BY John Hickey 10:45AM 04/18/2011

Wright earns new stature in Mariners bullpen

Good start should give veteran right-hander more time in setup role

Jamey Wright's effective pitching of late has propelled him into the setup role for the Mariners. / Andrew Burton, Getty Images

The Mariners start their second homestand of the season Monday night against the Tigers with one-tenth of the season elapsed.

Already it seems there has been a subtle but significant shift in the way Seattle manager Eric Wedge is doing things in the wake of a 5-11 start to the season.

For the first two weeks or so of the season Wedge seemed willing to let Chris Ray to do the setup work for Brandon League, leaving Jamey Wright to fill in the gaps.

That plan may have been scuttled. Last Wednesday Wedge used Wright against Toronto’s Jose Molina with the Mariners holding a 2-1 lead. Wright got the strikeout to end the seventh inning, but then the manager opted to have Ray start the eighth. Toronto scored five times off Ray and the Mariners lost out on a chance to sweep the Blue Jays.

The opportunity to use a setup man didn’t come again until Sunday, and neither Wright nor Ray had pitched since then, so both were ready.

Wright pitched the seventh, walked the leadoff hitter, but got out of the inning on a dozen pitches to preserve the lead at 3-1.

In the past – admittedly there isn’t much past to judge from since Wedge has managed this time for just 16 games – the manager would have gone to Ray to pitch the eighth and League to pitch the ninth.

But in the wake of the Toronto game, Wright got a chance at a second inning. Again, he didn’t win fans by walking the leadoff hitter, but he kept the ball in the infield after that, and with the help of a bad call at first base by umpire Marvin Hudson – batter Chris Getz of the Royals actually beat Wright, who was covering, to the first base bag, but Hudson didn’t see it that way – he handed the ball to League with the Mariners still holding a 3-1 lead.

Does this signal a change in how the Mariners are going to be doing things in the near future? Probably. Success is its own reward, and Wright, 36, is having some. True, he’s a journeyman whose career is virtual map of both the major and minor leagues, but he’s getting outs.

He barely got scratched in spring training (11 games, 12 innings, four hits, no runs). And there’s been no bleeding since the regular season began, either (6.2 innings, two hits, no runs).

Why would Wedge not try to ride the hot hand while he’s got it?

It’s true that Ray, unlike Wright, is a former closer. It’s true, too, that the 29-year-old Ray may have more of a long-term upside than Wright. But it’s also true that Ray hasn’t yet proved that he’s got the same stuff as he had before having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow four years ago.

He pitched well enough in middle relief for the two teams that went to the World Series last year, beginning the year with Texas (2-0, 3.41) and finishing up with San Francisco (3-0, 4.13).

It would seem to make more sense to keep him in middle relief now, too, at least until he gets his game (1-1, 15.43 ERA) under control.

In any event, it seems ever more likely that Wright would be just a stopgap in the setup role. Closer David Aardsma starts an injury rehabilitation assignment with Tacoma on Tuesday, and unlike the ongoing saga of Franklin Gutierrez and his health issues, Aardsma has progressed steadily with no setbacks.

He could be back within a week, maybe two. That would push League back into the setup role and would allow both Wright and Ray to do the middle relief work they both seem suited for.

Twitter: @JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • H-Dog

    Correction: Hasselbeck helped take the Seahawks to SIX playoff appearances including the Super Bowl.

  • pizza boy

    I am very happy for Matt. The Tennessee Team gives him a chance to finish his career as a winner. As a good guy he deserves that.

  • sfmonkey

    Does anyone remember the beginning of the Homgren era. First year, we squeaked into the playoffs under Kitna. Carroll did the same thing with Hass last year. In Holmgren’s second year, the Hawks fell to 6-10 without Kitna. Holmgren brought in Dilfer to mentor a young Hass. Meanwhile, Ricky Watters mentored a young Shaun Alexander. Not to mention some guys name Hutch and Jones developing as the centerpieces of the O-Line (see James Carpenter and John Moffitt). It’s deja vu all over again because Schneider is from the same Green Bay playbook Holmgren helped create. Expect the Hawks to be aggressive this year in taking hard looks at young players without too much of a concern on wins and losses. Tavaris (actually I think Leinart will end up getting more snaps) will keep things exciting. But the real objective is to land Luck or Matt Barkely next year and be competing for a ring in 2014. Rebuilding the right way takes time. Paul Allen knows it from his experience with Holmgren. Seattle fans are in for a play-off drought, but we will savvy fans will see the pieces coming together and enjoy the ride back to the top of the NFC, which I predict will be one of the NFLs most competitive divisions in the next few years with St. Louis, San Fran and even Arizona experiencing a youth movement. Onward!

    • Jerryj

      Leinart signed with Houston.

  • Jerryj

    It is sad to see Mat go, but this day was coming and better sooner then later.  Sure he is better than either Whitehurst or Jackson, but the truth is that the Seahawks were not going to the Super Bowl this year with or without him.   Last season was a fluke.
    Let the rebuilding begin in earnest and be thankful that we don’t have to watch Hasselback suffer through it. 

  • http://www.sports4.org/ Charles Scott

    Thanks for sharing article. I like to see new Seahawks QB..thanks for post..

  • 3 Lions

    Hass was such a class act! We were lucky to have him & he played a major role in legitimzing the Seahawks.
    He was smart, well spoken & always quick w a joke. He even had the decency to lead his former teamates in a workout last week when he knew he wouldn’t be part of the club. I wish him all the best & will have to take an interest in the Titans now w Matt & Jake. Perfect for Jake!

  • AARON FREAKIN’ FATTORE

    HASSELBECK SUCKED! A BORN CHOKER!

  • snowbank

    Very well said.