Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Brandon Morrow to Try Out for Closer Committee

Top pitching prospect Brandon Morrow -- a former No. 1 pick who closed for University of California -- will likely join a reserve committee of closers for the Mariners if he passes a key test Wednesday, when he will appear with only two days rest for the first time in camp.

Morrow, 22, initially had been slated for the minor leagues to develop as a starter, but continued forearm inflammation experienced by regular closer J.J. Putz has forced the team to consider Plan B.

Putz threw 15 pitches -- limited to fastballs -- in a minor league game Tuesday. But knowledgeable observers familiar with his strained pronator flexor muscle see a potential that Putz may have to remain behind in extended spring training when the club departs for an exhibition game at San Francisco on Saturday. Though Putz could remain with the club, don't be surprised if his duties are limited through the first few weeks of April, or perhaps even that he is moved to injured reserve status.

Until Putz's condition is clarified, Morrow's 99-mph fastball figures to be added to the Mariners roster to bolster not only the bullpen but a committee of potential emergency, mix-and-match closers including veteran Chris Reitsma, 29.

Reitzma has logged three Cactus League saves with a 4.50 ERA, but has given up five hits in six innings, including a pair of homers. Don't breathe a word of it, but with Morrow's upside far greater than Reitsma's, rampant camp speculation has Morrow potentially winning a significant number of closing assignments until Putz's return. Should Morrow continue to impress, he possibly could find an opportunity as a long shot to be named the primary setup man for the remainder of the season.

In the overall scheme, Putz's condition is not regarded as serious. Still, he is merely bone, muscle, sinew and flesh and has no guarantee his discomfort will not linger throughout the season, adding even greater possibilities for Morrow as a surprise Rookie of the Year candidate.

A non-roster invitee, Morrow began to loom large on the Mariners radar screen as he put up a 1.08 ERA with a strikeout per inning while surrendering just four hits in eight innings, with no homers. Morrow last year gave up just 10 hits with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings with a 2.27 ERA in four starts in the Arizona Fall League.

Morrow's diabetic condition is not expected to impact his ability to perform on the field as long as he monitors his insulin.