The Seattle Mariners, who open a six-tiff home stand Friday (July 24), might well have been loath to come back from their latest road trip, having managed timely hitting and a little luck to fashion a 5-2 showing against Cleveland and Detroit. On the other hand, the M’s dispatched Texas three of four times during the most recent series at Safeco Field. Could it be that this suddenly is a club that can win no matter where or when?
More to the point: Does it make any difference? Seattle, at 51-44 after the Thursday (July 23) 2-1 win over the Tigers, probably can’t get into American League wild-card contention unless either the Yankees or Red Sox implode, which doesn’t seem likely. The M’s also seem incapable of making up any ground on A.L. West Division-leading Los Angeles. The Angels were 9-1 going into a Thursday-night game. That has a lot to do with their leading the M’s by four or five games the past week.
But Seattle has a few advantages that other clubs will continue to envy as next week’s trade deadline approaches. That would be a main asset said by some to be available via tradesies: Jarrod Michael Washburn.
Last season his last name often was pronounced “washed-up,” what with the 34-year-old Wisconsin native essaying a 5-14 record and an earned-run average of 4.69. After shutting out Detroit through seven innings Thursday, Washburn (even with minimal run support) is 8-6. His E.R.A. is 2.71, 10th best in the big leagues (teammate Felix Hernandez is fifth at 2.45).
Why, then, would Washburn be available? Because the M’s could lose the sudden-miracle lefty to free agency after the season. The way he’s throwing lately, Washburn might fetch from pennant competitors an impact player (or several) the M’s could use for years to come. Parting with him wouldn’t pose anything like the public-relations problem team officials had in dealing, say, Randy Johnson because a lot of fans remain unconvinced that the Washburn turnaround will be sustained.
Others are pretty sure it’s the real deal. Here’s blogger Scott Pianowski, a fantasy-baseball aficionado writing in the wake of Washburn’s one-hitter July 6:
The sharp fantasy player is trained to be skeptical of fast starts from recycled veterans and ordinary journeymen. It's early, we say. It's probably a mirage, we warn. Don't take the bait, we whisper. Sell high, we advise.
Well, you can take all of that generic bunk and shove it in the shredder when it comes to Jarrod Washburn, 2009. We're three months into the new season and it's time to accept that this isn't a good start — it's a good season.
Washburn's latest turn was a beauty Monday night — a one-hit special against Baltimore, facing just one man over the minimum. Washburn threw 75 of 110 pitches for strikes, didn't walk anyone, struck out just three, used his defense, cruise control. . . . he's getting a ton of mileage from his new toy, a sinking two-seam fastball.
Hence the perennial dilemma: Do you stand pat as the deadline approaches or do you take a chance on what’s behind the curtain? Obviously, Seattle General Manager Jack Zduriencik has played “Let’s Make a Deal” a few times. Even some of the most skeptical M’s fans seem willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt about his bartering acumen.
Besides, the M’s might be able to reap just as much — maybe even more — in a swap by offering southpaw Erik Bedard instead of Washburn. Or, should Seattle somehow emerge from the current home stand within just a game or three behind the division leaders, maybe the smart play will be to keep all able bodies and commit to a two-month run for the pennant. Between them, Washburn and Hernandez would have about 25 starts. And, here again, the way they’ve been pitching, it doesn’t seem to make much difference whether those starts are at home or on the road.
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