Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
June 29, 2008 8:12 PM
Posted by Geoff Baker
Those of you taking bets that Richie Sexson wouldn't make it home from this road trip, well, you all lose. Hey, don't sweat it. I didn't think he'd make it on to the trip to begin with. So, let's review. Sexson went 4-for-18 on this road trip, with one extra base hit (a double). He didn't play the final two games, though he notched a single in Friday night's opener. You can see him standing on first base in the team's powder blue retro jersey designed in the 1978 style.
So, is this the new-and-improved Sexson? Remember, he did have all four hits in his final three games on the trip. Maybe something clicked? Maybe he lucked out?
For me, the most telling stat is: one extra base hit since May 26.
As a singles hitter, since employing his revamped, more-open style at the plate, Sexson has managed to hit .265. That would be much better than his season average to that point, which had fluctuated just over and just under the .200 mark. His on-base-percentage is a robust .373 since the switch, due largely to Sexson's good eye and ability to draw walks. He has 13 of them this month compared to 17 in the previous two months.
But the problem, as I mentioned, continues to be his lack of power. He's slugging just .279 since the change. One extra base hit. This, from a guy who just two seasons ago was an automatic 35 home runs per year.
As a result, his on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) is at .653 since the style change, which is actually worse than the .690 that is was before the switch. So, yes, despite the added hits and walks, Sexson has become a less productive hitter than before.
The question is, if he's cut loose, who does the team replace him with?
Miguel Cairo is slugging .235 this season. Jose Vidro is slugging .326, but not lately. He's another guy with one extra-base hit in eons. How about Jeremy Reed, then?
After today's game, Reed is hitting .307 and slugging .413. Not exactly the slugging percentage of a first baseman, but better than what this team has out there now.
Reed is showing he can play every day. That was a huge concern when he was called up, but he seems to be acquitting himself well.
There is a more obvious solution to the team's first base woes. Raul Ibanez made a fantastic catch in left field today, sliding in the dirt to snare a potential extra-base hit down the line and save a run against for Erik Bedard. Ibanez is doing his best to motor out there. He still has some reflexes in the field. Some smarts, too, which enables him to anticipate and get to places without the fastest legs around.
But he is still miscast as a left fielder. Maybe not in the past, but this season, yes. What I've seen, though, shows me he still has the reflexes and brains to play a position -- like first base. And I'd like to see him do it -- soon. I think he can still play the game when he doesn't have to sprint 30 yards to catch a ball. You don't have to do it at first base.
There is an idea being floated out there that Ibanez has resisted this potential change. That's nonsense. I've had discussions with Ibanez on this topic and he has never refused any idea the team has put his way. He just wants to play every day, whether it's as a left fielder, a DH or as a first baseman. If anything, he's done this team a favor by going out every day and trying not to hurt the club by playing a position he's not suited for any more.
He's waited for this team to get its act together and find the replacement pieces to play the outfield. First, it was a concern that Reed couldn't play every day. That's not an issue right now. It may be down the road, but not right now. So far, Reed can play.
Then, it was the fact Wladimir Balentien couldn't hit. He's down in Class AAA trying to sort that one out. Despite what I've seen written here on comments pages, not all stud minor leaguers carry their numbers over to the big leagues as quickly. We're all still waiting on Jeff Clement, Balentien and Adam Jones in Baltimore to do just that. But Balentien doesn't have to be a superstar up here. Just hit with a little consistency.
Once that happens, you bring him back up, stick him in left, Reed in center and Ibanez at first base. If Balentien still falters, you can sit him a few games and week and play Willie Bloomquist in the outfield. Do that, with Ibanez as the first baseman, and maybe this team won't lose 50 games in the second half of the season.