BY John Hickey 05:28PM 03/03/2011

Mariners will limit Laffey to bullpen competition

The newest member of the Mariners has started before, but Seattle likes him pitching in a relief role.

Aaron Laffey, who previously pitched for Cleveland, is being given a shot to make the Mariners as a reliever / Wiki Commons

GLENDALE, AZ. – Aaron Laffey isn’t a panacea – in the wake of Seattle having traded for the left-handed reliever, there is still no guarantee that he will even make the Mariner roster out of spring training.

He does stand as an indication that the Mariners aren’t going to stand pat this spring, which is good because Seattle has a long way to go in terms of being competitive in the American League West after losing 101 games in 2010.

Laffey came at minimal cost to Seattle – the Indians took infielder Matt Lawson, who was part of last year’s Cliff Lee deal with Texas, and cash – to give him up.

On the surface it, he’s only a fractional improvement; while he’s been a starter with Cleveland, the Mariners have told him he’s only being consider as a reliever. But there could be hidden upside now that he’s healthy after having a couple of stints on the disabled list the last two years.

The moving between the rotation and the bullpen took a toll on his fastball, which has topped out in the low-90-mph range. At times last year he could barely make 80 mph or, to use Laffey’s phrase, “It was like I threw it and there was a parachute attached to it.’’

Laffey, who spent his first day in a Seattle uniform Thursday, said he’s glad to know coming in that his new club has a specific role in mind for him.

“Last year when I switched over from relieving to starting,’’ he said, “(he found that) you have to go through spring training in a couple of weeks. You usually have six weeks to prepare to start, but I basically went through a shortened three-week period when I had to go from throwing 30 pitches in an outing to throwing over 100.

“My shoulder kind of shut down. I wasn’t seriously injured, but the muscles in my shoulder were extremely fatigued and just shut down. I was topping out at like 80 mph. I was throwing as hard as I could, but it just wasn’t there.’’

Seattle should discover Friday how much Laffey has in the tank. He’s supposed to throw against – surprise – the Indians in Peoria.

Manager Eric Wedge, who had Laffey for a time in Cleveland, said he likes the fact that Laffey’s pitches have good sink and that he’s equally capable of facing left-handed and right-handed batters.

Another lefty, Luke French, got Thursday’s start in Glendale against the White Sox. He threw three innings, the first Seattle starter to do so, and didn’t give up a run. A couple of two-out singles in the second had him in a spot, but he got a grounder to elude trouble, then in the third he picked of Chicago second baseman Gordon Beckham to turn the Sox away again.

“I liked that there was more life in his pitches,’’ Wedge said, comparing this start to his first against San Diego (two innings, two runs, one earned). “He was more aggressive and better at finishing off his pitches.

“It’s a work in progress, like it is with all the guys right now.’’

NOTES: Chicago White Sox’s outfielder Alex Rios’ two-run homer off  Brandon League in the fourth inning Thursday was the first scoring of the game and the only scoring for the White Sox until the eighth of what turned out to be a 6-1 Chicago win. It was the second spring performance for League, and he’s given up three runs in the two innings. … Mariner hopeful Yusmeiro Petit came in with the bases loaded in the eighth and gave up a two-run double, a sacrifice fly and an RBI single as the game got out of hand. … The first three runs of the inning were charged to the man who loaded the bases, lefty Cesar Jimenez. … It was Seattle’s second consecutive loss after going 2-0-1 in the first three games, and the Mariners have four runs and 12 hits combined in the two games. … Tom Wilhelmsen, trying to revive his career after taking five years off, got into his first spring game and threw two shutout innings.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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