BY John Hickey 08:44PM 04/12/2011

What role for Aardsma when he returns?

Closer could be back by the end of the month, but should he be the choice to end games when he returns?

David Aardsma - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 1

David Aardsma is feeling strong after throwing a simulated game Tuesday. / Ben Van Houten, Mariners

The Mariners had some good news before Tuesday’s game.

Closer David Aardsma threw in a simulated game, and hitters made solid contact with only a couple of his two dozen-plus pitches.

Aardsma says he’s feeling great and he looks good. The Mariners are thinking he will get another simulated game Friday in Kansas City, then they will make a decision about sending him out on an injury rehabilitation assignment.

That’s all good – as far as it goes. What it doesn’t address is what happens after he’s proven to be healthy following his January hip surgery. When Aardsma comes back, does he come back as the Seattle closer or does he come back as just another member of the bullpen?

Manager Eric Wedge is leaning heavily toward having him come back as the closer.

“His is a closer’s mentality,’’ Wedge said Tuesday. “We’re not going to mess with that.’’

That’s at odds with Aardsma himself, who said this spring “that I feel I need to earn the job. I don’t just want it handed to me.’’

And while no one can tell the state the bullpen will be in when Aardsma is ready to go, it can be said at the moment the relievers are clicking. Yes, there were some rocky outings in the first week of the season, but since rookie Tom Wilhelmsen was knocked around for four runs Friday against the Indians, all that has changed.

The Mariner bullpen closed out that game with four shutout innings, then had three more Saturday, five more Sunday and three more Monday.

That’s 15 innings without allowing a run, and that’s brought the bullpen’s collective ERA down from 8.76 after Wilhelmsen’s Friday troubles to the 3.95 mark Seattle owned heading into Tuesday’s game.

If the relievers can keep anything close to that pace, then it will be easier for Aardsma to come back as just one of the guys and not be forced to come back as the closer and potential savior.

It’s a decent bet that when Aardsma comes back, the he’ll be back in the ninth inning, just as always. The trouble is, just getting healthy is only part of the issue. Pitchers need to get their grip and their rhythm and their windup and their deliveries together. And that takes more than just being healthy.

Pitchers rely heavily on their hips to generate velocity. Aardsma is going to have to prove his surgery hasn’t taken that away.

YEAR OVER FOR MOORE?: Catcher Adam Moore underwent surgery Tuesday morning on his right knee to repair the medial meniscus.

The surgery was performed by Mariner medical director Dr. Edward Khalfayan, who said the recovery time would be between four and six months, which leaves open the very real possibility that Moore won’t play again this season.

Khalfayan said in a statement that Moore suffered an extensive tear of his medial meniscus; the club had been hoping that the injury would have been less severe.

Moore, who has had trouble with his left knee in the past, was scrambling to run down a pitch in the dirt from Brandon League on April 6 in Texas when the knee gave out on him and he had to be assisted off the field. He’d been on crutches since then, and he’ll probably need them for a while more.

NOTES: Chone Figgins wasn’t in the starting lineup Tuesday for the first time this year. He had to come out of Monday’s game early after his left wrist swelled up after he took a hard grounder off it. Wedge said he hoped Figgins would be back in the lineup Wednesday, but it’s an early (12:40 p.m.) game, so that may work against Figgins’ quick return. … Luis Rodriguez, the hero of Monday’s come-from-behind win with a two-out, two-run, game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning, said he got a call from his father after the game. It’s not that unusual, except that Venezuela (which does not use daylight savings time, for what it’s worth) is three time zones removed from Seattle, and the game didn’t end until almost 11 p.m. PDT. But dad stayed up to watch the game-winner, and son was happy to get the call. It was his father who urged Rodriguez to switch to a heavier 34-ounce bat about a year ago, which is when Rodriguez began to swing for more power in the minor leagues. … DH Jack Cust got a day off. He’s only hitting .171 and hasn’t hit a homer yet, so that move on the part of Wedge wasn’t unexpected.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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