Salt in the Wound: Blue Jays’ Brandon Morrow Loses No Hitter, But Raises Doubts About Mariners’ Front Office Decision Making.

Did the Mariners give up on Brandon Morrow too early? It looked that way on Sunday.

This time last season Seattle fans were wearing “In Jack We Trust” t-shirts, petitioning the organization to construct a statue of new GM Jack Zduriencik in front of Safeco Field and writing in his name for governor of Washington.

What a difference a year makes.

Though Brandon Morrow fell just short of a no-hitter on Sunday afternoon against the Rays, his sterling 17 strikeout, one-hit performance still took some of the sheen off Zduriencik’s head and Seattle’s shiny new Bill Bavasi-less front office. Morrow was shipped to Toronto during the offseason in return for power reliever Brandon League who was supposed to bridge the gap between Seattle’s starting pitchers and closer David Aardsma. League hasn’t been bad (8-6, 3.16 ERA) but has consistently faltered in high-leverage situations, and despite a reputation as a flamethrower, has only struck out 40 batters in 57 innings.

The number five overall pick in the 2006 draft, Morrow was flipped from the starting rotation to the bullpen to Triple-A and back again so many times, it’s a wonder he doesn’t have multiple personalities. While the current regime can’t be blamed for the mismanagement of Morrow early in his career, they certainly can be accused of giving up on the young ace too early.

The 26-year-old Morrow is 9-6 on the season, with a 4.45 ERA (a number which would almost certainly be lower if he was pitching at Safeco Field) and 151 strikeouts in 127 innings (a league leading 10.67 K’s/9 innings). A full season in the starting rotation has done wonders for Morrow’s confidence and he’s started to hit the strike zone with more consistency. If he can continue to cut down on the walks and pitch deep into games, Morrow has the potential to become a staff ace in the mold of Bert Blyleven.

With their pitching staff in shambles (Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are Seattle’s only reliable starters) the Mariners can use all the arms that they can get. Who do you suppose they would rather have right now: an average middle reliever with a propensity for big innings, or an up-and-coming starter with the makings of a future star?

I’m not giving up on Zduriencik and Co., but a 42-70 record and scores of Mariners (Beltre, Silva, Thorton, etc.) finding success elsewhere don’t make it easy to believe things are going to chance anytime soon.

Is it football season yet?

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Mariners Monthly Roundup: May “Well, That’s More of What We Expected” Edition

Aardsma has proved a capable closer for the Mariners.

Aardsma has proved a capable closer for the Mariners.

Record: 11-18 (24-27 overall)

AL West Standings: Texas (30-20), LA 4.5 GB, Seattle 7 GB, Oakland 10.5 GB.

Top Hitter: While it doesn’t take much to stand out in the Mariners’ rag-tag lineup, Ichiro enjoyed a very productive month at the dish during May. Suzuki hit .377 in the month, riding a 24-game hitting streak that raised his season average to .354. The Japanese Juggernaut also contributed 3 HRs, 10 RBIs and 5 SBs. While he still doesn’t draw any walks, and his speed is on the decline, Ichiro is still one of the lone bright spots for an offense that ranks near the bottom of the American League in nearly every category (12th in BA, 14th in Runs, 14th in OBP, 13th in Slugging). If the M’s are going to have any chance at competing in the AL West, Suzuki is going to have to continue to play as well as he did in May.

Top Pitcher(s): Besides having the distinct honor of appearing before aardvark in the dictionary, David Aardsma has also thrived as the Mariners’ closer since he took over for the erratic Brandon Morrow. Most fans (including myself) probably didn’t think Aardsma had a chance to be a successful stopper because the former 1st round draft pick came into the season with a career ERA near 5.00. But besides his Jose Mesa-eqsue implosion on the last day of May (2/3 IP, 3 R, 4 BB), Aardsma proved his mettle, converting 5 of 6 saves with a 2.25 ERA. The former Rice closer has electric stuff; Aardsma dials up a mid-90s fastball and dares hitters to catch up to it—so far they haven’t been able to (18 Ks in 16 May innings). He still needs to cut down on the walks (12 BBs in May), but otherwise Aardsma looks like one of the Mariner’s best offseason acquisitions. Another pleasant surprise for Seattle has been lefty Jason Vargas who came to the M’s in the J.J. Putz trade. Since his call-up at the beginning of May, Vargas has gone 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA between the bullpen and starting rotation. If he keeps this early season success going, Don Wakamatsu will have a tough decision to make when Ryan Rowland-Smith returns to the team.

Big Russell Branyan--the Mariner's lone source of power.

Big Russell Branyan--the Mariner's lone source of power.

Biggest Surprise: Russell Branyan has proven to be the only consistent source of power in the Mariner’s lineup, leading the team with 11 HRs on the season. Even more shocking is that the .237 career hitter followed up a .333 April by hitting .317 in May with 7 HRs and 13 RBIs. Branyan has predominately been a three true outcomes (HR, K, BB) player throughout his career, but has pulled a page out of Ichiro’s book and his ability to hit singles and doubles this year has kept his average above .300. Given the chance to play full-time for the first time in his career Branyan has thrived, and while undoubtedly his average will fall, he at least gives the Mariners one player in their lineup that pitchers need to respect.

Biggest Disappointment: The last time Adrian Beltre entered a contract year he went bananas, hitting .334 with 48 HRs and 121 RBIs. So far this season, Beltre has made Mariners’ fans long for the day of Russ Davis or David Bell, hitting .250 in May with 3 HRs and 11 RBIs (not to mention his 4/21 BB-to-K ratio). Seattle would probably like to trade Beltre when if they fall out of contention, but he sure isn’t making it easy on them. While he plays Gold Glove caliber defense at third, he hasn’t been able to rediscover the steroids swing that made him an MVP-caliber player with the Dodgers.

Griffey Watch: Junior hit .214-3 HRs-9 RBIs in May, which suprisingly enough, was better than his April. Mr. Zduriencik, Jose Vidro is on line one…

Injuries: Kenji Johjima (15-day DL, fractured big left toe); Ray Corcoran (15-day DL, sore neck, early June return); Ryan Rowland-Smith (15-day DL, triceps tendinitis, early June return); Carlos Silva (15-day DL, general terribleness, teammates/fans hope for extended stay on DL).

June Schedule: 3 vs. Baltimore; 3 vs. Minnesota; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ Colorado; 3 @ San Diego; 3 vs. Arizona; 3 vs. San Diego; 3 @ LA Dodgers; 1 @ NY Yankees.

Overall Grade: (C) After a hot start the Mariners have come crashing back to earth and unless their offense improves there is no reason to expect a change anytime soon. Their pitching staff has been superb, but an utter lack of run support will leave the Mariners struggling to stay around.500. Hopefully they can use interleague play as a springboard back towards contention, but don’t bet on it.