M's Farm Report: Livingston battles back
Used in relief by M's, lefty regains form as starter
By JASON A. CHURCHILL
SPECIAL TO THE P-I
TACOMA -- Starting pitchers are a dime a dozen. But left-handers are always at a premium, particularly the few who throw strikes consistently.
Bobby Livingston can do both, and after a dismal stint with the Mariners, Livingston, 23, is regaining the form that earned him the call-up. But he's doing it as a starting pitcher in Tacoma.
"I knew that when I showed up," Livingston said of his relief role in the majors. "They just said, 'We're going to use you in the bullpen for long relief,' and that's pretty much all they said -- and to throw strikes."
Livingston had made just two appearances out of the bullpen -- one in 2002, his first year as a pro, and the other in the minors in 2004. After allowing 10 earned runs in five innings over three appearances with the Mariners, it seems clear he's best suited to start.
"It affects a guy like me a lot," Livingston said of his inconsistent use with the Mariners. "Because I'm a feel guy ... And usually when you get into a routine, your body feels a certain way on those certain days."
Starters are used to throwing about 100 pitches every five or six days. Livingston never approached half that total with Seattle and twice went more than a week between appearances. He yielded six earned runs in one-third of an inning in his final appearance May 12.
"I'm not making any excuses," Livingston said. "I didn't pitch well while I was up there, and there are no excuses. The situations that I had were uncomfortable. But now that I've been through that, maybe the next time I go up and am put in the same situation it'll be different because I'll know how to handle it."
A fourth-round draft pick in 2001 out of Trinity Christian High School in Lubbock, Texas, Livingston made his major league debut this season after posting a 47-24 record and 3.22 ERA in his first four pro seasons. He works with smarts and guile -- and a below-average fastball. Livingston, however, believes velocity is overrated in a pitcher's repertoire.
"I'm pretty sure that if I tried to throw harder I could hit the low 90s," he said, "but my stuff wouldn't be as good. I'm not going to substitute a mile or two miles per hour for stuff. I'd rather have good stuff."
Livingston's stuff includes a fastball in the 84-88 mph range but with exceptional sinking action on a two-seam offering. He also throws an above-average changeup and a curveball that is a plus pitch at times.
Scouts see Livingston (2-5, 5.06 ERA at Tacoma) as a back-of-the-rotation starter who could pitch 200 innings.
"He's still got some refining to do," one AL Central scout said. "I really would like to see a little bit more out of his fastball, but he has the other pitches, and as the Mariners know as well as anyone with Jamie Moyer, good pitchers find a way to get outs, with or without high velocity."