SEATTLE -- While general manager Jack Zduriencik says he's open to pursuing another starting pitcher for the Mariners this winter, one option not under consideration is moving converted reliever Charlie Furbush back into the rotation.
Furbush, 26, was one of Seattle's unsung success stories last season. After coming into Spring Training without a clear-cut role and spending the first two weeks of the season with Triple-A Tacoma, he gradually emerged as a quality left-handed setup man in manager Eric Wedge's bullpen.
Furbush finished the year with a 5-2 record and a 2.72 ERA in 48 appearances, with an excellent 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings and a tidy .147 batting average against left-handed hitters. That success cemented the Mariners' thoughts on Furbush's future after he'd gone 3-7 with a 6.62 ERA in 11 appearances (10 starts) upon arriving from Detroit in a midseason trade in 2011.
"When [Furbush] was acquired, we viewed him as a left-handed reliever in the long run," Zduriencik said. "His delivery and array of pitches lend itself to fitting in that role. He has done well in that role and it's a strong need for any bullpen."
Thus, you can expect Furbush, Lucas Luetge and Oliver Perez to come to camp in February as leading contenders to again man the left side of the relief crew.
"I think the three left-handers in the bullpen gave Eric very solid options and matchups in the second half," Zduriencik said.
Given none of those players were known quantities heading into this past season, that's a pretty marked improvement in a bullpen that also retains closer Tom Wilhelmsen and hard-throwing young right-handers Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps, as well as veterans Shawn Kelley and Josh Kinney.
At the end of his first year in the 'pen, Furbush acknowledged he finally felt like a full-fledged reliever, a role he'd never held in college or during his rise through the Minors.
"Just the whole daily life as a reliever in comparison to a starter is definitely different, but it was awesome," Furbush told MLB.com at the end of the season. "I had a blast this year and learned so much about the variety of different situations you get thrown into, and the ways you try to make yourself consistent with your feelings.
"I'm a big believer in experience," he said. "The more you experience situations, the better you're going to be in the long run."
After initially looking like the odd-man out last spring, Furbush showed he could get batters out in a relief role in Cactus League play, and he carried that over into the regular season.
"I feel like I made some pretty good strides for sure," Furbush said. "This was a pretty special year -- not just for myself but everybody in the room. We had the perfect game, the no-hitter, the perfect game against us ... it was definitely a year to remember."
Furbush was part of Seattle's combined no-hitter on June 8 against the Dodgers, getting two outs as the first of five relievers after starter Kevin Millwood injured his groin muscle. That is something he won't soon forget, but it was far from his only highlight.
From May 17 to June 30, Furbush put together 22 2/3 scoreless innings, the fourth-longest streak by a reliever in franchise history. He also recorded at least one strikeout in 19 straight appearances from May 13 to July 3, the third-longest run by a Mariners reliever.
Though he struggled a bit in September after returning from a triceps issue, Furbush finished the season with an outstanding 0.95 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), the eighth-best mark by an American League reliever in 2012, and eighth-best mark in Mariners history.
It all added up to a breakout year for the southpaw from Maine, who acknowledged his improvement came both on and off the field.
"It's just understanding what it takes to really be a big league baseball player every day," Furbush said. "In no way, shape or form is this a walk in the park. You've got to show up ready to play and really be on top of your game, even the days you don't feel too good. For me, it was hopefully just another step up the ladder in a long career."
And while Furbush said he'd be open to it if the Mariners ever do ask him to try starting again, the bullpen seems to be a role that suits him just fine.
"I'm a pretty versatile reliever -- from multiple innings to one batter," Fubush said. "That's part of it now. You just try to do the best you can every situation you're in.
"For me, this is the way they see the team moving and the success that I had. I'm totally happy with the role I was in. I just want to be a part of the team and help us win as many games as we can. Obviously being a starter my whole career is something I always took pride in. But if this is going to help the team win, I'm in. I just want to play baseball."