M's Morrow begins move from bullpen to starting rotation; Vidro optioned


SEATTLE -- The long awaited conversion of Seattle Mariners' right-hander Brandon Morrow to a starter finally began on Tuesday.

While Morrow is headed to the minors to become the starter Seattle envisioned when he was a first-round draft pick two years ago, light-hitting designated hitter Jose Vidro is simply headed out of town.

The Mariners optioned Morrow to Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday afternoon, with the hopes Morrow can get his arm ready to potentially make a few starts with the major league club before the end of the season. A short-time later, the Mariners designated Vidro for assignment, finally deciding a .234 hitting DH was not helping their lineup.

"As our season progressed and it became obvious we were not going to reach the goals we had entering this year, we began internal discussions on the best time to convert Brandon back to a starting role," Mariners' interim general manager Lee Pelekoudas said. "We believe that giving him time to stretch out in Tacoma and then, hopefully, make some starts for the big league club before spending the 2008 offseason preparing to come to camp as a starting pitcher for 2009 is the best route for his development."

Seattle recalled right-hander Jared Wells to take Morrow's spot in the bullpen, while outfielder Wladimir Balentien was brought up to replace Vidro. Balentien was in the lineup Tuesday night as the designated hitter, batting seventh. Both Morrow and Vidro had left the stadium before the clubhouse opened Tuesday afternoon.

Morrow has been a standout in the Mariners bullpen for the last two seasons, and took on the closer role for some of this season while J.J. Putz missed time with injuries. Even though Putz has not thrown on consecutive days since coming off the disabled list July 20, manager Jim Riggleman said he believes Putz is ready to reclaim his spot as Seattle's ninth inning stopper. He also said that if Putz needs a day off, allowing one of Seattle's other young relievers a chance to close out a game would be beneficial.

Morrow was 1-2 with a 1.47 ERA in 40 games this season. He was 10 of 12 in save opportunities. He'll get his first start with Tacoma on Wednesday afternoon when the Rainiers host Albuquerque. Riggleman said he'd like to get Morrow four-to-six starts with the Mariners before the end of the season, but that will depend on how Morrow feels as his workload increases.

"We don't know if he's going to get any starts," Riggleman said. "He's got to say he feels good."

Vidro was hitting just .234, the second-worst batting average for a designated hitter with more than 200 at-bats, and his .338 slugging percentage was the worst. Vidro had seven homers and 45 RBIs, and only 18 extra base hits all season.

Pelekoudas indicated the team tried to move Vidro before the July 31 trade deadline, and Riggleman said he was surprised it didn't happen.

"I couldn't believe the phone wasn't ringing from somebody coming to take Jose Vidro. He really was swinging the bat good," Riggleman said. "I know the batting average might not indicate that he was having a good year, but the RBIs per at-bat I thought were really good, the quality of his at-bats I thought was good. I just thought by the trading deadline, somebody would have asked for Jose, but that didn't happen."

This will be Balentien's second stint with the Mariners this season. He was called up in late April and hit .196 with four homers and nine RBIs in 32 games. He was optioned back to Tacoma in June and hit .270 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in his last 44 games.

Wells was acquired in a trade with San Diego in May, and led the Pacific Coast League with 18 saves this season between Portland and Tacoma.