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Originally published Saturday, February 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Mariners

Little Unit hoping to make big strides

After years of injuries, Ryan Anderson looks forward to pitching.

Seattle Times staff reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. — The pitcher with possibly the best arm the Mariners ever signed threw yesterday — and Felix Hernandez did, too.

Hernandez, probably the most promising pitcher the Mariners ever signed, threw in a big-league batting-practice session, handling top position prospects Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien with seeming ease.

Meanwhile, in the obscurity of the minor-league side of camp, Ryan Anderson, who tossed three no-hitters in seven starts as a Michigan high-school star in 1997, tossed 30 pitches in a bullpen workout with only a few Seattle officials watching.

Fate has made the 6-foot-11 left-hander forgotten rather than phenom, from Little Unit to little-seen.

Anderson, drafted in the first round in June 1997, struck out 460 batters in 349-1/3 minor-league innings and was voted the Class AAA Pacific Coast League's top prospect in 2000.

Since then ... nothing.

Anderson's only numbers are three missed seasons (2001-03) after surgeries on a troubled pitching shoulder and one season (2004) lost to re-building his once fearsome arm strength.

"It's a lot different now," said Anderson, with a grip as strong as Randy Johnson's ever was. "I've learned you don't take anything for granted, and that you have to work for what you want."

It all came too easy for the kid with the golden arm. He has had to learn how to work, and it was ironic to see him do his running in virtual solitude after his bullpen session, on the same field where in his first Mariners camp he was unable to run a mile with the team.

"He's doing his work," said Frank Mattox, Seattle director of player development and one of those who watched Anderson throw. "You always want more, and we think Ryan has realized that he has to do more."

In his first camp, Anderson had big-leaguers upset when he bragged in the local paper about handling them as easily as Hernandez dealt yesterday with Jones and Balentien.

"I have learned," said Anderson, 26 in July, "to keep my mouth shut."

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Benny Looper, Seattle vice president for player development, pointed out that Anderson has "been through a lot, been through the school of hard knocks, as many of us have learned things the hard way.

"We've been here before with Ryan and been disappointed before, and he's been disappointed, too."

The goal for this spring on both sides is for Anderson to stay healthy, build up his arm and pitch.

"He needs to pitch," Looper said. "After not pitching for four years now since 2000, he just needs to pitch. If he progresses, he could move quick."

Mattox will wait to see how Anderson does in Arizona before deciding which farm club to send him to

"I'd just say someplace warm," Mattox said. "After all he's been through, we don't want him pitching in much cold weather."

Anderson's choice is anywhere.

"I just want to pitch," he said. "I'll pitch in Haiti, I'll pitch in Antarctica. I just want to be on a mound and healthy and moving forward."

Yesterday, while Hernandez showed a good fastball and changeup — he broke one of Jones' bats with a change — Anderson threw with catcher Matt Hagen first crouched in front of the plate, then on top of it, then just behind it, never moving all the way back to the normal receiving position about 4 feet in back of home.

"He looked good," Mattox said. "We just want him to keep throwing. If he stays healthy and keeps going, the catcher will be in the right place all the time for him."

"I feel good," Anderson said. "I may not be throwing as hard as I used to, but I've learned that location is more important than velocity."

This is not to say he is no longer curious about his pitch-speed readings on a radar gun, once so lightning his father had a radar gun at spring-training games.

"I still want to know what the radar readings are," Anderson said. "But now it's not to see how hard I'm throwing. Now, it's an indication of how healthy I'm getting."

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or bfinnigan@seattletimes.com

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