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Newest Mariners Eager To Help

Larry Larue Tacoma News Tribune

Each of them was entitled to as much as 72 hours to put their affairs in order, none of them took it, and by game time the Seattle Mariners new bullpen had been rebuilt.

Three new faces - Mike Timlin, Paul Spoljaric and Heathcliff Slocumb - were in newly outfitted Mariners uniforms.

There was only a small moment of disappointment, when Spoljaric was told he’d have to change his number from Toronto and go with No. 23.

“They told me 24 was taken,” Spoljaric said, grinning. “And they said it would be for the foreseeable future.”

Ken Griffey Jr. didn’t give up his number, but there were a lot of smiles as the Mariners introduced themselves to three pitchers whose acquisition Thursday sent a clear signal.

“It told you two things,” Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. “We’re interested in winning - now - and we’re after people who can get outs and help us win. We set all kinds of offensive records last year and didn’t make the playoffs.

“Pitching is the difference, and to get what we needed we had to give up a kid nobody in this organization wanted to trade, Jose Cruz Jr. This is our club. The rest is up to us now.”

Timlin, Spoljaric and Slocumb could have taken as long as three days to report. All came in less than 24, and each had much the same explanation.

“I’m excited about a run for another ring,” said Timlin, a veteran of two World Series teams.

“In Boston, I’d heard all the rumors,” Slocumb said. “I was hoping I’d go to a contender, I was hoping for a chance at the postseason. With this team, I’ve got both.”

And then there was left-hander Spoljaric, the youngest of the three at 26, and clearly the most excited.

“My head is spinning. This is a chance to win a World Series, to contribute to that,” Spoljaric said. “My role? I have no preference. I’ll pitch once a week, once a day, whatever Lou wants.”

What Piniella and his team wanted and needed was a revitalized bullpen, and in an astonishing transformation, Seattle - while in first place in the American League West - acquired five pitchers through trade in a 13-day period.

“We’ve picked up five good arms in the last two weeks, guys who aren’t rent-a-player types,” Piniella said. “Omar Olivares is in the rotation, Felipe Lira, Timlin, Slocumb and Spoljaric are in the bullpen. It gives us depth. If gives us options.

“We didn’t make these deals to improve the team. We made them to give us the kind of team that can go deep into October, and we’ve done that.”

On paper, of course.

Timlin and Slocumb have closed games before and Spoljaric has three saves this year, four in his career. Piniella wanted late-game options? Now he has four men - Timlin, Slocumb, Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton - with at least 49 career saves.

“We’ve got four closers here with experience, so Lou’s not limited,” Slocumb said. “Ideally, for me, it comes down to one guy. The ideal for Lou might be to be able to use any of us. I’ll try to make it hard for him to use anybody else.”

The Mariners have an overcrowded pitching staff, 12 pitchers deep, that will have to be trimmed by one on Tuesday, when the team begins a homestand and activates outfielder Lee Tinsley from the disabled list.

For now, the Mariners will close by committee, with Timlin probably getting the first opportunity.

Timlin lost his closing job in April when Toronto manager Cito Gaston went to a group of relievers.

“Cito lost confidence in me. He likes a closer who blows people away,” said Timlin, who saved 31 games last year for the Jays. “I wasn’t striking out a lot of guys. I was getting outs, but not strikeouts. I had two saves in four chances in April and he said ‘I’m not comfortable with you as my closer.”’

As a result, Timlin had a 3-2 record with a 2.87 earned-run average this season, but only nine saves.

Slocumb, meanwhile, began the season as the Boston closer but had a dreadful start - he was 0-3 with an 8.04 ERA on June 13, with six saves in 29 appearances. Over his next 20 games, he fashioned a 2.41 ERA.

None of the three knew too many of his new teammates well, but all of them knew a little about their new manager.

“Lou? From what I hear he’s competitive. He wants to win,” Timlin said. “He’ll talk to his players a little more than Cito did. If you screw up, he’s not beyond grabbing you by the back of the neck. I like that.”

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