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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 12, 2008 8:12 AM

A good start

Posted by Geoff Baker

Many thanks to Bob Condotta for the excellent job done filling in last night. A big time for all of you to be able to throw your two cents in. My guess is that, down the road, the M's might look back on last night's victory as a milestone for a number of reasons.

1. They were owned by the Angels last year and taking the season-opener between these clubs sets the tone for what's to come.

2. It enabled the M's to win their third game in four tries. That's a bit of a streak. As good as any Seattle has had these first 11 days.

3. It came against an expected contender.

4. Seattle took advantage of the Angels when they're down and could not send either of their two best starters to the mound. Jered Weaver is a lot of things, but he is not a staff ace. Good teams do that.

5. The victory gave Seattle a leg up in its quest to achieve what should be its goal this weekend: win the series. Yes, a sweep would be good for the team. But winning the series is paramount. The M's now have to win one of the next two to do that.

By the way, has a team ever captured three of its first four series to start a year (series of at least three or more games), and been under .500 afterwards? I'm sure it has happened, but it's probably not all that common. If Seattle takes two of three this weekend, it will still be 6-7.


Here's a quote I fished off the Halos Heaven blog, which caters to all things Angels.

"This swinging at pitches out of the hitting (not to mention strike) zone is nothing new to this crew. It is very tough to watch the FSNW K zone show nearly every pitch they swing at is nowhere near the strike zone! HGH was very guilty of this as was Vlad (as usual) last night."

HGH is meant to be Gary Matthews Jr., I assume. But I have no way of knowing. Doesn't it sound like a lot of the talk that goes on here on this blog? Angst is a common thing, I suppose. Yes, the author of that post did accuse the umps of handing Seattle the game. Interesting. He gets shouted down by fans on the site later on.

Look, it's only one game. I'm not going to read too much into the tea leaves. Let's just say it was a bit of good news for a team that hasn't had much to start with.

I liked the move swapping Greg Norton for Charlton Jimerson. Most of you already know my thoughts about how the bench was constructed, keeping three all-speed, no-hit guys on the bench at the expense of an extra pitcher. Adding Norton would still have been my second choice coming out of spring training, but if you're dead set on using only 11 pitchers, he was the best position player option there.

The other night in Baltimore, when John McLaren made the right move in getting Brad Wilkerson out of the game and forcing the O's hand with pinch-hitter Mike Morse, he had the right idea. You get the O's to burn the lefty reliever without throwing a pitch. Trouble is, once Baltimore countered with righty Dennis Sarfate, McLaren had no lefty bat off the bench to throw at the Birds. Every team in the AL knows this is Seattle's strategic weakness. So, it was going to be a game of chicken all year, in which teams would call McLaren's bluff. Any team with a decent bullpen, with some depth, was going to win that battle of wills most night.

And it wasn't like, after being beaten in that chess match, McLaren could console himself with a bullpen that had a little added seven-man depth of its own. Nope, instead he had Jimerson. A guy who had gotten into only one game and had yet to have a single at-bat before getting used in a mop-up ninth inning at Tampa Bay two nights ago.

That wasn't working. As for what's left, I'm still not sure what Miguel Cairo's role is supposed to be. I know McLaren wants him as that extra pinch-runner so he doesn't have to worry about burning Willie Bloomquist too early. Also likes his veteran clubhouse presence. And believe me, those who pooh-pooh the idea are missing the point about the impact that Jose Guillen had here last season, especially when it came to talking with Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt. When two players, who are obviously young, do not have a great command of English, it isn't always enough to have an English-speaking veteran leader to show them the way.

Raul Ibanez does speak Spanish, which is to be expected, given his heritage. But he's from the United States. Born and raised. Cairo hails from Venezuela, as does Lopez. He's an infielder, like Lopez and Betancourt, and will be spending more time with them every day in drills, workouts and such. In that regard, I don't think his veteran impact can be shrugged off as easily. Is at least some of that responsible for the quick start -- and more alert play -- by Lopez? None of us knows for certain. But then, we also can't shrug it off as irrelevant.

For now, I'm still on-the-fence about keeping Cairo. I will say that not getting him in a single game until the 10th contest of the season seems ridiculous and smacks of a poorly organized bench. But on the other hand, it is still too early to make a definitive call. There haven't been many situations where the need for an extra pinch-runner was screaming out to the M's.

So, I'll reserve further judgement until the season progresses. If these trends continue, I can't see the justification in wasting the roster spot. But we have to allow for games to unfold over time and natural situations to present themselves in a larger sample size before we call this move a failure. McLaren has said he wants to be more aggressive and use some "small ball'' aspects to manufacture runs. He's already got his team leading the league with five sacrifice bunts -- three by Lopez. That's a start. It's better than what we saw last season, that's for sure. If McLaren insists Cairo is a key to an improved overall baserunning attack by his club, I'm willing to put my own doubts aside and wait and see a bit longer. It's only April, for crying out loud. The bullpen seems to have righted itself somewhat after the Baltimore series, making the need for that extra arm a little less urgent.

My gut also tells me that Cairo has had something to do with keeping Lopez (and Betancourt is still not a perfect defensive player, or hitter and could also use steady guidance) on his toes. Sort of replacing what former third base coach Carlos Garcia used to do other than waving runners home.

As I said, I don't want to underestimate that impact in a game that is, after all, played by humans.

But Cairo eventually has to start getting in more games. If not, hire him as a coach and let's move on. The way this team wastes roster spots (see Ellison, Jason) can't continue indefinitely.

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