor leagues.

Partly because they needed a roster spot after trading Saturday for Oakland A’s third baseman Jack Hannahan and partly because Morrow still needs work in his conversion to a starting pitcher, the Mariners made the move before Saturday night’s game.

Morrow will pitch every fifth day at Triple-A Tacoma with an emphasis on refining his off-speed pitches. The Mariners won’t need a fifth starter until July 25 because of the All-Star break and off days, although there’s no guarantee Morrow will be up then or anytime soon after.

“This gives him a chance to go to Triple-A and refine some things,” manager Don Wakamatsu said.

Morrow has gotten six starts to hone his repertoire beyond fastball-slider to fastball-slider-changeup-curveball. Friday night’s start was one of the more frustrating because Morrow didn’t throw a curve the entire game. He was hurt by two home runs, including a three-run homer after he’d given up two walks, and was pulled after five innings.

“I understand the situation,” Morrow said. “They need a roster spot. I’ll go down to Tacoma knowing there are no promises when I’ll come back.”

It already has been a season of many transitions for Morrow.

He went to spring training as a starter after finishing the 2008 season in the rotation. An arm problem in March hurt his chances of making the team as a starter, and late in spring training he told the Mariners he wanted to be their closer.

He was given that role but struggled early in the season and was replaced by David Aardsma. Then he went to Wakamatsu again and said he’d made a mistake trying to close, that he felt it best to be a starter again.

The Mariners chose the unorthodox method of putting Morrow in their rotation to make the transition instead of sending him to Tacoma as they did last season. Part of the reason is that the M’s were limited in their options for the rotation because Erik Bedard had developed a bad shoulder and Ryan Rowland-Smith was struggling at Tacoma in his comeback from an arm problem.

“You make mistakes (in the big leagues), they get punished a little more,” Morrow said, describing the difference between his transition in the majors this year with the minor leagues last year.

Wakamatsu defended the decision to keep Morrow in the big leagues, even though Morrow has pitched into the sixth inning only once.

“In all honesty, I’m happy with the progression he’s made in six starts,” Wakamatsu said. “I still stand behind the decision to stretch him out up here. Six starts, he has a more definitive plan on what he needs to work on.”

The Mariners obtained Hannahan from the A’s in exchange for minor league pitcher Justin Souza, who was 6-6 with a 3.35 ERA at Double-A West Tennessee.

Hannahan falls into the Mariners’ defense-first mentality. He ranked second among American League third basemen in fielding last year.

A left-handed hitter, he’s hardly the offensive spark the Mariners need for their struggling offense. He has a .223 career average and batted .193 in 52 games this year with the A’s before being sent down to their Triple-A team in Sacramento.

Wakamatsu, who got to know Hannahan last year when he was the bench coach in Oakland, plans to platoon him at third base with right-handed-hitting Chris Woodward.

“Any time I can get an opportunity to help out a team in the big leagues, I’ll just try to make the most of it and play hard every day and win games,” Hannahan said.

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