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M's gloves lend hand


M's gloves lend hand
MINNEAPOLIS A grinning Jarrod Washburn confided after this one that not everything he'd tried had gone according to plan.

For one thing, the Mariners left-hander goes over positional charts with coaches before every game, and he had told them where he wanted center fielder Franklin Gutierrez to be whenever Minnesota's Alexi Casilla came to the plate. Unfortunately for Washburn, that was about 100 feet from where Casilla actually drilled a first-inning shot.

But a sprinting Gutierrez, already renowned as one of the best outfield gloves in the game, never gave up on the ball. And when he made a fully extended, diving catch on his backhand, the tone had been set for an eventual 2-0 win by the Mariners that enabled a split of their four-game, season-opening series.

"As soon as it was hit, I said, `Oh, that's in the gap because I don't have him over there,' " Washburn said. "But it hung out there a little bit for him, and he can run. It's fun to watch. I love having that weapon out there."

Washburn joked that he gave Gutierrez "a huge hug" in the clubhouse. More were owed, given a handful of sprinting catches by Gutierrez, another racing one in shallow left from Endy Chavez, a fine double play initiated by Yuniesky Betancourt and a spectacular throw from third base by backup infielder Ronny Cedeno.

It added up to something Washburn didn't see much of during a 5-14 season in 2008: great glovework behind him and an eight-inning, five-hit shutout to his credit.

That offset the kind of paltry run support Washburn did see all too often last season. But the way he was pitching, using an improved sinker to induce timely ground balls, a first-inning run keyed by a Gutierrez double was all he needed.

Adrian Beltre drove Gutierrez home with a single, which was the only run the Metrodome crowd of 20,105 saw until the last inning. In the ninth, Wladimir Balentien doubled with two out and scored on a single to center by Rob Johnson.

The added run gave closer Brandon Morrow breathing room. Morrow began with four erratic pitches to walk Michael Cuddyer generating memories of his disastrous save attempt two nights earlier before striking out Justin Morneau and Joe Crede and then getting a fly out from Jason Kubel.

"It was kind of a wake-up call," Morrow said of the leadoff walk. "I said I wasn't going to let that happen again."

Seattle's defense didn't allow a repeat of the big innings that often undid Washburn in 2008. Despite a terrible start to the season, Washburn rallied in May and pitched far better, though he'd often take losses because of a lack of run support and key hits that often just eluded his defender's gloves.

Gutierrez was pretty certain Casilla's shot was going nowhere near his glove when it was hit to the gap in left-center field.

"I didn't think I had a chance," Gutierrez said. "I was playing the other way, so when he hit that ball, I just ran to it. When I realized I had the chance, it's like, OK, I'm going to dive for it and see what happens."

The toughest part came after Gutierrez snagged the ball inches from the turf.

"It's just holding on to it," he said. "When you hit the ground, it usually comes out."

But he held on. The crowd gasped in amazement.

Fans were gasping again in the third inning when Mike Redmond drilled a shot off Washburn's calf.

The ball deflected toward the third-base line. Cedeno, getting the nod at third base, charged toward it.

"I started running when it hit the pitcher, but I didn't think I had a chance," he said. "Then I saw maybe I could get the runner, but I had to make a perfect throw."

That he did, barehanding the ball and heaving it in one motion across his body for the out.

All the glovework meant the Twins failed to get multiple base runners until the eighth, when Washburn issued his only walk, then a single with one out. But he stayed in the game, got a pop fly to right from Denard Span and then a soft ground-ball out from Casilla with the improving sinker.

"Maybe now with the sinker, I'll be more of a ground-ball pitcher," Washburn said. "It's not necessarily a great pitch for me, but it makes all my other pitches that much better."

Just like a well-timed catch or throw can make any pitcher seem a whole lot better, too.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 11, 2009

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