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Mariners / MLB

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mariners close in on Batista

Seattle Times staff reporter

There is at least one extra the Mariners expect in their deal with free-agent pitcher Miguel Batista that hasn't been written into the contract itself.

The pending three-year pact, worth more than $24 million, doesn't mention him becoming a high-priced personal trainer for young hurler Felix Hernandez. But the team has no doubt envisioned such a scenario in acquiring Batista, a Dominican Republic native known for his grueling daily workouts.

Batista, 35, served as a mentor of sorts, both on the field and in the gym, to rookie Venezuelan pitcher Gustavo Chacin during his time with the Toronto Blue Jays two years ago. He and general manager Bill Bavasi spoke face-to-face in the Dominican two weeks ago, not only about giving the Mariners added stability in the middle of their rotation, but about the importance of the pitcher leading by example.

"He talked to me about what a great bunch of new kids they have," Batista said Monday in a telephone interview from Boston, where he was on a speaking tour of area schools. "He said you don't have to do much with them because they have a lot of talent. It's just telling them the little things here and there that might help.

"So I won't go up and start telling anybody what to do. But if I see something that I think might help them, I'll mention it."

The contract becomes official once Batista, who pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, passes a routine physical. Batista said that he was still awaiting word, because of a hectic travel schedule, about when and where that physical will take place.

He described Hernandez as a "great talent" who "could be on the verge of winning a Cy Young Award" one day. But a lot of young players, he added, often don't realize the commitment that it takes.

"They see a lot of the older guys doing well and they don't realize what it took to get there," he said. "I've told them, 'Hey, you see that guy over there? You want to be like him someday? Well, then you'd better start working at it right now.' "

Batista's addition makes the Mariners better, but he has never won more than 11 games in a season and falls short of the bigger-name free agents the team had pursued. And as much of a help as he was to Chacin, some of Batista's other Toronto teammates thought the pensive, aspiring fiction writer and poet was aloof and had trouble relating to them.

It's not known whether the Mariners, who acquired starter Horacio Ramirez from Atlanta for reliever Rafael Soriano last week, will now abandon their pursuit of free-agent lefty Barry Zito.

Batista went 10-12 with a 4.88 earned-run average in his only stint as an American League starter, with Toronto in 2004. The team made him its closer late that season, partly out of need, but also because he was plagued by walks and high pitch counts as a starter.

He walked a career-high 96 batters that year, then — after closing for Toronto in 2005 — added another 84 walks last season in his second go-around as an Arizona starter. But the Mariners and Batista hope his groundball style of pitching meshes with Seattle's solid infield defense.

"I like the defense there and that's the most important thing for a pitcher," Batista said. "When you can go out there and not be afraid of contact because you know the guys behind you are going to take care of things."

Batista's off-field pursuits are rather unique. He spent the past five years researching and writing a novel, "The Avenger of Blood," which was released last week and tells the story of a 14-year-old boy on trial for being a serial killer.

Batista launched his book tour in Arizona, then flew to Boston to speak to children about the importance of staying in school.

The Mariners now hope some of their "kids" will benefit from hearing the words — and watching the workouts — of a pitcher who tossed 7-2/3 scoreless innings in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series for eventual champion Arizona.

"I don't care how old I am," he said. "When I met with [Bavasi] the first thing I told him was 'Let's get this out of the way right now. I don't pitch with my birth certificate. So, don't bring up my age.

" 'I've been hurt only once my entire career. You can rely on me because I will always be there to take the ball.' "

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

The Miguel Batista file
The 35-year-old right-hander, who has seen action both as a closer and starter the past two seasons, will join his eighth franchise since 1992 when the deal is official. A look at Batista's statistics:
Year Team W-L Sv IP H BB K ERA
2005 Toronto 5-8 31 74-2/3 80 27 54 4.10
2006 Arizona 11-8 0 206-1/3 231 84 110 4.58
Career 68-79 37 1,381-2/3 1,420 591 870 4.46

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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