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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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July 9, 2008 6:35 PM

Why Vidro is batting cleanup

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Another hot one here, today. If you folks can tear yourselves away from insulting each other for a bit, I did manage to ask Jim Riggleman about why he keeps batting Jose Vidro fourth. Riggleman's answer was long and multi-faceted. It isn't black and white. Several shades of gray. But here goes. Even with an OPS of .571, easily making him one of the worst hitters in all of baseball, Riggleman feels that Vidro offers him the best shot at "protecting'' Raul Ibanez when a righthanded pitcher is on the mound.

The reason for this has little to do with Vidro's current numbers. In the past, though, he's been close to a .300 hitter from both sides of the plate. Against righties, he figures Vidro will offer some incentive for pitchers not to walk Ibanez intentionally, or pitch around him. This type of thinking began under John McLaren, but Riggleman was part of it as the bench coach and is continuing to implement the thinking into his nightly lineups.

He said it was not the same when Adrian Beltre or Richie Sexson was hitting behind Ibanez in the order.

Ibanez has been intentionally walked a team-high nine times (tied with Ichiro for the lead). None of those occasions has come with Vidro batting fourth.

Riggleman admitted to me that it was not a traditional use of a clean-up hitter. That he'd love it if the guys who were expected to hit in certain spots had performed up to expectations and they could go with a traditional type of lineup. Against lefties, he'll move Vidro away from the clean-up role.

But this type of allignement is actually what Riggleman used to use in Chicago, when he managed the Cubs in 1998 when Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs. Sosa didn't bat clean-up for that team. Mark Grace did. Same reasons. Riggleman knew that teams were going to hesitate to put Sosa on base, knowing that Grace was a guy who could put the ball in-play.

Vidro is also a guy who puts the ball in-play. Not like he once did. Not like Grace in his prime (or, in 1998, that's for sure). But he can put it in-play. And reputation still matters in this game. Sometimes, it carries as much weight as current stats. Teams know Vidro has hit from both sides before, know he's driven in some runs this year. And that he is not easy to strikeout with men on base.

Is this logic perfect? Of course not. Vidro has a sub-.600 OPS. But for now, on this team, it's the best shot the M's feel they have to help Ibanez see as many pitches as he can.

I asked Ibanez whether he'd noticed a difference and he laughed and told me he had not. But he never notices things like that. He's too zeroed-in on his job. He admits he stays away from thinking about things like "protection" and other stuff at the plate. One time, he told me, the M's had Ken Griffey Jr. hitting behind him for protection. Pedro Martinez was the opposing pitcher.

"The count went to 3-2 and I thought for sure he was going to groove the next one over,'' Ibanez said, figuring Martinez would not risk walking him with Griffey on deck. "Next thing I know, he drops a curve ball in on me. After that, I stopped thinking about protection and trying to guess what guys would do because of who is behind me.''

So, there you go. Hope that answers your question.


I also talked to Jeff Clement, trying to get his take on the difference between the sinkers thrown by Carlos Silva last night compared to previous outings.

Clement said there was a noticeable difference between Silva's sinkers as Tuesday's game progressed, compared to what he threw in his prior start against Detroit.

"It just wasn't sinking as much and his control wasn't what he wanted it to be,'' Clement said of the Tigers outing.

Clement admitted the sinker wasn't as good early on against the A's. But, as Silva said, once he got more relaxed, the sinker became more effective. The groundouts he notched from the sixth inning on seemed to confirm that. Clement noted that Silva gave up a lot of early flyballs as he was getting used to the adjustment.

How did it compare to other outings besides the Detroit game?

Clement feels the sinker was as good as he'd seen it in Silva victories over Texas back in May and against the Padres two weeks ago. Not better, but as good. Which is, logically, what Silva was aiming for since the Rangers have the best offense in the AL.

So, to clarify what was said last night, when Silva says his sinker was sinking more, he's obviously talking about how it was once he got used to the adjustment. He's comparing it to his previous game. He's not saying it's the greatest sinker he ever had. Just better. Just good, like when he was actually winning some games.

A scout I talked to moments ago agreed that Silva has thrown a similar caliber sinker this season. But he also agreed it was better than what he'd seen from Silvain some of his poorer outings.

So, there you go.

You have a pitcher and a catcher saying they saw improved sink on the ball from one start to the next (even if it was the later innings last night). Does this correspond to the pitch graphs on the computer? I don't know. I don't have innings five through eight sitting in front of me right now to match up with last Thursday against the Tigers. I'll have to go by what the pitcher and catcher say and what the data from innings five through eight last night suggests -- that Silva was getting plenty of groundouts because of a sinker he said was improving -- again, not the best of his career, simply improving.

If today's difference of opinion with the USS Mariner boils down to semantics, then fine. I think it's a pretty minor thing to try to attack someone's credibility with, throwing words like "access'' and "truth'' out there in a headline as if you have a monopoly on the subject, or know for a fact there is some type of blinder that prevents the media from doing its job.

If that irritates me and makes me sound thin-skinned at times, I can live with it. But you let too much stuff get by in a public forum, too much junk get spattered on the wall without responding, it eventually gets assumed to be fact. Just want you folks all to know, issues of access have nothing to do with our coverage of the team. If any of you disagree, you can feel free to ask. Just do it the way you would expect someone to ask you a question and you'll be treated with respect.


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