On Thursday in a 9-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies at the Peoria Sports Complex, the Mariners left-handed starter turned in another shaky outing as far as sheer numbers go, and this one was wild, too. He gave up three runs on five hits in 2 2/3 innings, struck out two, walked one, uncorked a wild pitch, and, in the first inning, had a balk called against him.
Through three spring starts, Rowland-Smith's ERA is at 8.10 and he hasn't pitched more than three innings because of elevated pitch counts. He threw 66 pitches Thursday afternoon.
"It went better than last time out," Rowland-Smith said, referencing his previous spring start, in which he gave up three runs on four hits in two innings against the Royals on March 12. "Just a couple of deep counts that got my pitch count up. But besides that, I was happy with it. I got the ball down more today.
"If you eliminate two, three pitches in a couple at-bats, all of a sudden you get to the fourth or fifth inning with the same amount of pitches."
The Mariners need Rowland-Smith to be a reliable cog in their starting rotation if they are to have any hopes of reaching the postseason. And with the five-game suspension of Cliff Lee looming, it's possible that manager Don Wakamatsu could turn to the lefty to follow ace Felix Hernandez by getting the ball in the team's second game of the season April 6 in Oakland.
Rowland-Smith showed plenty of potential in 2009, throwing at least six innings in nine of his final 11 starts, including eight quality starts (six innings or more, three earned runs or less). He also pitched at least seven innings in eight of his 15 total starts, went 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in five starts against the American League West, and had the third-best ERA in the Majors against the AL West behind AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke of Kansas City (0.94) and teammate Erik Bedard (1.83).
Rowland-Smith was on track to be the No. 4 starter if the Mariners decided to alternate righties and lefties, with No. 1 Hernandez being followed by southpaw Lee and right-hander Ian Snell.
After Thursday's game, Wakamatsu said he felt Rowland-Smith still has some more to prove this spring.
"I thought he was up in the zone, pulling off a lot of pitches," Wakamatsu said. "I guess the good thing we're looking at is the amount of pitches that we're starting to build these guys up [with]. Sixty-six is kind of on track, but there's a lot more work to be done."
Rowland-Smith admitted that while he was working on all of his pitches Thursday, his command of them was drifting in and out.
"Early in the game, I didn't have a good feel for my slider, but I threw some better ones [later]," he said. "My changeup was good early, but I lost a feel for it later in the game."
And then there was the balk, which came with one out in the first inning and a runner on first base.
Rowland-Smith, whose normal pitching motion includes a slide-step move toward the plate, said he was operating under the presumption that as a left-handed pitcher, he is entitled to step down on the first-base side of an imaginary line that splits the mound in two at a 45-degree angle without being called for a balk, which enables all runners to advance one base.
This, however, is not written into the rules of Major League Baseball.
"I stepped 45 degrees, and they called a balk," Rowland-Smith said. "I felt like I went 45 degrees, looked in the dirt, got the protractor out and it looked like it was 45."
Rowland-Smith was able to joke about it, he said, because it's Spring Training and he's still got time to refine his repertoire until it's ready for the regular season. He said he felt like he inched closer to having the stamina and command necessary to make the 30-plus starts the Mariners are counting on him to deliver, despite the somewhat crooked numbers he's put up in the desert so far.
"This is the third time I've thrown to hitters in the last four or five months, so that's what it's all about," Rowland-Smith said.
"You learn so much about where you're at in [these] games."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.