"Miguel is a veteran guy who has had a lot of success in the bullpen," Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said Thursday afternoon prior to Seattle's series opener against the Rays at Safeco Field. "He probably had more success in the bullpen than starting. And with [Brandon] Morrow gone, Miguel gives us another veteran arm to get to [closer J.J. Putz]. That's something else that figured into our decision."
A decision on Saturday's starter probably won't be made until after the first two games of this series. Left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith would be available if Seattle decides to bring someone up from the Minor Leagues. Another left-hander, Jake Woods, has starting experience and might get the nod on Saturday night if he isn't used either Thursday or Friday.
The report on Rowland-Smith, who has made three starts at Triple-A Tacoma during his conversion from reliever to starter, is OK, but not great.
"[Tacoma pitching coach Dwight Bernard] says Ryan has been throwing the ball well, giving up two runs in each of his starts, but still fighting a little bit on his fastball command," Stottlemyre said, "and that's one thing he needed work on when he went down. But he's progressing."
Moving Batista to the bullpen was expected, especially after he went just three innings and threw 82 pitches in his start against the Twins on Monday night.
"I don't think he is very happy about it, which is a natural thing," Stottlemyre said. "This is not something we wanted to do, but he is making mistakes in crucial situations, and we're sending him to the bullpen to get more work. It seems like there is more work down there than there is as a starter."
Batista led the Mariners in wins last season with 16, but he has not been anywhere near the same pitcher this season, partly because of several nagging injuries that he tried to pitch through, and more recently, a series of low-inning, high-pitch-count outings.
After going at least six innings in 23 of his 32 starts in 2007, the 37-year-old hurler has pitched into the sixth inning just five times in 19 starts this season. He is 3-9 with a 7.07 ERA as a starter, compared to a 1-2 record and 4.15 ERA as a reliever. Overall, both right- and left-handed hitters are batting higher than .300 against him.
And the 63 walks he has issued in 94 innings have been another blemish on his record.
"Even if you are going to get hit, you have to be more aggressive with your pitches," Stottlemyre said. "He is averaging two baserunners an inning and that's a difficult thing to do and be successful. If you are giving up a lot of hits, you have to keep your walks down, and he hasn't been able to do that."
The Mariners are hoping a stint in the bullpen, for however long it lasts, benefits Batista in particular and the pitching staff in general.
"Hopefully, we can use him a few times out there and he can get better than what he has been," Stottlemyre said. "The hard part is convincing him that he's as important to the staff pitching out in the bullpen as he would be as a starter."
This isn't the first time Batista has worked out of the 'pen this season. He has been back and forth since the start of June, making eight starts and seven relief appearances. He and former Mariners pitcher, Jorge Campillo, are the only pitchers in the Major Leagues this season that have at least 15 starts and five relief appearances. Batista also is one of only six active pitchers with at least 70 wins, 30 saves and 60 games started.