KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Starter? Reliever? Chance Ruffin isn’t sure anymore. So he narrows it down to the simplest of terms.
“I think I’m just a pitcher,” he said. “Just put me in whenever and I will try to get outs.”
It has been an interesting season for the 24-year-old right-hander.
Ruffin began spring training as a reliever and didn’t make the parent-club Seattle Mariners.
The organization then converted him to a starter, and he began the season in the rotation at Double-A Jackson. He went 4-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 16 starts and was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma in July.
But after two forgettable starts, giving up nine runs in nine innings, the Mariners moved him back to reliever as a way to control his innings count. He made 13 relief appearances with the Rainiers and posted a 1.74 ERA, striking out 19 batters and walking three in 202/3 innings.
“I’d say it’s been as close to a roller-coaster season as I’ve ever had or could remember,” he said.
Now he’s back with the Mariners as a September call-up. It’s his first time in the big leagues since the 2011 season, when he was one of four players Seattle received in the trade that sent Doug Fister and David Pauley to Detroit.
Ruffin made 13 appearances for the Mariners in 2011, posting a 1-0 record with a 3.86 ERA in 14 innings. He was viewed as a possible closer or late-inning setup man.
But all that got sidetracked in 2012, when he struggled to find his command in spring training and started the season in Tacoma. The command issues never went away.
Ruffin made 50 appearances for the Rainiers, going 0-5 with a 5.99 ERA. He walked 35 batters in 702/3 innings. After struggling again during this spring training, he was one of the first relievers optioned out of big league camp.
The Mariners made a few minor adjustments to his mechanics – and a major adjustment in his role. They asked him to revert to starting.
Ruffin didn’t have to be sold on the idea.
“I love starting,” he said. “I did it in college for a couple years. I liked it a lot. I was excited when they told me I’d go back to starting. I came out and had a good first couple months. It got a little rocky at the end. Mostly, I was just trying to use it as a learning experience.”
And what did he learn?
“It’s taught me how to focus more pitch to pitch and on each hitter rather than getting caught up in the moment and the game so much,” Ruffin said. “It slowed the game down.
“The biggest thing was learning how to slow the game down and getting myself under control. In the past, I’d have trouble when I’d get out of rhythm and I’d start to lose command. As a starter, if you lose command, you are done early and that’s a bad day. So I learned to adjust.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge noticed.
“It calmed his delivery a little bit,’ Wedge said. “He was more under control and more consistent with his delivery, with his arm action, arm slot and release point.”
So what will Ruffin do with the Mariners? He isn’t going to start, but he’ll get to pitch.
“I really don’t need to have roles for them,” Wedge said of his called-up pitchers. “We are going to give them opportunities when we feel like we have opportunities. He’s earned the right to be up here. He did a tremendous job making the adjustment down there.”
The Mariners wrap up the four-game series with an 11:10 a.m. game Thursday. Left-hander Joe Saunders (11-14, 4.92 ERA) is scheduled to go against Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (13-10, 4.08). The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish