This mutual admiration survives job switch, trade

AL notebook


It's one of baseball's strange twists of fate.

A veteran works with a young guy. Teaches him how to play the game right, how to handle the pressure. The kid improves greatly and then takes the mentor's job.

The scenario seems to occur most often in the bullpen. It happened in New York with John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera and here with Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan.

This season it happened in Seattle with Eddie Guardado and J.J. Putz.

"He was that one guy for me that kind of took me under his wing," Putz, 29, said about Guardado, 35.

Originally a starter, Putz became Triple-A Tacoma's closer and made his big league debut in 2003. The next season he was a Mariners setup man, and when Guardado was injured, he was thrust into the closer's role, saving nine games. Putz returned to setting up in 2005 when a healthy Guardado picked up 36 saves.

This spring, Guardado showed Putz a new grip for his split-fingered fastball, which is now a devastating out pitch. Meanwhile, Guardado floundered. He converted four of seven save opportunities, and, by mid-May, lost his job to Putz. But Guardado, who once took the closing job from veteran Rick Aguilera in Minnesota, understood.

"The tough part wasn't really filling in for him; it was seeing him struggle," Putz said. "Eddie made it easy for me to step in. He was always supportive. He'd always talk to me about the aspect of closing even when he was still here."

On July 6, the Mariners dealt Guardado to Cincinnati for a minor league pitcher. Putz heard about the move while at a charity golf tournament.

"I got choked up a little bit," Putz said. "He was the guy that basically taught me most about this game, and even about life and family."

This season is progressing well for both. Putz is 23 of 27 in save opportunities, while Guardado converted his first six chances for the playoff-contending Reds. The two still talk every few days.

"It is great," Putz said. "A little change of scenery and he is on fire right now."

Thinking hard

Talented but troubled Tampa Bay outfield prospect Elijah Dukes has been suspended indefinitely by the team for the second time this season, the most recent punishment coming after he refused to leave the bench after being ejected for arguing balls and strikes. He was subsequently suspended five days by the International League and indefinitely by the club while it investigates the incident. Dukes, 22, has done some soul-searching about his future with baseball and life.

"You can be good at something, but maybe you're just not meant to do that," said Dukes, a 2002 third-round pick. "I'm being perceived as a monster. I don't want my kids to go to school and other kids telling them that their daddy's a monster."

Quick hits

In the 24 hours before the non-waiver trade deadline ended, the Oakland A's had no conversations about trading ace Barry Zito. ... Since making the 2005 All-Star Game, Boston's Matt Clement is 8-9 with a 6.14 ERA and is likely done for this season with an ailing right shoulder.

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