Less May Be More for the Mariners


The Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff cannot be this dreadful. Can it?

It has been bad. It has been dreadful so far in spring training exhibition games. It has blown big leads. It has routinely given up nine, 10 and 12 runs a game. It has often pitched stupidly and without purpose.

It has brought back memories of last year’s Without-Dave-Fleming-Where-Would-We-Be staff. And nightmares of the M’s worst-in-the-American-League record (64-98).

It has dampened much of the mid-winter excitement generated by the hiring of Lou Piniella as manager, the signings of pitcher Chris Bosio and outfielder Mike Felder, and the acquisition of stopper Norm Charlton.


It has rekindled the old Mariner battle cry of: “Here we go again.”

Or is it: “Wait ‘til next year?”

Before the Mariners are even halfway through the Cactus League schedule, fans are asking of the Seattle pitching staff, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Geez, even the normally effective Charlton gets sympathy pains and goes to pieces in his last outing, giving up three runs in an inning. But there is hope, even as he absorbs the loss. Because unlike so many dispassionate Mariner pitchers of the past, Charlton gets angry with himself.

“I lost my composure out there, and they don’t pay me $2.3 million to lose my composure,” he said, further blaming his sad outing on having his body “on the mound but my head is in left field.”


A Mariner pitcher who doesn’t stoically accept defeat? What a novelty. Too many Mariner pitchers go to the mound with their heads in left field or someplace else. Too many Mariner pitchers, Piniella is finding out, go to the mound with not a clue of how to work a batter, which makes you wonder what they’ve been taught in the minor leagues.

The bottom line is, some of these pitchers simply don’t belong in the major leagues. Guys like Russ Swan, Rich DeLucia, Brian Fisher and -- did somebody say? -- Mike Schooler. Yes, someone did say Schooler. The M’s all-time leader in saves (98) was released Tuesday, a victim of an ineffective spring and a weak arm.

In truth, he should have been gone long before now. He saved 33 games in 1989, 30 the next year before coming down with a mysterious shoulder injury late in the season. He’s not been the same since.

It got so bad last year that anytime he came in with the bases loaded, you almost knew what was going to happen. He tied a major league record by giving up four grand slams.

Three weeks ago, Piniella was upbeat about this Mariner team. “I think we’re going to turn this thing around,” he said, “and I think we’re going to turn it around quicker than people think.”

You have to remember one thing: Not one pitch had been thrown in anger at the time. Let a half a dozen games be played and Piniella was threatening to resume smoking. Piniella apparently didn’t realize just how bad some of these pitchers are. He was soon asking, though, if they were this ineffectual last year, what the devil are they doing in spring training this year?

Hasn’t he heard, if a guy’s warm and can make it to the mound, major league teams are going to take a look at him. Prime example: Fernando Valenzuela -- who seemed washed up -- is getting another chance with the Baltimore Orioles. And it shouldn’t stun anyone if Schooler gets picked up by some team.

Before the Mariners ever played a Cactus League game, Piniella was saying he thought as many as two young pitchers could make his staff, one as a starter, the other as a reliever. One of the prospects was John Cummings, a 23-year-old left-hander who was the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year in 1992. Cummings has done nothing this spring to diminish his chances of making the big league club, pitching five innings of scoreless ball.


Another kid Piniella had on that list was Mike Hampton, a 20-year-old lefty, who ranked second in victories (13) in the California League last season. He’s still contending for a major league job with a 3.18 ERA this spring.

Can two pitchers who have spent virtually all of their brief pro careers in the lower minors make a successful jump to the major leagues? Dave Fleming did.

Piniella is running out of patience. He just wants guys who can get batters out, and it doesn’t matter how much pro experience they have.

If the M’s are going to lose, why not go with the young talent? Sure, they may have to go through some rough on-the-job training, but at least they’ll do it under Piniella, a guy who can stroke, instill confidence and teach the way he wants things done.

Maybe the less experience the better.