Long stretches of games have a way of revealing the weaknesses of a major league roster. With the Mariners embroiled in 14 straight games to open the season, two soft spots have become apparent: a short bench, and a poorly constructed bullpen. Right now, bullpen concerns are most pressing.
Currently, the M's don't have a reliever capable of throwing fifty pitches per outing on the team. Last year, the Mariners carried two such relievers (Erasmo Ramirez and Hisashi Iwakuma) for part of the season. This year, they have none, and after Brandon Maurer couldn't get out of the first inning last night, Eric Wedge had to coax four pitchers through eight and a thirds innings. As a result, two of them -- Kameron Loe and Charlie Furbush -- are unavailable tonight. A third, Lucas Luetge, was also likely to be unavailable for a few days, and he's reportedly been sent to Tacoma so that the team could add a fresh arm.
According to Ryan Divish, Bobby LaFromboise has been recalled to replace Luetge. He gives Wedge another option tonight, but he doesn't address the team's need for a long reliever. LaFromboise, an 8th round pick out of New Mexico back in 2008, hasn't thrown multiple innings consistently since he was a starter in Single-A+ High Desert two years ago. He should be a adequate when called upon -- he struck out nearly a batter per inning in Tacoma last season -- but he's primarily pitched as a one inning guy in the past.
Using LOOGY's or seventh inning relievers as long men can work in a pinch, but it's a poor strategy in the long run. Neither Loe nor Luetge were conditioned to throw extended outings, and not surprisingly, neither pitcher was sharp last night. It didn't really matter with the score out of hand, but an ideal long man pitches early in high scoring contests and when the team has a big lead too, not just in blowout losses. Even with LaFramboise, the Mariners still don't have a pitcher suited for the job.
The lack of a long man is particularly perplexing for this team. In the rotation, the M's have a rookie on a tight pitch count and two pitch-to-contact arms that, by their nature, are destined to have the occasional short outing. Quick starts tax bullpens, particularly if nobody can carry the staff for four or five innings on days when the starter doesn't have his best stuff. When these games stack on top of each other -- as would happen if Blake Beavan struggles tonight -- it puts a real strain on the relief corps if the team doesn't have someone in the bullpen who can eat innings.
In the near future, Loe will probably lose his roster spot to a long reliever. The six-foot-eight right-hander has been poor this season. Over six innings, he's struck out just three hitters while conceding six dingers. Only Brett Myers has allowed more homers this year, and at least he has the excuse of being a starter. Loe isn't fooling anybody, isn't getting grounders, and his velocity is a tick off his career norms. I doubt that velocity is his main problem right now, but it's certainly not an encouraging sign. In any event, Loe is miscast right now as a long man, and will probably be replaced sooner rather than later.
Incidentally, I'm not sure how much of a role Luetge will have on this team going forward either. He's a LOOGY on a team with two better left handed options. Furthermore, he isn't THAT good at getting same-handed hitters out -- his career 2.90 FIP and 3.47 xFIP against lefties is solid but hardly lockdown -- and as such, he's a bit of a luxury. Long term, Luetge seems more like an up-and-down guy than an integral part of the bullpen.