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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 28, 2008 9:54 PM

Johjima saves the day

Posted by Geoff Baker

ichiro0728 030.jpg

A shot above of Ichiro, driving in pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist (no, not Kenji Johjima as I'd originally written -- he's not that quick) from third with a sacrifice fly and a huge insurance run in the ninth. Seattle goes on to win 7-5 over the Texas Rangers. Ichiro had his shot at No. 3,000 in career hits (in the majors and Japan) but he'll have the rest of the year to get it. The sac fly, off onetime M's closer Eddie Guardado, mattered just as much.

Johjima had led the inning off with a single before Bloomquist came on and stole second, then was bunted over to third.

Rangers manager Ron Washington then had Guardado pitch to Ichiro rather than walk him with first base open to load the bases and set up the double play. Interesting call. Wonder if Washington is aware of the 3,000 hits thing. Not necessarily, though probably. Ichiro said that went he saw Guardado come in for a lefty-lefty matchup, he knew he wouldn't be walked on purpose.

But Johjima likely saved the game as much with his defense. Texas had runners at second and third with one out in the eighth when Johjima nabbed lead runner Ramon Vazquez at third with a pickoff throw. That was huge because Josh Hamilton was at the plate. Arthur Rhodes then struck Hamilton out on a nasty 2-2 breaking pitch to end the inning.

Adrian Beltre has an eye signal with Johjima to use that pickoff play when the runner leads too far off third. They don't practice it in-season, but did back in spring training. With the count 2-1, Beltre went for it.

"Arthur was in a tough spot,'' Beltre said, "and we needed to make a play like that to try to give him some relief so he could make a pitch after that.''

Johjima gets the final say on whether the play will take place. It's no sure thing.

"I've been through a lot of similar plays like that,'' Johjima said through an interpreter. "I've had times where I threw the ball very well, but it would hit the runner and I would give up the run. Sometimes, it would tie it. Sometimes we'd lose that ballgame. So, it's very risky.''

Indeed it was. It helped that Hamilton swung and missed on the pitch. That caused Vazquez to take an additional step or two towards the plate, hoping to score on a groundball. Johjima didn't hesitate.

"That's huge,'' Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "It takes a lot of guts on both Bellie and Johjima's parts. Because we've all seen those balls go flying in the outfield and it begins to look like a Little League game. But it's a play that we've talked about in the past. That play's there sometimes and it's up to Bellie and Johjima to make it work.''

And they did. It took some of the pressure off Rhodes, who'd kept all his pitches down and mostly in the dirt to the dangerous Hamilton prior to that. But with two out and a runner at second instead of third, Rhodes knew he could get slightly more aggressive. He hadn't been aware there was a pickoff play on but was pumped up once it happened. Instead of being overly cautious with first base open, he got nasty.

"After that play, I told myself 'I can get this guy out right here','' he said.

And he did. That 2-2 slider he threw started out in the center of the plate and dropped down and away to shoelace level. Hamilton made a half-hearted swing and had zero chance of contact. He was whupped. Doesn't happen often. Rhodes will be in hot demand on the trade market these next few days. Even hotter when footage of that pitch makes its way around baseball tonight.

So, does Johjima deserve credit tonight? Of course he does. Hey, look. You don't have to tell me about his shortcomings. I know some of you don't like him and are upset that I've given him some credit. Read the blog posts from earlier tonight. From all season. We've been there to note when he's messed up. To comment on his contract.

But when someone does something right, it's OK to point it out.


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July 28, 2008 7:20 PM

Mariners at Texas Rangers: 07/28 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

ichiro0728 008.jpg

Ichiro steps into the batter's box to open tonight's game, needing just two hits to notch 3,000 for his combined career in the major leagues and Japan. He wound up grounding out to second base in his first at-bat, the only one of the first four hitters who failed to reach base.

Check out Buster Olney's latest blog post on the Jarrod Washburn situation. We discussed this situation this morning, about how the M's could, in fact, work to deal Washburn to another club making an equal offer just to stick it to New York for the brinkmanship. Olney is quoting an NL executive saying they'd do it because the M's are upset with how aspects of the talks have played out in public. I don't know if I agree with this, though. I mean, it's the major leagues. We've talked before about how secretive the M's are compared to other ballclubs. Not every team operates this way. And team executives in a media market like New York aren't going to clamp down on all leaks to the media. Won't happen. Doesn't even happen in Seattle, as we saw with the Erik Bedard deal and the two-week blow by blow leading up to that being completed. Yes, the Yanks are most likely putting stuff in the local media to pressure the M's into a deal. It's called big league baseball.

Then again, it works both ways. The M's could also put the fear of God into the Yanks by leaking a story of their own, or simply by putting it out there to other executives so they can tell a story. That the M's would eat money in a deal for Washburn with another club and stick it to New York. In other words, the M's can try to squeeze the Yankees. Fun and games.

So, back to this game, it took Cesar Jimenez three batters to blow the lead for Felix Hernandez, but Adrian Beltre just tagged Frank Francisco for a go-ahead solo blast in the eighth. His second multi-homer game this season, 18th of his career. Seattle leads 6-5. Going to be a wild ride to the end. Hang on.

ichiro0728 016.jpg

Hope none of you were betting on "blue" tonight. He (or she, or it) got body-checked big time by red into the side wall, prompting gasps and groans from the crowd.

Not the best night for Mike Mussina of the Yankees, either, giving up six runs in five innings, not to mention two home runs. The bullpen came in after that and Adam Jones hit a grand slam. He has five RBI so far tonight. It's 11-0 for the O's in the sixth inning. Guess the Yanks don't need pitching after all.

Have a look at a round of BP taken by Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, filmed earlier today:

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July 28, 2008 3:55 PM

The heat is on

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Jarrod Washburn has been heating up of late, but never more than this afternoon as the team goes through pre-game stretching in 102-degree heat here in Arlington. We've all discussed what the Mariners could do, chooseing to wait until after the July 31 deadline if the Washburn deal is going to be strictly a salary dump to the New York Yankees. But I don't want to present just that one perspective. Obviously, as I mentioned earlier, this is a calculated risk.

On his ESPN blog, Buster Olney feels the M's would be crazy to pass up this chance to shed Washburn's salary right now. Olney has a point. Just two months ago, this proposal from the Yanks would have seemed like an early Christmas gift. There is always a danger in these types of negotiations that a team will overplay its hand.

I can tell you, from being around the Mariners these past 24 hours, that the word is being put out that the team will not give players away for just money. It's not a fluke. The team wants that message out there. From what I've read in the New York papers today, the storyline there seems to be that a deal is on the verge of falling through because the M's won't give in to the Yankee offer. Sounds like that team is pushing its position pretty hard through the press.

Is this a dead deal?

Not a chance. The Yankees need pitching and Washburn -- no matter what you think of him -- is one of the better arms out there. So no, as long as that need exists, the deal isn't dead. It's at a stalemate. Like I said, one side is waiting for the other to blink. We'll see who does it first. If no one blinks, the M's had better be ready to keep Washburn for a while.

A different look to the lineup today as Jose Vidro is out and Jose Lopez is in at the No. 5 spot. Jeremy Reed moves up to the No. 2 position. Vidro did hit a home run yesterday. But there has been zero interest in him on the trade front.

Hank Blalock has been scratched for the Rangers. He has an upset stomach. A break for Felix Hernandez. He'll need it. Going to be hard-pressed to go seven in this heat.

Speaking of home run hitters, I caught the final moments of Josh Hamilton's pre-game batting practice session on video down below. Hope you enjoy.


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July 28, 2008 9:33 AM

M's have some Washburn leverage

Posted by Geoff Baker

It would appear we still live in interesting times, even those of you who have cheered on the Mariners from Day One of this season and others. I'm sitting in the Houston airport, awaiting my connecting flight to Dallas, and see that the stalemate in the Jarrod Washburn negotiations hasn't changed much over the past three hours.

Who would have thought the M's might hold the "key" to putting the New York Yankees over the top in their playoff push this season? For Seattle to get what it wants in these Washburn talks, the Yanks will have to be convinced that Washburn is indeed the final piece. In case they aren't sure, here's another entertaining bit of help coming Seattle's way. An endorsement from none other than Richie Sexson.

And who said the final two months of the season would be dull?

All kidding aside, as the M's look to score at least one player -- Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner -- as well as getting the Yankees to take all of Washburn's salary (no way Seattle lands both players, even if they try), they actually do have some cards to play. I don't see this brought up very often, but the July 31 trade deadline is in fact, merely the deadline where players can be dealt without having to clear waivers.

So, what would happen if the M's tried to deal Washburn after July 31? Why, he'd have to clear waivers first. And if another team put a claim in on him -- either out of sheer interest or merely to "block" a trade to New York -- then Washburn could be recalled by the M's, or that team putting in the claim could wind up with him -- at full cost.

How does that hurt the M's? It would only hurt if the Yankees were sending players back the other way. A scuttled deal would be a scuttled deal. No one gets anything.

But what if it's a cash-only deal with maybe a mediocre prospect coming Seattle's way? Well then, heck, all the M's would lose is a next-to-nothing prospect.

In other words, the real deadline for the M's, if the Yankees stick to their negotiating stance of merely picking up Washburn's contract, while sending a breathing body to the M's for appearances' sake, isn't really July 31. It's actually Aug. 31.

What harm would there be to Seattle completing such a cash-only deal with the Yanks in two weeks? If the Cards were to jump in and claim Washburn before the deal could go through, then St. Louis would get stuck with the pitcher's remaining salary through 2009. Makes no difference to the M's. Other than the two weeks more that Seattle would have to pay Washburn. Minimial money, considering he still is owed roughly 33 weeks more in pay on his contract.

So, why not sit around and wait? The really interesting part is, Washburn won't have to make another start between now and July 31. He's always going to be as good as that eight-inning, one run outing yesterday, or that 2.29 earned run average his past nine outings. Not the Yankees pitchers. They will have to head out three more times between now and Thursday's trade deadline.


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