Rowland-Smith's fate remains uncertain
Southpaw hopes excellent spring secures spot in bullpen
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The run left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith surrendered during Tuesday's Minor League game didn't count against his Cactus League ERA, which remains perfect.He has not allowed an earned in 12 innings. But whether that's good enough to land a spot on the Mariners' 25-man Opening Day roster is up in the air, and he knows it. "It plays on your mind all the time," he said after pitching two innings against the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate on one of the practice fields at the Peoria Sports Complex. "You try not to read into anything when you see who's throwing on this day or that day, but you're trying to figure out where you fit in." With Spring Training into its final week, the Mariners still have not decided the makeup of the bullpen. It would appear that four spots are locked up -- closer J.J. Putz, right-handers Brandon Morrow and Sean Green and left-hander Eric O'Flaherty. That leaves one or two vacancies, depending on whether Seattle begins the season with an 11- or 12-man pitching staff. Knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey has the inside track on the long-relief spot, and he could possibly secure a spot on Thursday night when he pitches against the Giants in San Francisco. Manager John McLaren wants to see how Dickey's specialty pitch reacts in a cooler climate. If McLaren and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre go with a 12-man staff, Rowland-Smith would be a strong candidate. "That's what I wanted to do coming into camp," he said. "I knew the rotation was set and I just tried to get one of the spots in the bullpen. I think I've given myself a good opportunity. "I'm really happy with how I've thrown, really happy. There were a few things, like a leadoff walk here or there, or a couple of two-strike pitches I wasn't happy with. But overall, I'm stoked with how I've done." And why wouldn't he be stoked? The only run he has allowed in eight Cactus League games was unearned. And although he has walked eight batters, which is more than he would like, the free passes haven't hurt him. He also has eight strikeouts. Considering the plans that were mapped out for him at the end of last season, much has changed for Rowland-Smith. A part-time starter in 2004 and '05, he was sent to winter ball in Venezuela in November to build up his arm strength and compete for a starting spot this spring.
But the acquisitions of starters Carlos Silva and Erik Bedard put the Rowland-Smith-as-a-starter concept on the back burner. He's back in the bullpen, pitching one or two innings at a time.He understands that, with the rotation already set and so many others competing for jobs in the bullpen, he could well be sent to Triple-A Tacoma in the next few days. That thought has entered his mind, but he fights it the best he can. "I always try to stay positive and tell myself that it's not where I am in April," he said, "it's where I am in September." But the perfect scenario for the only pitcher in camp with a perfect ERA would be to be in Seattle on Monday afternoon for the regular-season opener against the Rangers. "That would mean a lot," he said. "I've worked real hard this offseason. I've changed a few things around. There was a chance for the fifth spot in the rotation and I changed my whole workout plan. I've worked really hard up to this point. I've been trying to compete and compete and compete. Everything was meant to be there on Opening Day. "I've had conversations with my parents, and they ask, 'Have you heard anything? Have they explained anything to you?' All I can say is, 'I haven't heard anything.' My mom is in Hong Kong visiting my sister and dad is home in Australia. They're trying to stay sane." As for Rowland-Smith, who is the first player in MLB history to have a hyphenated last name, he takes it one quiet day at a time. "I'm trying to keep my mouth shut and do my thing." It has worked well for him so far.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.