Previewing the Mariners' 2014 bullpen

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Let's talk about Hector Noesi. Actually, let's talk about the spectacular beard on Joe Beimel's face.

The outfield may be a hot mess this year, but Seattle's bullpen looks little better. Tom Wilhelmsen imploded in 2013, forcing former manager Eric Wedge to re-instate a bullpen by committee. Promising rookie Stephen Pryor ducked out early in the year with a tendon injury, missing the entire season as the M's piled close game after close game on the shoulders of youngsters Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush, and Danny Farquhar.

This spring, the pool of potential relievers is wider than ever. Pryor is being treated with kid gloves as he conditions his arm for the rigors of a second major league season. Southpaw Joe Beimel is taking strides toward recovering a career that was sabotaged by an elbow injury. And, while newcomer Fernando Rodney prepares to be the next Mariners closer, Danny Farquhar is shifting his expectations to handle the set-up role.

Right-handed relievers

Contenders:

Buzz around camp:

"Stephen Pryor threw his first bullpen session of the spring. Pryor threw 20 fastballs from the mound. While it may not seem like a lot, it was a major step for the hard-throwing reliever, who is recovering from surgery on his right latissmus dorsi. [...] 'at this point, I don't think there is a schedule,' he said. 'If I throw bullpens and I feel really good, then maybe I go into the game. Maybe it takes seven. Hopefully I can throw a few more bullpens then some live BP and get in the mix with everyone else.'"

-- Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

"With Rodney in the fold, McClendon can move Danny Farquhar, who was closing games at the end of the season, into a setup role and continue to build from the back with Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina and others. The hope is Rodney will make things easier and keep established roles for the rest of the relievers. [...] 'He's a tremendous, front-line pitcher and he has great character,' McClendon said."

-- Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

"The pitches -- a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball and curveball -- provided a solid arsenal for Farquhar to rack up strikeouts. But in the spirit of always improving, he's tinkering with a fourth pitch. 'I'm pretty comfortable with my three pitches, but I am working on a four-seam changeup,' he said. Farquhar threw it some during his first bullpen session. 'It's slower with a little movement,' he said. [...] 'It's not my strikeout or out pitch. It's more, 'Hey, I have this and you are going to have to pay attention in the middle of the count.' [...] He could be a very effective eighth inning set-up man for [Fernando] Rodney."

-- Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

"Beyond Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma, the rest of the rotation is a guess. McClendon did say that [...] Zach Miner will pitch more as a reliever or a "swing man" that can spot start or pitch multiple innings in relief."

-- Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

While the list of potential starters is fraught with injuries, Stephen Pryor is the only one of the M's relievers to face any serious setbacks. He threw his first bullpen session on Sunday and is scheduled to throw another today, but like so many others this spring, is still on a decelerated track. Greg Johns notes that Boston Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy is the only other MLB pitcher to undergo the tendon surgery that Pryor is recovering from.

The foundation of the 'pen seems to be set with Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, and Tom Wilhelmsen, backed by closer Fernando Rodney. Farquhar was expected to assume the closing position in 2014 but will be bumped to a set-up role instead. Although his quotes convey a different attitude, the 27-year-old appears to be satisfied with his new responsibilities.

Fernando Rodney, for his part, has inspired confidence in the team's skipper, who praised his strong leadership and skills. Rodney is still coming down from his career high in 2012, when he earned bids for the AL Cy Young and MVP with a 0.60 ERA in 76 appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Yesterday, three of Seattle's established relievers signed contracts for the 2014 season: Farquhar, Medina, and Wilhelmsen. Four more remain unsigned (right-handers Hector Noesi and Stephen Pryor and left-handers Bobby LaFromboise and Lucas Luetge), but the club has until March 11 to settle on terms with them.

As the Mariners reevaluate their staff, a flock of non-roster invitees and untested minor leaguers wait for their chance to crack the roster. Veteran RHPs Logan Kensing, Ramon Ramirez, and Zach Miner lead the group, though none of them had any success to speak of in the major leagues last year. Kensing, 31, last completed a full MLB season in 2009, putting up a combined 8.92 ERA with the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals. He had difficulty recovering from two shoulder surgeries in 2010 and never quite found his footing, bouncing around the minor league circuits through the 2013 season and making exactly one appearance with the Colorado Rockies.

Ramirez found an easier path through the major leagues. He assisted the San Francisco Giants in their bid to win the 2010 World Series and set a career-best 2.62 ERA the following season. In 2013, Ramirez returned to San Francisco after a year-long stint with the New York Mets, quickly flunking out with an 11.12 ERA when he failed to record a strikeout in five innings.

Miner was originally expected to be in the hunt for a rotation spot, but McClendon has since changed his mind. The 31-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and spent the next couple seasons recovering in the minor league systems of the Royals, Tigers, and Phillies. He made his first major league comeback in 2013, appearing in 16 games and maintaining a 4.40 ERA with 20 strikeouts and 17 walks.

Youngsters Jonathan Arias, Logan Bawcom, Andrew Carraway, Stephen Kohlscheen, Dominic Leone, and Carson Smith are also vying for spots in the 'pen, though little chatter has revolved around their efforts so far. Bawcom is the only pitcher with Triple-A experience, and impressed the Tacoma Rainiers with a 2.91 ERA, 64 strikeouts, and 21 saves in 2013.

Everyone but Dominic Leone and Carson Smith was given an opportunity to compete in yesterday's intrasquad game. None of the four pitchers were able to strike their teammates out. Arias got the shortest straw of the bunch, tossing two wild pitches and giving up two hits, two walks, and the game-winning run in 2/3 of an inning.

Left-handed relievers

Contenders:

Buzz around camp:

"'I saw [Furbush] when he pitched against us, he was pretty darn good,' said McClendon, who was the hitting coach with the Tigers last season. Furbush is starting to figure this relieving thing out. 'Last year, as the season went on I got a little more comfortable understanding the situations where I was coming into games and what it takes to pitch late in games,' he said."

-- Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

"The Mariners are most interested in what Beimel can do on the mound -- as well as provide veteran leadership in an otherwise mostly young bullpen. 'I like what I've seen to this point,' said McClendon, who also managed Beimel in Pittsburgh. 'The ball is coming out real nice. The velocity is up, and he's got late movement in the zone. He's a veteran guy who's had success. He's pitched in big ballgames.'"

-- Chris Gabel, MLB.com

The only proven southpaw in the Mariners' arsenal is Charlie Furbush, followed by Lucas Luetge and Bobby LaFromboise. Luetge has two years of major league experience under his belt, though his numbers spiked during the bullpen shake-up last year. LaFromboise may have a harder time finding a place in the M's 'pen, with just 10 2/3 innings to his name and an ugly 5.91 ERA. He found more success with the team's Triple-A club in 2013, improving his control and striking out 63 batters in 61 innings.

Outside of these three, options are limited. Veteran Joe Beimel has yet to prove that he can handle a full major league workload since his Tommy John surgery in 2012. He last played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011, beginning and ending his career with recurring elbow problems. He picked up his pro ball career with the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A squad in 2013, pitching 30 games for a 4.36 ERA and striking out just 24 of 151 batters faced.

The Mariners are also keeping tabs on minor league contenders Nick Hill and James Gillheeney. Both men played alongside each other in Double-A and Triple-A last year, though Gillheeney was demoted to Jackson by season's end, while Hill was promoted to Tacoma. Gillheeney appeared alongside fellow MiLB pitchers in the intrasquad game on Tuesday, striking out one of four batters and allowing two walks and a two-run homer in 1/3 of an inning. While this has absolutely no bearing on his chances to break into the bullpen, both Gillheeney and Hill figure to be long shots in the competition this spring.

Who do you want to see in the bullpen this year? Will Fernando Rodney be a more effective closer than his predecessors?

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