Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
March 21, 2008 9:00 AM
Posted by Geoff Baker
Just got out of manager John McLaren's office and he's as ticked off as I've seen him all spring. Not with the media, more like his team. He's trying to stay positive but is still very frustrated by what he saw last night when his team left the bases loaded with none out in the 10th inning of a 6-6 tie with the San Diego Padres. Getting runners home in key situations is something the Mariners have preached since the start of camp. With the team set to finalize its roster in less than a week, the same mistakes are being made. The same job isn't getting done. It's gotten so bad that McLaren (pictured above) is apparently ready to step in and do the hitting himself. OK, maybe not.
"It was our Achilles heel last year and we still see signs of it,'' he said. "If we're going to be a good ball club, we can't leave runners stranded at third base with less than two out.''
Mike Morse didn't do himself any favors by hitting into the 10th-inning double-play and botching a pair of late fly balls. McLaren insists he isn't going to use one game as a determining factor, but admits he still has uncertainty about who he's going to go with as his extra outfielder.
That doesn't mean Morse (shown above during this morning's batting practice) is done. But he was a part of that doomed offensive rally in the 10th inning, grounding into the double-play that thwarted it. Despite his .525 batting average this spring, it's the more pressure-packed situations like those that could swing votes either for or against a player. The team knows Morse won't hit .500 (or .400 for that matter) once he gets to Seattle. But once his numbers come back down to the level expected from him, or any backup, they want to see what he brings to the table that might distinguish him from any other secondary player.
The poor form Morse displayed a couple of times in right field against San Diego has to be giving the manager reason for pause. After all, it's a backup outfield job he's vying for and defense will play a role in who gets the spot.
"I'm concerned,'' McLaren said. "We're no closer to finding that extra bench or two position than we were two weeks ago. Everyone brings something different to the table. We're going to debate it here. We debated for an hour last night. We just want to see where we want to go with this and what options we have and (if) we're going to try some things different.''
McLaren mentioned Greg Norton towards the end of today's discussion. Norton got the 10th inning rally going with a single and has been able to come up with some big hits in the limited number of chances he's had thus far.
"That's one of the reasons Norton's in the equation, because he can pinch-hit,'' McLaren said. "We will pinch-hit for guys if we're not getting it done. We'll serve notice. We've got to get these runs in. We've got confidence that these guys can drive these runs in. But if they keep them left out there, we're going to have to consider other options.''
McLaren was also asked about the speed shown by Charlton Jimerson in advancing bases on bunts, helping to set up the 10th inning rally after pinch-running for Norton.
"As far as speed off the bench, he's way in front of everybody,'' McLaren said. "He's fearless, he's got the great speed. And you know, that's a good combination. If you're fearless and you've got great speed.''
Listen to this clip from McLaren, which begins with me asking him if there's a common theme to some of these botched rallies. It's a good clip in getting the sense of his mood and the seriousness with which he's treating last night's developments.
And so, a job Morse appeared to have locked up a few days ago now may not be his. Or, it still could be. This could be McLaren's way of lighting a fire under Morse, making sure he stays on his toes after a great start at the plate. But given the mood McLaren was in this morning, I believe him when he says he's legitimately concerned and is still making up his mind.