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Starter’s start slow

Rowland-Smith struggling but optimistic

Ryan Rowland-Smith has an 8.10 earned-run average this spring. (File Associated Press)
Ryan Rowland-Smith has an 8.10 earned-run average this spring. (File Associated Press)
Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. – The Seattle Mariners are counting on Ryan Rowland-Smith to help build the back end of a rotation that already has Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee.

So far this spring, the results haven’t been impressive.

Rowland-Smith, a notorious slow starter, has an ERA of 8.10 and failed to get out of the third inning in Thursday’s 9-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies. He allowed three runs, five hits and left the bases loaded after throwing 66 pitches.

“He was up in the zone, pulling off a lot of pitches,” Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I guess the good thing we’re looking at is the amount of pitches that we’re starting to build these guys up to but there’s a lot more work to be done.”

With Lee suspended for the first five games of the season, pending appeal, Rowland-Smith would likely get the ball after Hernandez in the second game of the season. Despite being in constant trouble, he felt his effort against the Rockies was a step forward from previous outings.

“It went better than last time,” said Rowland-Smith, who allowed three runs in two innings to Kansas City on March 12. “I had a couple of deep counts that got my pitch count up. But besides that, I was happy with it. If you eliminate two or three pitches in a couple at-bats, all of a sudden you get to the fourth or fifth inning.”

But after getting ahead of several hitters early, Rowland-Smith either lost them or had to burn extra pitches to retire them, and it caught up to him quickly. He was also charged with a wild pitch and what he said was his first balk in the major leagues.

The Mariners’ pitching may have to carry the team if the offensive display this spring is any indication. Seattle is struggling to score runs.

Last spring wasn’t kind to Rowland-Smith. He came out of his first start after three innings and immediately went to the disabled list with triceps tendinitis. He didn’t make it back to Seattle until late July.

But if Rowland-Smith can pitch like he did late last season, when he reached the eighth inning eight times in 15 starts with an ERA of 2.59, the Seattle rotation becomes more than just two big hurlers at the top of the rotation. With Ian Snell and likely Jason Vargas rounding out the unit, Rowland-Smith had better success at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, where he had a 2.70 ERA, nearly half of what he gave up on the road.

“I have a lot of confidence in myself and what I can do to help this team,” Rowland-Smith said. “It’s a slow process to get to where you want to be, but each start is a step forward and I feel good physically. We have a couple of weeks to get ready and I think I’ll be right there.”

One of the new Mariners television commercials features the affable Australian meeting with one of the team publicity gurus to discuss the latest wild marketing strategy for him in 2010. Mr. Marketing shows the pitcher a white T-shirt with a long black bar across the front.

“I don’t get it,” the pitcher deadpans.

“It’s a hyphen!” he says. “You’re Ryan Rowland-Smith – you’re the hyphen!”

The Mariners just want him to be a solid starter.

Lee might miss week

Lee’s eventful first spring with the Seattle Mariners continued Friday when the lefty ace was diagnosed with a lower right abdominal strain that will cost him at least a week of spring training.

Lee was examined in Seattle on Friday by team physician Dr. Edward Khalfayan. Lee underwent an ultrasound and was given a platelet-rich plasma injection. The team said he would be re-evaluated in seven days.

“We are hoping for a speedy recovery and look forward to him returning,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said in a statement.

It hasn’t been a smooth first stretch for Lee with the Mariners. He underwent surgery on Feb. 5 to remove a bone spur on his left foot. That slowed his progress in spring training and he’s been limited to just 5 2/3 innings so far.

He was also ejected from a game against Arizona earlier this week for throwing inside to Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder before zipping a fastball over his helmet.

Lee was suspended for the first five games of the regular season and fined by Major League Baseball vice president of discipline Bob Watson.

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