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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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April 1, 2008 11:33 PM

The aftermath: 5-4 Rangers win

Posted by Larry Stone

Sorry for the lack of updates, folks, but on a night game with so many plot twists, my main priority has to be writing my newspaper story on our tight deadline. If you had seen me sweating blood in the latter innings trying to make sense of it all, you'd understand.

What a devastating loss for the Mariners -- but mitigated by a truly outstanding effort by His Highness, the Big Dog. I was impressed not just with Felix's stuff, excellent as usual, but his economy of pitches, and especially his composure. Yeah, his throwing error was bad, but he made a handful of great fielding plays and always seemed in control of himself, and the game. I'd say this bodes well for a big year from him.

On the downer side, 15 left on base is obviously unacceptable. I know the vultures are already circling Richie Sexson, but I don't think it's fair to write him off after two games. He was quite a standup guy after the game, availing himself right away to reporters -- all of us under very tight deadlines.,

He admitted he got over-anxious in the at-bat in which he struck out with the bases loaded against Benoit. He said he felt the fans were behind him in that at-bat, and observed that they only boo because they want so badly for him to succeed.

"Down deep, they want me to be successful,'' he said. "This is just two games. I am going to have a big year. This is not a major setback."

I was surprised that McLaren didn't pinch-hit Mike Morse for Brad Wilkerson in the seventh against lefty Eddie Guardado. It seemed like the ideal situation for Morse's hot bat, and McLaren said he considered it. But I think he wanted to show confidence in Wilkerson, who ended up striking out with a runner on base. Wilkerson had a tough 0-for-5 night and is still hitless.

I wouldn't worry too much about Putz. Back to back nights in the cold weather -- I'm sure it was not easy getting loose. I didn't have time to wait around for J.J. to come out to his locker and give his take, but if anyone has earned a little grace, it's Putz.

I'm not sure if anyone is still up, but I'm going to sign off and get some sleep myself. I'll be back at it tomorrow.

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Posted by Z4EC

12:03 AM, Apr 02, 2008

"I know the vultures are already circling Richie Sexson, but I don't think it's fair to write him off after two games."

Nobody's writing him off "just because of the last 2 games". If he hasn't realized by now that shortening his swing would give his bat a better chance at contacting the ball, then he will simply never get it, and he deserves to be booed every time he strikes out especially with RISP.

Posted by Nat

12:24 AM, Apr 02, 2008

I agree with you, Larry, that 2 games is not enough time to boo Richie. I know it's tempting but I think boo birds should give him...umm..at least a week!

Back to the earlier thread and the subject of Cy Young awards: Tom Verducci is reporting in S.I. that Felix is his pic for 2008! Though he also notes that it might be hard for Felix with the low # of runs from the guys playing behind him.

Posted by Swung On And Belted

12:46 AM, Apr 02, 2008

I'm not worried about Putz. But isn't it funny how the media keeps making up excuses for these guys? First it was the thin air theory. Now it's the cold weather. For all the media who are saying the M's are a legit playoff contender: The last time I checked, it's usually cold in October!

Posted by CJ

12:56 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Larry, I agree that Felix stayed composed tonight. He seems to be maturing some in that department. He had a couple close calls though, and they are related to something that is beginning to alrm me a little bit... Felix has seemed to develop (especially last year) in to someone who is pitching to contact all the time. His K/IP and BAA have gotten worse each year in his career... His K/9IP and hits went way up the 2nd half of last year....With stuff as explosive as his, why is he not overpowering more batters? Does he still need to develop better command? I know he is stil young, and our expectations are high, but I am getting nervous that he is not developing. He just seemed more explosive (rawer, but more explosive) at the beginning of his career.

I'm a big Felix fan, and I liked his toughness tonight, I'm just getting a bit concerned......

Posted by joe

12:59 AM, Apr 02, 2008

YUNI !!!!

Posted by Mike

1:57 AM, Apr 02, 2008

It's utterly stupid to keep Morse on the team because of his hot bat in spring training, and then to sit him on the bench and let his bat cool down. Either play him here or get rid of him, but leaving him to rot on the bench is the worst possible move.

It's not like he could be doing worse than Wilkerson in the past two games.

Posted by ricofoy

2:08 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Hey, it happens. Like I said last year, Putz should have won the Cy Young. He had a year for the ages, comparable to when Eckersley won the Cy. Yet he barely got a whiff thanks to the herd mentality of the voters... the so-called experts.
Fuhgedaboudit JJ, you got your bad game out of the way early.

Posted by PRchef

2:13 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Wow what a game!

There you are thinking the game is in the bag with JJ coming in with a one run lead in the ninth and he blows it. I had just finished telling my friend "he better be careful with this guy" and sure enough there goes the homer. Bad Karma all the way.I guess it is better for him to get it out of the way early in the season and get in a groove later on. But getting used to him being automatic makes it a little hard when it happens to go the other way. It is just so rare.

King Felix was really good.

We had this one and it just did not happen. I think everyone will freak out because these are the types of gimmies we can't afford to lose if we are to have a winning season.(among other things) But in the end it will be ok. It all evens out in the end, for good or bad...


GO Ms!

Posted by Babu

5:59 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Great game from Felix and Yuni. I did find two things troubling (aside from overall concerns about the offense). Mac's decision to stick with Wilkerson instead of pinch-hitting Morse to show faith in Wilkerson seems like a logic trap that could result in a repeat of last year's practice of sticking with poor performers for far too long. Mac has set the bar high, and that means he is going to have to a short leash to go with that high bar. The second is Richie's explanation of his final strikeout. Mac and Co. have been arguing that the value of veterans is that they don't lose their heads in these situations -- they are mature and savvy and know how to win. So in addition to having a big year, Richie needs to play like those vaunted veterans!

Posted by AC

6:48 AM, Apr 02, 2008

"I don't think it's fair to write him off after two games. He was quite a standup guy after the game, availing himself right away to reporters -- all of us under very tight deadlines.,"

Who cares if he plays a power position and hits in the middle of the lineup while putting up worse numbers than the average 1970's shortstop? He's great with reporters, so he deserves more time.

And Geoff says the readers are the ones with unrealistic expectations. Maybe he needs to look within his own department.

Posted by RogerC

7:07 AM, Apr 02, 2008

In his first two save situations JJ was unable to throw first pitch strikes until the first pitch to Hamilton on Tuesday when he gave up the game losing HR. That one was served up in Hamilton's sweet spot.

It's a shame that McLaren did not pinch hit with Morse over Wilkerson last night. One of Mac's failings last year was his lack of using his bench. Let's hope he has learned.

Posted by CMH

7:14 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Wilkerson is not the answer - we need a big bopper. Mac's decisions continue to disappoint.

Posted by KirklandDawg

7:15 AM, Apr 02, 2008

I don't want to write Richie off, certainly not yet, but everything that has been written about his slow bat was evident last night......I'm rooting for him though. Looked liked there was a nice opportunity to pinch hit Morse for Wilkerson last night against the leftie. Felix had some incredible fielding plays to help himself immensly too,

Posted by Mr. X

7:44 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Well, there goes the dream perfect season. Give me Putz on the mound in that situation every time. He failed miserably last night, and we couldn't come back. Oh by the way, we'll lose more games this year.

The offense is going to be shaky until we get a consistent "better than Ichiro" hitter. We haven't had one of those since Boone's tainted Team MVP 2001 season (though some might argue Richie's 2005 season, very effectively), and I don't see one on the horizon, though Beltre can come close on some nights. A shaky offense can still win with superior pitching, but I'd still like one more bat. Preferably in right field or at 1st base.

Posted by fortheloveofsexson

8:03 AM, Apr 02, 2008

McLaren's fidelity to Sexson bodes very poorly for this season. How long must we wait for him to turn it around? It's not just 2 games. It's an absolutely horrible last season, a terrible spring training, and a horrible first two games. Anything can happen -- one never knows -- but baseball managers (including general managers) are paid to evaluate talent based on facts and make decisions -- not to just keep hoping against all hope. In all my years of being a sports fan, I have not seen a worse decision.

I also felt that Morse should have pinch hit last night -- are we now seeing fidelity to the veteran Wilkerson over reason. Shouldn't these pros be tough enough to handle being pinch hit for by someone who is swinging a hot bat in a crucial game situation. Do all managers coddle their veteran players? Seems like we'd be better off with veterans who have winning as a first priority and who are mentally strong enough to let the manager make moves that will best allow for this. Would Bill Belichek continue to play a player who sucked because he didn't want to damage his psyche? Pathetic.

On this point, I note that Bedard has the toughness that the rest of the team needs. Perhaps his attitude will have a positive effect? I know the media don't like it, but this guy is totally focused and completely arrogant in the best kind of way.

Posted by jujay

8:06 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Nobody's saying it, but I think EOF was a terrible choice in that situation, he's a decent pitcher, but he's not a shut down guy that we need to pass it to putz. Should have been lowe from the beginning. That and not let morse hit for wilky were the two calls i had problems with

Posted by Adam

8:12 AM, Apr 02, 2008

jujay - re: O'Flaherty, he's good, but he's not George Sherrill. I mentioned this a couple of weeks back, but losing Sherrill is a bigger blow than people realize. He was one of the top LHRPs in the game last year. Absolute death to lefty hitters. And while I like O'Flaherty, he's no Sherrill.

So get used to some tense moments late in games. It's not going to be as simple as it once was.

Posted by Neil

8:31 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Agree with you 100% on the Morse blunder. We've got a bench with an extra player on it-let's use them when we need to. Having the loyalty to the vets does no good when the vets strike out. And maybe the PH is the kick in the ass that Wilkerson needs to get into the batting cage and work on NOT striking out in that situation.

Posted by Nat

8:48 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Ditto on pinch hitting Morse for Wilkerson - egos be damned. If getting off to a good start is as important to Mac as he says it is, then pinch hitting shouldn't wait for anybody, and it puts everyone else on notice that they need to step it up as well. I hope Mac takes a more proactive view regarding in-game strategy starting tonight. He's said the team has higher expectations this year - time to start walking the walk, Mac.

Posted by Thomas

8:48 AM, Apr 02, 2008

The Mariners are boring! Where's the youth and fresh new face? Balentien, Reed or Morse should be in RF, not Wilkerson!

How many times are we going to see 2 on, 0 outs and they can't score a run. It's beginning to look like last season again. The so-called run producers (Ibanez & Sexson) can't do it in the clutch. Beltre should be hitting 3rd in the lineup.

It's great having a veteran team, but some of the guys are just old and washed up!

Posted by eastcoast

8:51 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Another sloppy game, overall. I realize it is only two games, but I wonder how long we are going to have to watch Sexson fail in clutch situations before something is done.

I think there has to be real concern re: the middle of the M's lineup. Last night 1,2-7,8,9 went 10-23 while 3-6 went 2-17, which killed us. Ibanez, Sexson, and Wilkerson all looked like they were struggling at the plate. And Vincente Padilla is not exactly the second coming of Cy Young. To me, the most disheartening thing is losing a game to an inferior team/pitcher even after getting seven strong innings from your starter.

And tonight, we have Jason Jennings and his 6+ ERA. I'm sure we'll see the exact same M's lineup. Losing 2/3 to Texas would really suck.

Posted by Nat

8:53 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Yeah, and every year the vets just keep getting older. I'm not at all worried about Putz but as to the rest of the vets, It looks like a l-o-n-g season already.

Posted by Donovan

8:55 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Interesting performance by Felix, especially in light of our discussion of Bedard's performance Mon. No earned runs (though maybe when an unearned one scores because of a pitcher's error it should be earned), but a hell of a lot of baserunners. Like Bedard (and most other guys in the league), he's still rounding into form. It's April 1. I was impressed by the poise he showed under pressure. That's what was missing last season. Coming back to clean up the mess with strikeouts after his error in the 3rd was nice to see. On the other hand, he was very lucky with some of those plays he made in the field. Blalock had the throw home beat if he just slid into the plate instead of around it, and I think maybe the force at second on the bunt back to the mound was a blown call. Anyway, great effort by Felix, but he'd be better off keeping guys off base than throwing them out. I do detect a lot more willingness out there to cut Felix some early season slack than Erik. I guess when you are brought up by the tribe, that's how it is. New recruits are on probation.

I have nothing to say about Sexson or Putz that hasn't been said. It's very early to be extrapolating. I think there are some possible trends that bear watching from these first two games though:

1) The starters are going to keep us in a lot of games this year.
2) Ditto the bullpen, but that setup position is still a question mark. Adam's post this morning was dead on.
3) It's a good thing our pitching is so solid, because scoring runs will be an issue all year. I'm actually encouraged by how we have managed to manufacture runs late in these first two games under pressure - except that it has been against the Rangers' bullpen, which sucks.
4) This team has to play solid defense to win.
5) Josh Hamilton is a stud, and an emerging superstar. He's a good guy to pitch around in game situations.

I predict a lot of close, low scoring games for the M's this season. How we do in those will be everything. It will not be boring to watch, that's for sure. Plenty of elation and heartbreak.

Posted by Rod

9:04 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Here's what I don't understand. We hear all the time that Sexson and Wilkerson are going to strike out "X" amount of times, and that's just the way it is. The trade off is that they're going to drive in a bunch of runs, so we've got to just accept what they bring to the table. Well, why is that acceptable? Why don't we just put the best possible team on the field at all times? I would argue that if Morse were to play first base, he would hit for a much higher average than Sexson, and he'd play better defense than Sexson. He'd strike out less than half as often, and while he might not have as many RBI's, he'd account for more runs over the course of the year by doing a whole bunch of other things right. Things like not hitting into a double play with the bases juiced, or moving the runner to third by hitting the ball to the right side of the field, or maybe stealing a few bases to get into scoring position. I'm sorry, but I just don't see Richie hitting above .220 this year and hitting more than 25 dongs. I believe that Morse could be a legit .280 hitter with 15 to 20 HR's if given the chance to play every day.

On the same subject, what's so special about Wilkerson that would put him in Right Field over Balentien or even Reed for that matter? What can he do that those two can't? Ok, so Reed won't hit as many HR's, but so what? He'll play better defense and hit for a higher average and again, strike out half as much. Same with Balentien, although I'd argue he could hit as many or more HR's than Wilkerson. So why is WIlkerson even on this team??? One more point, then I'm off my soap box. If production in the lineup is what we want, why do we have a guy sitting down in AAA that has the potential to hit 30 HR's and drive in over 100 RBI's, and our current DH is fat and slow, and won't hit more than 10 HR's over an entire year? Why couldn't Jeff Clement come up and be our DH right now and give Kenji a break from his catching duties every 4 or 5 days? I know we have a good back-up catcher on the roster now, but if we really want some true pop in our lineup, we have to look no further than the stud sitting down in Tacoma.

Posted by Clarence

9:13 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Nat, how can they hope to pinch hit effectively, when they didn't keep any hitters (except, arguably, Morse) on the bench? They've got pinch running and spot defensive replacements covered, but pinch hitting? All the bats got sent down before the season started.

Posted by Full Count

11:23 AM, Apr 02, 2008

It was time to cut Sexson lose last year, if they are willing to sit him now with that salary on the books then why wasn't he cut at the end of last season. There is no team in MLB that wants him.! Mariners are forced to give him another shot in hopes of a miracle, he sucked in the spring and sucks now. Two games down and 160 to go and your still giving this guy rope and all he does is hang himself. Cut him and move on....we must beat teams like Texas without a doubt. If you think the Mariner offense can compete with Boston or Detroit in a playoff with Richie the "rally buster" in the line up you will be very disappointed. It is time to thank him for trying and let him go home and turn the page.......

Posted by James from Walla Walla

11:50 AM, Apr 02, 2008

Geoff,

I saw on a box score showing Sexson stranded
5-base runners. And, Wilkerson stranded 6-base
runners, and NO hits yet! Time for him to sit and let Morse play. Switch Sexson & Kenji in the batting order. Maybe bring up Norton to platoon
at 1st base. Sexson has a tough time against hard throwing Righties. I do not see an improvement
in Sexson, ST or otherwise. Your thoughts?

Posted by Beady Eye Guy

12:22 PM, Apr 02, 2008

Folks, Wilkerson actually hits lefties better than righties. I can't fault Mac for that.

I CAN fault him for not lifting Sexson for Morse (who can play 1B).

Posted by Stranded_Mariner

2:56 PM, Apr 02, 2008

I think the pitching will be great this year... it's the offense that worries me. We have a lot of good components such as a great leadoff hitter, two very good RBI guys in Beltre and Ibanez, and some good contact hitters (Johjima, Betancourt).

I think the biggest area of concern is our DH. I know, this is contested by some, but in a league where you have the luxury of a spot in the order for a professional hitter, Jose Vidro is hardly the type of hitter you expect to see. Yeah, he hit over .300 last year, but he grounds into a ton of double plays and doesn't seem like much of a clutch hitter. And he certainly lacks the power you would expect of a DH. I would rather have a DH who hits .270 and knocks in 80 runs with some pop than a .320 hitter who strokes singles all day.

I'm not sure what is available out there, but I would love to see a trade of Baek, Reed, and maybe others to get a solid DH. Or let's go the to minors and bring up Jeff Clement if he's doing well.

Bottom line: my impression of the first two games is that the offense lacks that spark to MAKE the big inning, not wait for the other team to boot some plays like the Rangers have. I think getting a slugging DH would do wonders.

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