Closer job wide open in Seattle with Aardsma out
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP)
Aardsma needed surgery on his left hip in early January. The crutches only took him so far; golf carts do the rest when he wants to watch his teammates.
Now comes trying to walk without pain, then toss a baseball, then pitch his way back into form. That's not happening in time for the start of the regular season, so the Mariners have an open competition for closer.
At least Aardsma, who has 69 saves over the past two seasons for the Mariners - fifth-most in the AL over 2009 and 2010 - can observe the competition from the outside and not get outwardly upset about other pitchers up for his job.
''We've got a lot of great arms. We've got a lot of guys that have closing experience, have late-inning experience,'' Aardsma said. ''Very impressed by the guys that have come in here, a lot of them on minor-league deals.''
Among those are right-hander Chris Ray, who saved 49 games for the Baltimore Orioles in 2006 and 2007, and Aardsma's former Boston Red Sox teammate, Manny DelCarmen, who was a setup man and has a World Series ring from the Red Sox.
There are also younger pitchers who will get a longer look as spring training progresses, likely to include righties Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke.
But the front-runner for closer - in Aardsma's and manager Eric Wedge's opinion - is right-hander Brandon League.
A setup man over his career with Toronto and Seattle, League stepped in for Aardsma as the closer late last season when Aardsma suffered a strained oblique. He had six saves in 2010, but also blew six save opportunities.
''I'd like to close,'' League said. ''Just fill in the role until Aardsma gets back and help the team win is basically what it comes down to.''
League also pointed out that closer isn't the only open position in the Mariners' bullpen, with only a few relievers back from last season.
''I want to work on throwing my slider more. I threw it maybe three times last year,'' League said. ''Maybe I'll throw it four times this year.''
Ray, 29, recorded a save for both the AL champion Texas Rangers and World Series champion San Francisco Giants last season, but has battled injuries over the past three seasons. He's getting championship rings from both teams, but signed with Seattle on a minor-league contract.
''I'm jut trying to make the team first,'' Ray said. ''Do I want to close? Of course I do. I'd love to be that guy.''
Ray said he knew about Aardsma's injury and figured Seattle might be his best chance to make a major league roster coming out of spring training.
''For every reliever, closing is kind of what you want to do,'' Ray said. ''It's fun. I love doing it. It's one of those roles where you have to do it on a consistent basis. It's hard to unseat people that are closers.''
Whoever wins the job, it will only be until Aardsma is ready to resume his role.
''We're looking forward to Dave returning,'' pitching coach Carl Willis said. ''We've got some big arms that can compete for the back of the bullpen. I don't want to handicap it ... League has some experience, Chris Ray has some experience in closing games, Delcarmen has been toward the back end with Boston. Those are the veteran guys that we'll kind of take the most serious look at the beginning.''