PEORIA, Ariz. – When manager Lloyd McClendon envisions the Mariners’ bullpen this season, he sees stability, improved performance and some consistency – all anchored by closer Fernando Rodney.
But from a staffing standpoint, there are some logistics that would be ideal for him in terms of the number of left-handed relievers he would carry.
“In a perfect world, you’d like to have three,” he said. “We just have to see how it all plays out as spring plays out. I can’t say I will have three, but in a perfect world I would. And we have viable candidates.”
McClendon knows he has at least one left-hander he can slot into his bullpen.
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In 2013, Charlie Furbush established himself as one of the Mariners’ most reliable relievers. The lanky lefty made a team-high 71 appearances, posting a 2-6 record with a 3.74 earned-run average. The numbers aren’t eye-popping, but dig a little deeper and they get impressive. Opponents hit just .199 against Furbush, and lefties hit just .173 with five extra-base hits. In 65 innings, Furbush struck out 80 batters with 29 walks. The average of 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings ranked 14th in the American League. He stranded 39 of the 57 runners inherited (69.4 percent), which was second-best in the AL.
“I saw him when he pitched against us, he was pretty darn good,” said McClendon, who was the hitting coach with the Tigers last season.
Furbush is starting to figure this relieving thing out.
“Last year, as the season went on I got a little more comfortable understanding the situations where I was coming into games and what it takes to pitch late in games,” he said.
People forget that 2013 was just Furbush’s second full year in the big leagues and his second full year as a reliever. When the Mariners acquired Furbush from the Tigers in 2011 in the much-lamented Doug Fister trade, they weren’t certain whether he was a starter or a reliever. The Tigers had the same uncertainty. With Detroit, he made 17 appearances that season with two starts. When he joined the Mariners, he made 10 starts and one relief appearance.
The bouncing back and forth between roles made it difficult for Furbush to find a rhythm and routine.
“It was an adjustment figuring out not just the physical but the mental side,” he said.
But in 2012, the Mariners converted Furbush to a reliever full time. And now after two years, he’s figured out his routine and his mindset on the mound.
“I learned a lot about myself in terms of keeping things simple and taking it one pitch at a time,” he said.
It’s a pitching cliché, but Furbush believes in it.
“When you come in with runners on base and less than two outs, you just have to get it done,” he said. “You can’t force things to happen. So I just put everything I had into that pitch. And do the same on the next pitch.”
The Mariners put a lot into Furbush last season, using him often and putting him in less-than-optimal situations where he would face a string of right-handers. With the struggles of the bullpen, he was often the best option. But his teammates’ problems were also his own. It’s a code in the bullpen.
“It’s a team thing,” he said. “We win together and we lose together. No one likes to see anyone struggle. We have to be here to pick each other up.”
Despite the increased usage, Furbush was unusually durable. After missing a month in 2012 with a triceps strain, he never had any issues with his health in 2013 even with the heavy workload.
“I felt good throughout the whole year,” he said. “I think there were maybe a handful of times where I felt tired. My body felt good and my arm felt great.”
The Mariners will need that again in 2014.
Mariners avoid arbitration with Smoak
The Mariners agreed to terms with first baseman Justin Smoak on a contract for 2014. Smoak, who was the Mariners’ last remaining arbitration-eligible player, was set to have an arbitration hearing sometime next week. Instead, the two sides found a compromise.
The interesting aspect of the contract announcement was the mention of a club vesting option for the 2015 season.
Per club policy, the financial aspects of the contract weren’t released. But according to multiple reports, Smoak will make $2.6375 million for 2014. The option year in 2015 would pay Smoak $3.65 million with a $150,000 buyout. If Smoak does not reach 525 plate appearances in 2014, the option vests into a club option.
Smoak’s representation — Bledsoe Brothers — filed for $3.25 million in arbitration while the Mariners countered with $2.025 million.
Smoak, 27, played in 131 games in 2013 with 124 starts at first base, despite missing more than two weeks with an oblique strain. He hit .238 with a career-high 20 home runs along with 19 doubles and 50 runs batted in.
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