Pitcher has gone seven straight games without allowing a walk.
A teammate who knows Sean White better than most saw a prime example the other night of why he’s become such a valuable part of this year’s Mariners bullpen.
Catcher Rob Johnson was behind the plate Tuesday as White fell behind 2-0 in the count to Baltimore Orioles slugger Nick Markakis with a runner aboard and none out in the eighth inning. White gathered himself on the mound, made a quick mechanical adjustment, then landed a pair of needed strikes before getting a fielder’s choice ground out and eventually escaping the inning.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Johnson, who caught White in Class AAA Tacoma last season. “He was cutting his ball a little bit instead of sinking it. So, he knew that he wasn’t staying back enough. He was getting out in front. And he knew it right away. Nobody needed to say anything, and he came back, got two strikes and got out of it.”
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White spent much of the past offseason thinking about his mound mechanics and trying to understand how his body worked when pitching. It was something that required quite a bit of time and commitment for the Mercer Island native and former Washington Huskies standout.
“I took my time looking at video and then I’d just sit down and think about what it would take to make me successful,” said White, sporting a 1.65 earned-run average and riding a 14-inning scoreless streak that’s third-longest in the American League.
The mission toward self-awareness was entirely self-generated. White had spent a so-so year as a starter in AAA last season, coming off a 2007 campaign in which the Mariners selected him as a Rule 5 draft pick from the Atlanta Braves system and kept him on the major-league squad for two months.
But the man who made that pick, former general manager Bill Bavasi, was fired a year ago and replaced on a full-time basis last October by Jack Zduriencik. With that came a new manager in Don Wakamatsu and an entirely new staff of coaches.
White was no longer on the 40-man roster and, at age 28, figured he had to show something more at spring training.
“My goal was to put out a good impression,” he said. “I knew there were some new guys here and I wanted to at least at some point give myself an opportunity to be here on the team.”
Johnson insists the difference from last year is night and day.
“He’s at the point where he can feel his body,” Johnson said. “He’s way more mature as far as feeling his body. If something’s off, he can feel it right now. So, he knows his body and he knows his mechanics.”
White has always thrived on his sinker. But up to now, he wasn’t able to control it.
Mariners bullpen coach John Wetteland didn’t quite know what to make of White when he first saw him this spring. Wetteland could see the potential of White’s sinker, but had to get him away from the command issues that had plagued his short career.
“He really had a problem working with it,” Wetteland said. “Then finally, there was this realization that look, that sinker is so devastating you can throw it right down the middle of the plate and let the ball do the work.”
White was called up from AAA on April 16 and has gotten better at trusting his sinker’s power as this season has progressed. The improved understanding of his mechanics allow him to make adjustments that will ensure that sinker starts off in the middle of the plate the way it must.
After walking 12 batters in 11 appearances from April 22 to May 17, he has gone seven straight outings without issuing a free pass. In the process, he has also graduated to pitching in more pressure-packed situations.
“The great weapon he brings to the bullpen is because he has that sinker, he’s a great middle-inning guy,” Wetteland said. “Being so devastating in that role, if we need a ground ball with one out, first and third in a one-run game, he’s going to get you a ground ball. And that’s a huge, valuable thing, rather than having to rely on strikeouts. As much as power arms are wonderful in the bullpen, if you’re a strikeout/fly-ball guy, you’re going to give up that run.”
White got four more ground-ball outs in 1-2/3 innings against the Orioles on Tuesday, including the big one off the bat of Markakis. Now, even when an at-bat doesn’t start off well, he’s learned enough about himself to make sure it finishes the right way.
“I never really recognized or understood my delivery, so I tried to spend some time kind of learning the process,” White said. “It definitely helps me along the way with making adjustments too.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners