Rowland-Smith allows five hits in seven innings
The Left-hander looks in midseason form against the Cubs, allowing one run, and says he is much more controlled.
Seattle Times staff columnist
PEORIA, Ariz. — The time has come to get serious. The regular season is a week away. It's time to forget the experimentation, time to stop working on pitches and time to start getting hitters out.
It's time to stretch the arm and the innings. Push the pitch count.
It's time for the non-Felix Hernandez part of the Mariners' rotation to ease some of the anxiety that builds every day that Cliff Lee's strained abdominal muscle keeps him off the mound.
It's time to step up.
Ryan Rowland-Smith knows what people are saying. He assumes, as we all do, that Lee is going to start the season on the DL, which means he will move into the role as the Mariners' No. 2 starter.
"I read stuff," he said. "Sometimes I'll see, 'Cliff Lee is dealing with this injury and we're screwed.' But honestly, and this is the absolute truth, it's something I haven't even thought about."
So Rowland-Smith walked to the mound in the brilliant sunshine Sunday and pitched as if it were July. Pitched like Cliff Lee.
He threw the same kind of seven innings Sunday that he threw in his final 10-12 starts last season.
Against the Chicago Cubs, he allowed one run and five hits over seven mid-summer-looking innings that, for a day at least, calmed the fears of every red-blooded Mariners fan, not to mention his manager.
"It was night and day for me in the way, emotionally, he went about his business," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I'm real happy with his performance."
Rowland-Smith threw 78 pitches in the Cubs' 1-0 win. Fifty-two were strikes. He looked absolutely ready to start against Oakland in the second game of the season.
"He was pretty special," pitching coach Rick Adair said.
He was the Ryan Rowland-Smith of last August and September, something the Mariners desperately will need, whatever the final verdict is on Lee.
"My last game (against the Angels), I said to myself, 'I'm going to go out there and flick the switch on and treat this just like a regular-season game,' " Rowland-Smith said. "That game and this game, my preparation, warmup, everything, I treated it like a real game."
Rowland-Smith finished the start with a flourish, retiring the last five Cubs in order.
"I'm not going to sit here and use the old cliché that I was getting my work in," he said. "It's not like that at all. Right now, it's a situation where you're going out and competing. If you get two strikes on a guy, you're trying to put him away like a regular game."
The last two months of last season, Rowland-Smith arrived. He threw at least six innings in nine of his final 11 starts. Eight of those were quality starts. He finished the year 5-4 with a 3.74 earned-run average.
But this season, with Lee out, he begins the year as the No. 2 starter. Rowland-Smith argues, however, that ultimately, there is very little difference between a No. 2 and a No. 5, which he was last year. By midseason, the rotations get scrambled.
In the second half of last season, he often pitched behind Felix Hernandez in the rotation, starting against the likes of Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke and Andy Pettitte.
Still, more will be expected of him this season. If he doesn't pitch deep into games, the Mariners don't make a playoff run. End of story.
"It's a little more exciting right now," Rowland-Smith said of his role. "It's nice to know that people are looking at me as someone they're trying to use to help them get to the playoffs. To be one of those guys, I'm flattered, I guess."
At this point in his career it appears Rowland-Smith, 27, has conquered the emotions that have haunted him at points in his development. He is a fighter, which of course is a good thing.
But in the past he has gotten angry with himself on the mound. When that happens, he starts rushing the ball to the plate, his pitches get up and he gets hit.
He'll always work fast, but now he takes deep breaths between pitches. He is less edgy, more Zen-like.
"I'm better off when I'm controlling the emotions," Rowland-Smith said. "Just here and there, taking a breath. I'm just better off when I'm taking the deep breaths and not showing the emotions. When you throw enough, you come to figure out that you're not going to be perfect and you don't want to let perfect get in the way of being good.
"It's not like I'm thinking that if I give up a five-spot, it's no big deal. You want to compete, but you have to understand that to compete at the highest level you have to get over the little things."
Now it's time for the rest of the non-Felix part of the rotation to follow his lead.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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