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Pineiro hopes to keep starting spot this time

SEATTLE (AP) -- For Joel Pineiro, this has been a season of
uncertainty.

He was in the Seattle Mariners' rotation after spring training.
Then two days into the season, he was in the bullpen.

Now Pineiro's a starter again. And he says he will do everything
possible to hold onto his spot.

"It was funny because out of spring training, they said,
'You're the fifth starter, congratulations, everything's set,"'
Pineiro said. "And since we had a day off that week they said, 'We
want to use you out of the pen.' I didn't feel it was so much a
challenge. I looked at it more as an opportunity, really. They knew
I could start. They knew I could come out of the pen in long relief
or short relief.

"So I just looked at it as an opportunity to show myself that I
could do any of those slots, whatever they wanted me to be in."

Yet being a starter has made it much easier for Pineiro to plan
his workouts. While in the bullpen, he didn't know what day to lift
hard or when to do extra running, because there always was the
chance he'd be pitching the next night.

Early in the season, the Mariners decided Pineiro would be more
effective as a reliever because Seattle's fifth starter would only
have a handful of outings. It also gave manager Lou Piniella and
pitching coach Bryan Price the chance to evaluate other young
pitchers.

"It was more shock than a mental setback," Pineiro, 23, said
of being sent to the bullpen. "I wouldn't say it was tough, but it
made me think a little more out there, knowing that I have to be a
little bit more aggressive."

The Mariners are trying to figure out if Pineiro's arm will give
them a solid No. 3 starter to follow Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer.

Catcher Ben Davis sure thinks so. He caught for Pineiro's fourth
victory, a 15-2 Mariners' win over Toronto on May 16.

"He's a fun guy to catch because sometimes he makes hitters
look downright foolish," Davis said. "That kind of brings a smile
to my face. That game in Toronto, the umpire behind me in the first
inning is like, 'Man, this guy's pretty good, huh?' I said, 'Yeah,
you ain't seen nothing yet."'

Pineiro, a right-hander, is 4-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 15 games,
having made six starts. In 48 innings, he has allowed 15 earned
runs, 44 hits and three home runs to go with 39 strikeouts and 21
walks.

"Unless something drastic happens, I don't see him back in the
bullpen," Price said. "He's handled it all very well. What he
wants to do is contribute to the team. And what he sees himself as
is a major league starting pitcher."

Pineiro isn't the only one who's been affected by the juggling.
Lefty John Halama and right-hander Ryan Franklin have been given a
few starts as the Mariners try to determine where they best help
the team.

Rookie Rafael Soriano has joined the rotation and veteran Paul Abbott is on the disabled list with inflammation in his throwing
shoulder. James Baldwin has been inconsistent since joining the
Mariners this year.

Most clubs like to set their starting rotation in spring
training. The Mariners are taking their time, trying to find the
mix that will bring postseason success. Seattle won 116 games last
year, then lost to the New York Yankees in the AL Championship
Series.

"But (Piniella) has done well here. He'll figure it out,"
Tampa Bay manager Hal McRae said.

As a kid, the Puerto Rican-born Pineiro had dreams of being a
major league shortstop. He was the starting shortstop on his high
school's varsity team as a freshman, then started pitching as a
sophomore.

When scouts told him as a senior they wanted to draft him as a
pitcher, Pineiro told them he wanted to be a shortstop or second
baseman. But he gave up when they insisted he pitch.

The Mariners say he has shown an incredible capability to learn
and improve. Pineiro spent parts of the past two seasons in Seattle
while also playing for Triple-A Tacoma.

"The core, the base of what he has right now is going to take
him for years at the major league level," Davis said.

Pineiro hopes a strike won't cut short his first full season in
the majors.

"I would have never thought or dreamed it would be like this,
this quick," he said. "It's nice. I don't want to say I'm ahead
because I don't want to sound cocky, but it's just, I guess, a
little extra gift, a little extra effort."