"One of his strong points always had to do with the location of his fastball," McLaren said. "He could move it around -- in and out, up and down -- and he hasn't been able to do that yet. He did it his first game back, but since that outing he hasn't done it, and what we need him to do."
Putz's most recent struggles occurred in Cleveland on Thursday night, when he walked two batters, surrendered two hits and did not protect the one-run lead that Richie Sexson gave the Mariners in the top of the 10th inning with his 300th career home run.Putz, who had a 6-1 record and a 1.38 ERA last season and converted his first 24 save opportunities, is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA, two saves and two blown saves this season. There are extenuating circumstances, but Putz refuses to use the 20 days he spent on the disabled list last month as an excuse for his uncharacteristic back-to-back toe-stubs. But those around Putz believe that the DL stint, from April 2-22, has a lot to do with his difficulties. "No question about it," Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said. McLaren agreed. "He threw so well in his first game back, everybody said, 'J.J. is J.J.,'" McLaren said. "But sometimes, it doesn't work that way. But he feels good and is not that far off. It's just a matter of locating his fastball. He threw some great splits to [Casey] Blake and [David] Dellucci to strike them out." Putz will work primarily on his fastball during the five-minute bullpen sessions. "The thing about J.J. is when he's not quite right, he'll reach back for a little extra, and that might complicate things even more," McLaren said. "We'll see how this goes." In the meantime, when a save situation arises, Putz will get the call. "We're not going to trade roles," McLaren said. "He's our guy." Stottlemyre seconded that notion. "The only way [Putz would not be the closer] is if he told us he wasn't 100 percent," he said. "Other than that, in a save situation, we are going to go with J.J." Asked what the plan of attack would be if there are fewer save opportunities than Putz needs to get sharp again, McLaren said the closer would be used in non-save situations. "We talked about that, too, and we need to monitor it," McLaren said. "You can ask [bullpen coach] Norm [Charlton] -- a lot of closers don't like to pitch in non-save situations because they are not there mentally. It's a mind-set for a closer, with the adrenaline rush when the game's on the line. "But sometimes, you have no choice because you go through periods when there are no saves opportunities. You still have to get the feel of the ball, the mound and whole atmosphere." Putz has mentioned during the past two seasons that he's at his best when the game's on the line and didn't particularly like getting his work done in non-save situations. But Putz acknowledged after Thursday night's game that more work is needed, even if it's in a non-save situation. Stottlemyre said it would be unlikely that Putz goes more than three consecutive days without getting into a game.
"We have to keep him busy, and too much time in the case of a closer usually is three or four days," Stottlemyre said. "Then it's time to put them in a game, even in a non-save situation."Charlton, a former closer, predicted that the old Putz will soon return. "It's just a gut feeling, but I think he will be fine the next time out and be good here on out," Charlton said on Friday. "What happened to him last night won't happen to him again."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.