Forum Spin Doctor
SEATTLE - Chris Reitsma is coming off a rare arm injury, similar to the one Kenny Rogers had. No, not the Detroit Tigers pitcher.
"The country singer," Reitsma said. "He held his mike, and he had the same problem."
Still, the Seattle Mariners are ready to take a risk on Reitsma. They agreed with the former Atlanta Braves closer on a $2.05 million, one-year contract Friday to become their top setup man.
The right-hander, who turned 29 last week, had elbow surgery that ended his brief stint as Braves closer six months ago. The procedure was performed to cut a rare muscle that had wrapped around a nerve, causing Reitsma's hand to go numb.
The renowned surgeon who performed the July 18 operation, Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., told Reitsma that the only other person he'd ever seen with that condition was Kenny Rogers.
The singer, that is.
"I had a freaky injury," Reitsma said. "They found a muscle that only 5 percent of people have."
Reitsma, from Calgary, Alberta, grew up watching either the Toronto Blue Jays or Mariners on his family's television. He gets $1.35 million this year and can earn additional bonuses based on appearances and games finished. Seattle has a $2.7 million option for 2008 with a $700,000 buyout.
All without having thrown a pitch in half a year. Reitsma made $2.75 million last year.
"You certainly don't expect too much coming off surgery and with the way my year went," Reitsma said, smiling while his wife, Janelle, and their infant daughter, Allyson, watched from across the room.
He became a free agent last month when the Braves declined to offer a 2007 contract. The right-hander began last season as the Braves' closer but lost his job after blowing four of 12 chances. He was 1-2 with an 8.68 ERA in 27 games before the surgery.
Reitsma will assume the Mariners' setup role for closer J.J. Putz. Seattle, which has finished last in the AL West for three consecutive seasons, traded 2006 setup man Rafael Soriano to the Braves for starting pitcher Horacio Ramirez earlier this offseason.
Reitsma said that's when he knew he'd thrown his last pitch for Atlanta. It came on July 1 - and it plunked Baltimore star Miguel Tejada in the head.
Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said Reitsma will have no restrictions on throwing - other than a pitcher's normal ramp-up to the season - when Seattle's pitchers and catchers begin spring training in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 15.
"I'm good to go. I'm planning on getting on the mound for the first time on Monday," Reitsma said, adding he has been long tossing since the end of September.
Mark Lowe, a rookie surprise in 2006 who was on track to be Putz's setup man in '07, had arm surgery in the fall. He is due to have an MRI this month, but the Mariners don't know when Lowe will return in what Bavasi called "a slow process."
"We thought this was the perfect fit," Bavasi said, adding that Reitsma is capable of giving Putz a day off from closing if necessary.
"I'm not trying to put any pressure on Chris, but this is a big move for us. When we moved Soriano in the first deal, we did take a bite out of the back part of our game. And this, we think, equals it - and maybe (is) a little bit beyond it."
Bavasi said Soriano is "a great talent" with a more powerful arm, but Reitsma is more "consistent."
Reitsma has a career record of 32-44 with 37 saves and a 4.58 ERA in 312 appearances, including 53 starts. He pitched for Cincinnati, primarily as a starter, from 2001-03 before joining Atlanta in '04.
"Chris is a kid who wants to pitch every day," Seattle manager Mike Hargrove said. "In the bullpen, one of the most valuable qualities a pitcher can have is consistency, both in terms of being available and in the results he provides. Chris gives us the consistency we need as we bridge the gap from our starters to J.J."
Bavasi said the Mariners will now see if any further help is available for their depleted rotation - which has lost three starters to other teams since July - or their thin bench.