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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 18, 2008 11:17 PM

M's cruise on early homers

Posted by Geoff Baker

indians0718 043.jpg

Cesar Jimenez, above, notches a strikeout, then walks a guy but gets a double-play grounder to end the game in the ninth. The Mariners win 8-2 over the Cleveland Indians, riding a grand slam homer from Raul Ibanez in the second inning and a three-run shot by Jose Lopez in the fourth.

Both homers came off Aaron Laffey.

Felix Hernandez goes six strong innings for the win.

Lots of talk after the game about Ibanez and how his three-hit pouting might impact trade rumors. Ibanez said he doesn't think that far ahead. Says it would throw him off his game and the way he prepares for it.

I asked him about what goes into that.

"For me, it starts the night before,'' he said. "And right when you wake up, it's game time. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning, you're already thinking about who's pitching and what's coming up and what your approach for that day is.''

Mariners manager Jim Riggleman told us what happens once Ibanez arrives at the ballpark.

"He does so much,'' he said. "He's in great physical shape and he spends a great deal of time in the batting cage every day. He's relentless in there.''

Riggleman noted that a shortstop or catcher might not be able to put in that much hitting time. That it might prove detrimental to their defensive game, given the energy it saps from a player's body to do that much cage work. But in Ibanez's case, it merely keeps him as ready as can be.

"With what he does in the off-season to prepare for the season,'' he said, "he's physically so strong that he doesn't lose anything during the course of the season.''

What does that focus do? Keeps Ibanez's head in the game. He'd hit into a double-play his first time up. But one inning later, he'd stood in the on-deck circle as Willie Bloomquist drew a four-pitch walk to force in a run. Ibanez knew the first pitch he'd see would likely be down the pipe. He was ready for it and hit his grand slam. He wasn't still worried about the DP grounder an inning earlier.

"It's a clean slate every time you go up there,'' he said. "And the quicker you can let go of negative things that happen, the quicker you can get back to focusing on the things you need to do.''

If only the rest of his team did that every night.

Hernandez felt stronger than he had his last time out. Said his command felt better as well.

Ibanez joked about Hernandez having hit the team's only other grand slam home run this season.

"He's been walking around here with his chesat stuck out a little bit,'' Ibanez said. "Ever since it happened, he hasn't stopped reminding us.''

But Hernandez knew his place when asked whose was better. He quickly pointed towards Ibanez across the room.

"Raul is such a good hitter,'' he said. "He's a great guy. An unbelievable player.''

Which is why other teams -- starting with the Diamondbacks and Mets -- would like to take a crack at landing him. We'll see how talks progress.

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July 18, 2008 9:42 PM

Cleveland Indians at Mariners: 07/18 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

indians0718 040.jpg

NOTE: This is for Brian L. in the comments thread, who writes more here in a day than I do lately. Just FYI, I have indeed seen Riggleman's quote on Bedard. It was taken from a story I wrote and a question I asked him at yesterday's workout.

You can see Raul Ibanez rounding the bases, above, after hitting a grand slam in the second inning.

The game is pretty much over at this point, with Seattle up 8-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth. Bryan LaHair just grounded into a double-play on a 1-2 pitch to end the eighth. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter and it was his first major league at-bat.

Felix Hernandez was pulled after six innings and 99 pitches. A wise move, given that there's little left to settle in this game. It's been over since the fourth inning.

indians0718 042.jpg

Continue reading this post ...

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July 18, 2008 4:58 PM

Bedard may not pitch until August

Posted by Geoff Baker

indians0718 010.jpg

NOTE: To Joey, I've answered your questions lower down in the post.

You can pretty much scratch Erik Bedard off any remaining trade scenarios. Just got done talking with Mariners manager Jim Riggleman and he said Bedard did not throw over the All-Star Break -- after being told not to if he felt discomfort in his shoulder -- and has been shut down for the next few days. That means, at the earliest, he may start playing catch again on Monday, then on Tuesday if that goes well.

A bullpen session? Likely not until a few days after that. So, at this rate, the most he'll make in terms of starts before the July 31 trade deadline would likely be one. That's not going to get a deal done. Not the kind that brings you back anything in returns.

Riggleman didn't sound overly optimistic about getting Bedard back on a mound before the deadline.

"He didn't come out of the break feeling significantly better,'' he said. "Hopefully by Monday he's ready to play some firm catch and we'll go from there. If he's not...''

Riggleman didn't finish. He didn't have to.

"We're not looking at trying to pitch him before the 31st,'' he said. "It's really all going to be based on how he feels. The 31st is kind of irrelevant when a guy's got a tender arm.''

Remember, Bedard hasn't pitched since July 4.

So, anyway, there you go. By the way, speaking of guys who missed yesterday's workout, I was wrong in telling you Arthur Rhodes also got delayed because of a flight. In fact, Rhodes had permission from the team to skip yesterday's workout. The only guy with such permission. He was not delayed. So, I gave you the wrong info about that. My apologies.

Good debate in the comments section today over the Ichiro conundrum. As you can see, there are no easy answers (under the assumption, of course, that he's not moving back to CF next year, since the team has already said the physical toll impacted his offensive production and Ichiro himself has made clear he prefers RF. That won't change by 2009). Just one thing I'd like to clear up, based on comments I've seen: Ichiro is the furthest thing from being a problem for the media. He's the first guy out in the clubhouse talking after every game. Says he feels it's his responsibility. Interpreter or not, who cares? He talks to everyone. I can't personally remember him turning me down for an interview, including last week's comments over his decision to skip the Home Run Derby. Don't know of a media member who has a problem with him for issues like that, or his use of an interpreter. The idea being spread about, that the media has it in for Ichiro because he's not a good quote, or makes life difficult for reporters, is laughably out-of-touch with present-day goings-on within the team's realm and being a tad unfair, to both the player and the media.

Continue reading this post ...

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July 18, 2008 10:32 AM

The Ichiro conundrum

Posted by Geoff Baker

Conundrum: 2 a: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer b: an intricate and difficult problem

-- Webster's definition

So, the Mariners tonight embark on the "second half" of their 2008 schedule, trying to make folks forget about how bad the opening 3 1/2 months was. Good luck with that. Trade talk continues to percolate, though, as I said yesterday, the odds of Erik Bedard now being moved by July 31 are somewhere up there with the odds of the lefty winning a Cy Young Award. Jarrod Washburn is now more likely to be the only Seattle starter dealt by then and who would have figured that a couple of months ago?

Another guy who almost certainly will not get traded is Ichiro. There are ample baseball reasons both to trade and to keep Ichiro, summed up nicely in this article from yesterday, though I feel there were some notable points left out of it.

First off, the idea put forth by the writer that clubhouse chemistry -- or, as some of you tried to define it last week, clubhouse culture -- is a non-factor, seems to me like taking the easy way out here. It may be impossible to predict, or to measure in statistical form, but I think that the fact so many Mariners insiders have discussed elements of it this year makes it tough to argue it doesn't exist. Can you plan chemistry in advance to try to help you win? Maybe not. But can clubhouse culture blow up on you and help you lose? From what I've seen with the M's this year, yes it can. Stinks doesn't it? Something like the best laid plans of mice and men? You can't plan everything. You can't predict everything. But it can sneak up and bite you. Sort of like life itself, I gather.

I prefer this blogger's take on chemistry.

So, you might not be able to plan good clubhouse chemistry. But you can, perhaps, take steps to mitigate it from blowing up in your face. How? I don't claim to know for certain. By choosing players who play the game the right way? By having some who can show others how to play the game the right way? By making sure you have a few with the fortitude to tell others -- even forcefully -- when they are playing the game the wrong way? Those would be my three suggestions. Not claiming they will always work. But to ignore the clubhouse culture element, to me, seems lazy, even negligent, in light of what's gone on this year.

As far as the on-field stuff goes, the one element I often see left out of any Ichiro discussion is the whole move back to right field thing. I still can't see how Ichiro as a right fielder helps this team moving forward. One of the biggest problems -- perhaps the biggest -- this team faces is a lack of power at traditional power-hitting positions.

And right now, Ichiro is as poor a power hitter in right field as you're going to find in the AL among regulars at the position.

Going strictly off his 106 at-bats since the move back to right field, we find him 19th at the position with a .330 slugging percentage. That's for every guy in the AL with at least 100 plate appearances. In other words, dead last among regulars. By more than 50 points worth of slugging. He has yet to have a single extra-base hit as a right fielder.

I can hear the screaming of "sample size!'' already from the Ichiro defenders. So, let's be fair. Let's take his statistics from this entire season and compare them to other right fielders. Right now, his .371 slugging total for the year would still rank him dead last among right field regulars. He would be 17th among right fielders with at least 100 plate appearances, just ahead of Brad Wilkerson.

Continue reading this post ...

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