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05/06/08 10:22 PM ET

Putz closer to returning to form

Mariners saves man battling a new ailment in finger irritation

SEATTLE -- Slowly but surely, J.J. Putz is returning to the form that made him an All-Star last season.

A little over a month into the season, the Seattle closer has managed only two saves in four opportunities and is sporting an uncharacteristically high 7.50 ERA.

"He's not J.J. yet; he's working at it," Mariners manager John McLaren said. "It's taking time."

The trouble started for Putz in the second game of the season, when he allowed a two-run home run to Texas' Josh Hamilton in a 5-4 loss. The next day, Putz was on the disabled list with inflammation where cartilage attaches to the rib.

The right-hander has appeared in four games since his return and is now dealing with irritation on the index finger of his pitching hand.

"That's primarily the problem right now," McLaren said. "He went through a stage [to] make sure that his side was well, and he got over that. Then the finger problem, it's not a blister, it's just an irritation. He says he feels better every day, so that's positive to hear that. I think he's getting to the point where he's getting stronger and he feels good about himself."

The injuries have forced the Mariners to be a little careful in the way they handle Putz. Each time Putz throws in the 'pen, his status is reported to McLaren to help determine his availability for that night's game.

"We're playing it by ear when he gets up. We're in communication during the game, so I don't think we're that far off," McLaren said. "We're doing the best we can for J.J. and the team. We're getting there."

Putz was 6-1 with 40 saves and a 1.38 ERA last season for the Mariners. In his six-year career, he's 16-11 with a 3.03 ERA and 88 saves, which are third on the Mariners all-time list behind Kazuhiro Sasaki (129) and Mike Schooler (98).

Chris Hester is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.