Morrow might return to starting role

To start or relieve, that is the question facing right-hander Brandon Morrow.

After beginning the season as the closer and now assigned to middle-inning relief duty, Morrow has asked the Mariners if he could go  back to starting, according to Tacoma News Tribune beat writer Larry LaRue.

Morrow, the Mariners’ first-round Draft selection two years ago, is expected to be sent to Triple-A Tacoma later this week to build his arm strength. It could be a month or more before he returns to the Mariners’ pitching staff.

Morrow did the same thing a year ago, you might recall, came back and pitched a one-hitter against the Yankees. He finsished the season in the starting rotation and began Spring Training in that role.

But he became ill during camp and, without a sure-fire closer emerging from Peoria, returned to the bullpen coming out of Spring Training. Morrow stumbled in his first outing, against the Twins, but reeled off six consecutive saves before the roof caved in on him in back-to-back games in Texas, victimized by two game-losing ninth innings.

David Aardsma  became the closer and has done a masterful job, going 9-for-10 in save situations.

Morrow, meanwhile, has done more soul-searching than pitching, trying to figure out where he would best help the team going forward.

His conclusion: in the rotation.

He has great stuff, reaching the high-90s with his fastball. But he needs to learn how to pitch, changing speeds, moving the ball around and commanding his fastball.

With left-handers Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard likely to be gone next season, if not next month, Morrow could be more valuable in a starting role down the road than in relief — if his body can handle it.

The Mariners’ organization wonders if Morrow, a diabetic, has the physical stamina to handle 100-plus pitches a game 30 times a season. That might be the biggest question of all.

While Morrow attempts to do what he can to be of more value to the organization, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt continues to do just the opposite.

He was on the bench again last night in the series opener against the Orioles and is becoming more of a distraction than an asset.

The talented Cuban exile spent most of the last weekend prior to games against the Twins sitting in front of his locker at Safeco Field pouting because he wasn’t in the starting lineup. You would think that he might be in the weight room, or in the batting cage, or anywhere other than sitting around doing nothing.

Furthermore, it is standard practice for the team to have early batting practice following a day off, which the Mariners had on Monday as they traveled to Baltimore. There were 12 players taking early BP yesterday afternoon at Camden Yards. Not Betancourt.

He was a no-show, telling LaRue that “I was asleep on the plane when they announced that.”

The Mariners are an all-around better team with Betancourt in the lineup, but the new, improved management team has introduced “accountabilty” to the program this season and Betancourt doesn’t seem to get it. Playing time is predicated by working time and if he doesn’t start working harder, he could find himself looking for a job outside of baseball, or playing at Triple-A Tacoma. He’s not so good that other teams would offer anything decent in return.

It’s high time for him to wake up and get his act together.

— Jim Street

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