ANAHEIM -- When left-handed reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith entered Saturday afternoon's game against the Angels with two outs and one on in the seventh inning, he was focused on how he was going to pitch to Garret Anderson. But catcher Kenji Johjima flashed the pickoff sign. So Rowland-Smith went into his stretch -- and fired a strike to first baseman Ben Broussard, who applied the tag on the surprised Chone Figgins for the final out of the inning. And just like that, Rowland-Smith had pitched one-third of an inning without throwing a pitch.
"That gives me something else to work on during the offseason," Rowland-Smith said. A good pickoff throw "can get you out of jams." Much to his delight, the lefty returned to the mound in the eighth inning, facing two batters before being replaced by George Sherrill. Rowland-Smith said he was a little concerned about having to explain his "outing" to a couple of his dad's friends, who are visiting from Australia and attended the game. "They don't really understand the game that well and they might have thought all I do is come into the game, pick off a runner, and that's it," Rowland-Smith said, smiling. "I was glad they sent me back out" to pitch in the eighth inning. Figgins became Rowland-Smith's second recent pickoff victim. The first one came on Sept. 13 at Safeco Field against the Devil Rays when B.J. Upton was nailed at first base in the seventh inning. Fellow lefty Ryan Feierabend is the Mariners king of pickoffs this season, registering seven outs on pickoff throws. Trivia challenge: The Mariners have pitched 12 shutouts this season, the second most in the American League. Which team has more? Morse code: Mike Morse has grown two inches since being acquired from the White Sox four years ago, but his big-picture stature with the Mariners remains uncertain. That figures to change soon as the 6-foot-6 infielder/outfielder is out of Minor League options and must be on the 25-man Opening Day roster next season or he becomes available to every other MLB organization. "I really don't know what's going to happen," Morse said on Sunday. "I would like to stay here because I know so many of the guys here. But I just want to play -- somewhere -- in the Major Leagues." As one of 13 Minor League players promoted earlier this month when MLB rosters could be expanded to as many as 40 players, Morse has been used sparingly -- two hits in two at-bats. The lack of playing time doesn't surprise him because the Mariners have been contending for a postseason spot. "It's what I expected," he said. When the regular season ends next Sunday, Morse will return to Florida, prepared for just about anything. He had thought about playing winter ball, but has decided to get ready for Spring Training in a gym, working out with the likes of good friend and former Mariner Alex Rodriguez. Drafted, signed and developed as a shortstop by the White Sox, Morse has branched out and now plays several positions, including the outfield and third base. He can even play first if the need arises. "My favorite position is the one I'm playing that day," he said, grinning. He played mostly third base and shortstop at Triple-A Tacoma this past season, batting .309 with six home runs and 39 RBIs in 76 games. "I have always liked playing shortstop the most," he said, "but third base isn't bad." But the Mariners already have a third baseman in Adrian Beltre and his contract runs through the 2009 season. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt is signed through 2011. Going forward, the Seattle outfield figures to include Ichiro Suzuki and Adam Jones for sure, and either Wladimir Balentien or Jose Guillen. Unless Morse earns a spot on the 25-man roster coming out of Spring Training, the chances of him passing waivers and being sent back to the Minor Leagues would seem remote. He does, after all, have the ability to play several positions and has done well during his brief stints with the Mariners. Morse went 64-for-230 (.278) with three home runs and 23 RBIs in 2005 and 16-for-43 (.372) with 11 RBIs in 43 games in '06. "I'm at the point of my career where I want to be in the Major Leagues," he said. Yuni mends: Betancourt was out of the starting lineup for Sunday's series finale against the Angels because of discomfort in his right elbow. "He feels better today, but it's still real sore," manager John McLaren said. "He threw a ball yesterday and felt something there in his elbow area and it's still sore, but Rick [Griffin, head trainer] doesn't think it's anything serious. It was much improved today." Kenji KO'd: Johjima was pretty sore all over on Sunday, thanks to his head-over-heals tumble in the sixth inning on Saturday. Johjima was upended by Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman after catching a throw from third baseman Willie Bloomquist for a forceout at the plate in Seattle's eventual 3-2 victory. "He's really sore," McLaren said. "He's having trouble even moving his neck." The answer is: The Red Sox led the AL in shutouts entering Sunday with 13. On deck: The Mariners are off on Monday and begin a four-game series against the Indians at Safeco Field on Tuesday night. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (13-7, 4.07) gets the starting nod for Seattle while left-hander C.C. Sabathia (18-7, 3.19) is the scheduled starter for the AL Central champion Indians.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.