Notes: Looking for a perfect ending
Two years after historic feat, Small tries to hang on in Seattle
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Two years ago, he made Major League history. Today, Aaron Small is a non-roster invitee in camp with the Mariners and a long shot to make the Opening Day roster.
Yes, life in the Major Leagues can certainly be grand as much as it can be cruel, as the 35-year-old right-hander who has pitched for seven different teams during his career knows full well.
Not that Small is bemoaning his situation. If anything, he's thankful for this opportunity.
"It's all about having a good attitude in the good times and bad times," Small said. "I like to use the word humble. You have to stay humble. ... That makes it easier to deal with the hard times."
Two years ago, Small -- who up until that point had 15 career Major League victories -- became just the fourth pitcher in history to win at least 10 games without suffering a loss for the Yankees.
On a staff riddled with injuries, Small was a rock for the Yankees. He finished the season with a 10-0 record and a 3.20 ERA, which earned him a one-year contract for 2006 worth $1.2 million. It was certainly a ride Small won't ever forget.
"I think I'll do that the rest of my life," Small said. "Just the memories and the stories I'll have, I'll share with my family forever. I was glad they were there with me. It's probably something that I'll tell my grandkids about. It's hard to get away from that year but you can't sit and dwell on it. You think about the good times, but you have to move forward."
Small wouldn't enjoy a repeat performance last season, thanks in large part to an injured right hamstring that he suffered during Spring Training. The injury sidelined him for the first month of the season and threw off his whole timetable.
"The actual injury didn't hang around long but trying to get back did," Small said. "It was hard to bounce back. The best way to put it was, it was hard to get caught up after missing the first five, six weeks of the season. It was almost like trying to go to Spring Training in May. And with the Yankees, there's not that leeway of getting yourself ready."
When Small did return, he wasn't the same pitcher. He was 0-3 in 11 games with an 8.46 ERA, which prompted the Yankees to designate him for assignment on June 17. It was the fifth time in Small's career that he had either been designated for assignment or just outright released.
His biggest regret was not being able to show the Yankees that he was the pitcher who a year earlier couldn't lose.
"It's not like I felt I needed to prove myself, but I wanted to help the team," Small said. "Not that I wasn't going to come back and go undefeated again, but I wanted to prove I could still do it."
He's getting that chance with the Mariners, who surprised Small by pursuing him during the offseason.
"It kind of came out of nowhere," Small said. "It was getting close to Christmas and we were talking to the Reds. I thought we were going to sign with them, but that fell through at the last second. Then, all of a sudden, my agent called and said Seattle wanted to sign me now. So here I am."
Rhodes a lock? It's no secret to anyone that there will be heavy competition this spring for the scant few spots in bullpen, which is probably an ominous sign for those 12 non-roster pitchers in camp.
But it might not be a bad sign for left-hander Arthur Rhodes. On Friday, Seattle manager Mike Hargrove said that he would be surprised if the 37-year-old Rhodes didn't make the Opening Day roster.
"I'll be terribly shocked if he doesn't make the ballclub," Hargrove said. "He is a winner. He brings a lot of things to the party that gives you a chance to win."
One of those things is the leadership Rhodes is expected to provide to a young team. The other, of course, is what he has to offer while on the mound.
"The last two or three years he hasn't been that Arthur that we all remember," Hargrove said of Rhodes, who had a 5.32 ERA with Philadelphia a year ago. "He's had spurts of being that guy. We are counting on the fact of him coming back to the place he likes, a place that likes him a lot, being comfortable here and having a chance to contribute to a winning effort."
This means the Mariners could carry up to three left-handed pitchers in the bullpen, with Jake Woods pitching in long relief and George Sherrill being another late-inning option.
Catching on: The learning curve continues for Kenji Johjima, who got a crash course in Major League Catching 101 a year ago during his rookie season.
Hargrove talked to Johjima before the two parted ways following last season about pitch selection and knowing pitchers' tendencies. It certainly wasn't anything that Johjima couldn't handle.
"He's an intelligent guy," Hargrove said. "He'll be OK."
This spring, the Mariners have been working with Johjima on setting up in his catching stance for pitches earlier than before.
"In the Japanese game, catchers set up really late," Hargrove said. "But In the American League game, with the umpires, setting up really late they're not going to have a good shot of the strike zone."
Mariners log: Second baseman Jose Lopez continues to get treatment for the sprained right ankle he injured playing winter ball. Lopez isn't expected to miss any exhibition games and will likely be cleared to participate in workouts when position players report on Monday. ... The Mariners payroll for the 2007 season has exceeded $100 million for the first time in club history. The $33.5 million in new contracts has raised the working budget to $111 million, according to the Seattle Times. ... Position players are slowly starting to trickle into camp. On Friday, Mike Morse arrived with a new look -- a nearly shaven head. ... Hargrove was asked if there were any injuries to report after the first two days of workouts. "Not that I know of," he said. ... Former Mariners administrative coach and former Tacoma Rainiers manager Dan Rohn has found a new home as the manager of the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. Rohn and bench coach Ron Hassey were fired late last season.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.