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On Stretching Out Shawn Kelley

I didn't have an opportunity to mention this over the weekend, but per both Kirby Arnold and Shannon Drayer, the M's are going to be looking to stretch Shawn Kelley out a little bit through the rest of spring training. As has been the case with pretty much everything the Mariners have done all offseason, Wak says this is about adding more versatility. The people in charge of this team must take forever when they go appliance shopping.

This is one of those baseball decisions that's pretty easy to understand without having to dig below the surface. With David Aardsma, Mark Lowe, and Brandon League, the M's already have the back of their bullpen figured out. Those are the guys we'll see handed a lot of 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Kelley, then, will fill a different role, and given the overwhelming likelihood that the M's go with a six-man bullpen, there's going to be a need for some arms who can handle multiple-inning appearances. Kelley's going to be the most talented of the bottom three guys, so it makes sense that the team would look to him to go longer. You always want to maximize the innings you give to your best pitchers.

Kelley is already no stranger to going more than one inning. He made twelve appearances lasting more than one inning a year ago, and averaged 1.3 innings per appearance in the minors. It's not like he has the track record of a specialist. But by the same token, he only threw more than 35 pitches one time in 2009, and the M's would probably like to see if he can get up to 40-50. If Kelley can do that, then suddenly you're talking about potential two- to three-inning appearances from a guy with a K/BB over 5. That's a valuable reliever who offers a good amount of flexibility.

What makes this story all the more interesting is that Kelley talked to Drayer about how he used to be a starter, and Wak admits that the team has discussed the possibility of trying him in the rotation. When you have a team with our current 3-4-5, it's tempting to let your mind wander and envision a guy with Kelley's numbers throwing five or six innings at a time. He started 16 games in college as recently as 2007, after all, and it's not like he's completely forgotten everything he used to know about preparation and pacing.

But as fun as it can be to think about that sort of scenario, I wouldn't count on it happening. The M's have a plan right now, and that plan involves Shawn Kelley throwing big innings in relief. They're not in position to start experimenting with one of their best bullpen arms. And besides, there's no guarantee that Kelley would work out as a starter. His fastball would drop into the low-90s, he'd almost certainly have to either learn or re-establish a changeup that last year he hardly ever used, and he'd need his body to stay together, which it didn't do in 2003, when he had Tommy John surgery. Among other things. Roles aren't random - Kelley was selected for bullpen work for a reason.

I'd be lying if I said I weren't intrigued. Kelley's fastball can probably afford to drop a tick or three, and his breaking ball has pseudo-curveball movement that makes it effective against righties and lefties alike. It's easy to see why the idea is appealing. Transitioning from the bullpen into the rotation, though, isn't a piece of cake, because if it were, you'd see a lot more effective relievers turning into starters. It's a gamble, and while it's one the team might be more willing to try out in a different situation, the 2009 Mariners are built to win, and Shawn Kelley's prepared to help them win in relief.

I like Shawn Kelley. Quite a bit, even. In a vacuum, I'm fond of the idea of seeing how far he can stretch. But things being what they are, I'm perfectly content to take him in shorter bursts. This isn't a Brandon Morrow situation. Kelley doesn't have electric, ace-quality stuff. His hypothetical upside as a starter is far more limited, and for that reason I can't bring myself to be the least bit upset that he is where he is. He's good there. Damn good.