Chris Jakubauskas closes in on Mariners miracle
Chris Jakubauskas toiled 4-1/2 years in the independent leagues before somebody gave him a shot at pitching professionally. Now he's on the verge of breaking camp with the Mariners.
Seattle Times staff reporter
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Calming his nerves before the biggest start of his life wasn't all that tough for Chris Jakubauskas.
After all, he'd toiled 4 ½ years in the independent leagues before somebody gave him a shot at pitching professionally. So, another few days of putting off thoughts of a possible major-league career with the Mariners didn't seem that long to a 30-year-old living out one of those storybook dreams.
It didn't always feel that way a few years back, when Jakubauskas would sell Christmas gifts at Nordstrom one day, then do cement work for the company of a buddy's father just to sustain himself. He had been a hitter in college until his stroke deserted him, prompting the decision to try pitching again for the first time since high school.
Now, less than two years out of independent ball, he's one nod of the head away from breaking camp with the Mariners.
"I was thinking about that a couple of days ago and I didn't want to get my mind dwelling on how this was a huge start," Jakubauskas said after allowing a lone run over five innings on Tuesday in a 12-4 win over the Cleveland Indians. "Obviously, it was for me. My last one of the spring. I wanted to keep it the same as I kept it all spring. Going through the same routine and trying not to think about it. I'd be lying if I said I didn't a little bit, but I tried to get myself out of that real quick and just focus on throwing five strong innings again today."
And now that it's over, he has a chance to reflect.
"That was my whole goal," he said. "To come in here and show them I could pitch at the highest level and make their decision tough. I think I've done that. I'm just trying not to think about that. And now, probably human nature will take over a bit and I'll start thinking about it a bit."
Russell Branyan hit two home runs against Indians left-handed starter Scott Lewis, while Ronny Cedeno had a grand slam to ignite Seattle's attack. Brandon Morrow pitched the ninth inning, yielding a solo homer to Tony Graffanino, and will go again today in a minor-league contest.
"A game like today is a product of staying back, seeing the ball good and letting my swing work for me," Branyan said. "I've been a little antsy on lefties. I've really been chasing a lot of pitches early in the count, getting in a hole. But today, after that first at-bat I felt like I saw them pretty good, worked the count a little bit better and had better results."
The Mariners can either keep Jakubauskas, who compiled a 2.08 earned-run average over 20-2/3 innings, as a fifth starter or long reliever. Or, they can send him back down to Class AAA Tacoma, waiting to see whether the spring nobody expected was more flash than substance.
"We have a tough decision," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I think you've got to look at history and what he's done in spring training. And then, make the right decision."
Jakubauskas says it would be "tremendous" if he could break camp with the team. A miracle is more like it, considering the odds he faced to make it this far.
He admitted to some frustrating times two years into his pitching experiment with the Florence Freedom of the independent Frontier League, managed by former major-league third baseman Chris Sabo.
"I wasn't getting any looks and it was getting a little frustrating," he said.
But his former college roommate gave him a pep talk.
"He had a coach tell him, 'If somebody wants to give you a uniform, put it on, because the day will come when nobody's going to want to put a uniform on you anymore.' "
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com
Tuesday's box score
|Chavez lf||4||1||3||1||Sizemore dh||4||0||1||0|
|Wilson lf||1||0||0||0||DeRosa 1b||3||1||2||0|
|Cedeno ss||5||1||1||4||Marte 1b||1||0||1||0|
|R.Corona ss||1||0||0||0||Martinez c||2||0||0||0|
|Branyan 1b||4||2||2||3||D.Espino c||1||1||0||0|
|Shelton 1b||1||0||0||0||Choo lf||3||0||0||0|
|Beltre 3b||4||1||1||0||Barfield lf||1||0||1||0|
|C.Burke 2b||1||0||0||0||Garko rf||4||0||1||2|
|Sweeney dh||4||1||2||0||Francisco cf||2||1||1||1|
|Morse dh||1||0||0||0||Crowe cf||1||0||0||0|
|Balentien rf||4||2||3||2||Cabrera 2b||2||0||0||0|
|J.Limonta lf||1||1||1||0||Grffanino 2b||2||1||1||1|
|Johnson c||3||0||0||0||Carroll 3b||3||0||0||0|
|J.Burke c||0||0||0||0||Valdez ss||4||0||1||0|
|Seattle||022 610 001||—||12|
|Cleveland||000 012 001||—||4|
|Jakubauskas W, 2-0||5||4||1||1||0||4|
|S.Lewis L, 1-3||3 2/3||13||10||10||0||1|
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