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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 30, 2008 7:46 PM

Same old song

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Nice hit by Wladimir Balentien to get the Mariners on the scoreboard, but that's all his team generated on offense tonight in an 8-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Look, it's simple, score four runs or less and you're going to lose the game. The average runs scored by any team in the AL these days is about 4.5 per contest. You do the math.

The M's are now 4-13 in those games in which they do not score more than four. They are also now 0-11 in games in which they trail by two or more runs at any point. That's a bad sign of offensive weakness. The inabiliy to rebound from any type of small setback. Two runs should not be this fatal. Jeff Clement reached base on a single in the ninth that diving center fielder Grady Sizemore couldn't come up with. So, the two newbies have those hits out of the way. Jose Vidro didn't do much against Cliff Lee. Nobody did except for Balentien. Vidro will be back in there tomorrow because he's got good career numbers against Indians starter Paul Byrd.

But Clement will be in there as well. He'll be the starting catcher the next two days as fading Kenji Johjima, hitting just .177, takes a seat. The manager wants him to relax.

"He's fighting himself so bad right now,'' manager John McLaren said.

Try selling Johjima on that. He's anything but relaxed and getting more worried by the second.

"He told me to relax but I'm not going to relax,'' Johjima said moments ago, through an interpreter. "Just because I'm taking two days off, it's not going to mean that for sure I'll do well on the third day.''

Johjima said he has to spend the next 48 hours figuring out what's happened to him. A few of his teammates will have to as well as the mixing and matching and flip-flopping of positions begins in earnest.

It's time to let Balentien and Clement take a shot.

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April 30, 2008 6:23 PM

Mariners at Cleveland Indians: 4/30 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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6:23 p.m.: Now that's the way you handle your first game as a Class AAA callup. Wladimir Balentien took Cliff Lee over the right field wall for a three-run homer in the seventh inning. Sure, it's in the too little, too late department, cutting the Cleveland lead to 8-3, but it sure ticked Lee off no doubt. Lee had been riding a 27-inning scoreless streak before that hit, the most by an Indians starter since 1981. I'm sure the M's would have taken Lee giving up three runs over only six innings if you'd asked them about it before the game. But Jarrod Washburn and Cha Seung Baek couldn't take care of the rest.

In case you missed it, here's my Talkin' Baseball segment on the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR 950 AM from this morning. You'll get to hear all of my player move predictions that did not come true, and one or two that did pan out. I didn't think the team would cut Brad Wilkerson completely loose today, nor keep Miguel Cairo over Greg Norton, but hey, that's why they play the g...oh, well, maybe not. But anyhow.

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April 30, 2008 3:33 PM

Balentien everyday right fielder

Posted by Geoff Baker

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John McLaren made it official moments ago: Wladimir Balentien (seen above taking BP today) is now the team's every day right fielder. Not much of a surprise with Brad Wilkerson gone. But there will be no shifting around of Raul Ibanez, nobody else brought up to share time with him. He's the guy.

"Balentien's going to play,'' he said.

GM Bill Bavasi said he didn't want to have any regrets in September about not moving sooner.

"We think we're getting to the point where we're getting the bullpen straightened out,'' he said. "The starters have been doing a good job. But they're getting into the fifth, sixth and seventh inning looking over their shoulder it seems like every night. So, something's got to give.''

Jeff Clement (pictured below, also during BP) will get his primary time as a designated hitter. He will also catch occasionally. McLaren avoided using the word "platoon'' but it seems pretty clear that's what Clement and Jose Vidro will be doing. Vidro faces the lefties, Clement the righties.

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"We're going to try to flip people around,'' McLaren said.

McLaren also mentioned that Vidro will see some time as as first baseman and even at second base. He talked about his rationale for shedding Greg Norton, who he called "a victim of circumstance.'' Figured, as I did in the previous blog post, that Vidro and Norton are clones of each other when it comes to switch-hitters not confined to one position. McLaren sees the potential for a lot of late-game pinch-running situations with all the position switching around that will be going on.

"We feel like we need protection,'' he said. "With Burke as the extra catcher and when we DH Clement, we need pinch-runners every night. Because there are so many guys who need pinch-running for. We don't pinch-hit for that many guys, so we felt like this is the way we need to go.''

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April 30, 2008 1:16 PM

Wilkerson, Norton DFA'd; Clement, Balentien here tonight

Posted by Geoff Baker

The headline says it all. Brad Wilkerson and Greg Norton have been designated for assignment, while Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien have been recalled from Class AAA Tacoma. Both will be in-uniform for tonight's game. They aren't here yet. The Mariners aren't talking yet, other than to announce the move. We spoke at great length this morning about how the team could not continue to give away power in both the right field and DH spots.

The team obviously reached the same conclusion. Jose Vidro stays, as to be expected, because he still serves a useful purpose as a switch hitter off the bench if he fails to hold on to his DH job full-time. Wilkerson is not as useful and his defense wasn't good enough to justify keeping him around.

Norton leaving is a surprise. He was hitting .438 and also serves a useful role as a guy who can play first base, not to mention the outfield. He's sort of like Vidro, a switch-hitter off the bench. Only difference is, he's hitting and Vidro isn't. Interesting decision. It comes down to the team wanting to keep two speed clones -- Willie Bloomquist and Miguel Cairo -- over two switch-hitting pinch-hit clones, Jose Vidro and Greg Norton. That is, clones when they're hitting the way they should. Vidro isn't.

"I guess it was a surprise,'' Norton said moments ago as he sat by his locker. "But it's part of the business. Salaries, the people who have been here. Everything's involved in the decisions that are made.''

The lineups just got posted. Balentien is starting in right field and batting seventh. Vidro is hitting fifth and still starting at DH. After all, have two doubles last night and he hits lefties, which the M's face tonight in Cliff Lee. I'd expected to see Vidro in there again. Clement is not in the lineup, but will, obviously, be available off the bench.

As for the DFA rules, the team now has 10 days to trade, release, or outright Wilkerson and Norton to the minors. As veterans, they can refuse the assignment and become free agents.

Norton plans to return home, spend time with his wife and see if there are any major league jobs out there for him. If not, he'll cross that bridge. So, for now, he doesn't know whether he'll accept or decline his assignment.

"Everything's up in the air,'' he said. "I still love the game. I still think I can play.''

He's hurting inside, obviously. But he kept his sense of humor. He mentioned following the rumor mill the last few days when it came to Balentien and Clement being promoted, though he never expected to be a casualty.

"Along with all that talk, it also said my playing time was going to increase as well,'' he said of the rumor mill. "So, I guess you (media) guys are lying, because it definitely decreased today.''



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April 30, 2008 9:20 AM

In support of pitchers

Posted by Geoff Baker

Just coming off of this morning's Talkin' Baseball gig on the Mitch in the Morning Show on KJR 950 AM. Scanning the stats pages, I see the Mariners at No. 2 behind Oakland among AL starting rotations when it comes to ERA, at 3.48. I see them at No. 2 behind the Angels in innings pitched at 161 1/3 -- and that's in both leagues. They are No. 4 in strikeouts among AL starters, at 107, trailing only Boston, Toronto and Oakland. That's important, because we keep hearing about how defense is hurting this team, so the ability of pitchers to notch outs independent of fielders helps that problem.

These stats are everything and more along the lines of what this team hoped for. Here's the problem. Those other teams I've mentioned in the above paragraphs, with the exception of Toronto, have records of 17-11 (A's), 17-11 (Angels) and 16-12 (Red Sox). Then, you have Seattle put-putting along at 13-14. Yes, the Mariners should have a better record. Would have one if the bullpen hadn't been rocked so hard by injury early on. Might even be in first place. But the M's aren't and the offense is why.

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April 29, 2008 9:33 PM

Better late than never for M's

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Back from the clubhouse and, let me tell you, I don't think tonight's 7-2 win over the Cleveland Indians has staved off any coming changes for very long. For Hughdawg in the comments thread, the reason I'm not preaching patience after tonight is I just watched a team nearly blow a second straight game in which a starting pitcher was fantastic. Carlos Silva threw a "quality start" of seven-plus innings, allowing just two runs. You cannot lose games like those. This entire team is predicated around getting exactly those types of outings. If the offense is going to be so bad that you start losing those games, the season goes out the window. If this was a one-time occurrence, I'd chalk it up to a bad night. But this was the second game in a row that it's happened. Felix Hernandez threw seven shutout innings on Sunday, but gave up some runs in the eighth and lost.

This team cannot keep going into the ninth inning with only two runs scored. One of the two tonight was the result of a Cleveland error. Yes, that last inning was good to see if you're an M's fan. But it's the 17 innings prior to that one that were bothering me.

Carlos Silva was a real pro afterwards, considering he'd just seen the offense wait until the ninth before scoring five runs. The big blow came courtesy of a three-run homer that inning by Adrian Beltre, pictured above being congratulated by temmates on his way back to the dugout. Silva pitched well, but gets a no decision despite allowing two runs in yet another seven-inning start. The pitching has been there.

"The only thing that matters here is not the winning pitcher,'' he said, diplomatically. "It's getting the 'W'. You watched the last game against the A's, nobody can pitch better than Felix did and we lost. What I do is try to keep the score as low as I can and give the offense a chance to win the game.''

Yeah, but it's getting to the point where unless the pitchers spoonfeed the offense seven or eight strong innings, the team has zero chance. Can't happen. A team getting this many seven-inning outings from starters should be winning 70 or 80 percent of the time. Not less than 50 percent. The bullpen appears to be slowly finding it's way. But the hitting can't drag on much longer.

After talking to Bill Bavasi and John McLaren after the game, I feel stronger than ever that changes are inevitable. I asked Bavasi about Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement being held out of the Class AAA Tacoma lineup tonight. He assured me both were completely healthy with no problems. But he declined to say whether they'll be on a flight here from Tacoma tomorrow. Leads me to believe it's going to happen very soon.


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April 29, 2008 7:09 PM

Mariners at Cleveland Indians: 4/29 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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7:09 p.m.: Not sure how this became a three-hour game. The last two innings took about an hour. But Seattle just piled up a week's worth of production in the ninth inning, equalling a season high with five runs to take a 7-2 lead. The big blow was a three-run homer by Adrian Beltre off Rafael Betancourt. After that, a Richie Sexson double was followed by a stolen base from pinch-runner Miguel Cairo. Willie Bloomquist then walked and stole second. Kenji Johjima -- having a miserable night -- popped out, but then Yuniesky Betancourt drove both runners home with a single to left.

Want to see how I got here to Cleveland? No? Well, too bad. The video below shows yesterday's trek, which begin at the Seattle Times, where I spoke to a group of regional sports editors about the future of online blogging using multi media (audio, video, photos etc.). After that, hopped my car to Seatac, waited an hour for Northwest Airlines to get its act together, flew to Minneapolis and then waited another half hour for the same airline to get the same act in gear, then finally arrived in Cleveland. You'll see a shot of progressive (formerly Jacobs) Field on the left as I ride by in the taxi, about 20 minutes after the Indians/Yankees game. Finally arrived at the hotel about 11:15 p.m. Hey, it's not art. But it's as close to a road trip as some of you are going to get, so I hope you enjoy it.

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April 29, 2008 3:17 PM

Clement, Balentien up "sooner than later''

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look above at Brad Wilkerson, leaving the dugout during batting practice under the watchful eye of GM Bill Bavasi and assistent GM Lee Pelakoudis. Manager John McLaren said during his pre-game session with reporters and he said Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien will likely be up here "sooner than later.''

I walked over to Bavasi after that and asked him flat-out whether service time or "Super Two'' status would have any impact on a decision to call a player up from Class AAA. Bavasi responded that, if a club had to need to feel, the answer is "it has no impact on a decision.''

Easy to say now, since Clement and Balentien will not gain a full year of service time in 2008 if called up on May 7 or later. I suppose that if the M's were to promote Clement on May 5, at the start of the next homestand, we'd all shut up about this. But anyway, I got the impression talking to Bavasi -- and McLaren -- that the "Super Two'' stuff is a non-issue and the team won't wait until June.

"They'll both be here sooner than later,'' McLaren said. "We're well aware of them. They're very highly thought of.''

McLaren said service time has no bearing on when the pair will be promoted.

I've been writing mid-May as a drop-dead date since spring training. Here's why. I figured, the team would give a month to everyone to get their feet on the ground. After that, serve them notice that if they don't improve, they will be switched. Sort of like serving notice in the workplace. Well, the notice has apparently been served.

"We've given everybody a fair opportiunity,'' McLaren said. "We've been patient, we've given everybody the benefit of the doubt. So, with that said, we're ready to move forward one way or the other.''

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April 29, 2008 1:54 PM

Vidro back in

Posted by Geoff Baker

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As you can see, not only is there no snow, or rain here, but it's actually quite a nice day. A little on the chilly side, but hey, the Mariners are probably used to that by now. They should feel right at home. Hopefully, Richie Sexson won't. He's in the bottom 10 of the AL in home average -- fifth worst at .160. But he's also in the top-50 in road average, checking in at #47 with a .270 figure. Speaking of hitters trying to get it going all-around, Jose Vidro is back in the lineup as the DH. I'm not all that surprised. Greg Norton is not going to play every day. Vidro is hitting .318 versus righthanders, only .154 against lefties (whoops -- actually, I did reverse those numbers. It's the righties he can't hit. Hmm, he's in big trouble tonight unless he turns things around). This is his opportunity, though he'd probably rather not have to face Fausto Carmona of the Indians for the first time in his career.

But what can you do? Playing time is going to be decreasing for Vidro until he shows something.

No Jeff Clement today. As we mentioned this morning, if the team can gain a year of service time by waiting until May 7 on Clement, then it's hard to fault the club for doing so. Waiting until mid-June to avoid a "Super Two'' designation would not be in the club's interests. But a full year of service time? Hard to pass that up, slumping offense or not. But wow, if this team doesn't get its bats going on this trip, even waiting until May 7 will seem like waiting until Aug. 7.


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April 29, 2008 8:55 AM

Clement and free-agent/ "Super Two'' status

Posted by Geoff Baker

UPDATE (9:36 a.m.): OK, so after all that down below, I see the point that "J'' in the comment thread is trying to make and he's absolutely correct in terms of free-agent status. Yes, Jeff Clement will be a free agent one year earlier if he is called up before May 7. For the sake of one-more-week-plus, though this team is hurting now, I do agree it is probably worth it to avoid Clement's free agency a year ahead of time. I was thinking about this more as a "Super Two'' short-term argument. But "J'' is correct. So, I believe now that I was premature yesterday in calling for the team to call Clement up right now. I don't think the gap between Seattle and the Oakland A's will double by May 7. It could still be problematic if it grows to six or seven games. Therefore, waiting on Clement will still be a risk. But I do think saving that extra year makes the risk worth it. Saving on the "Super Two'' money by waiting another six weeks would be nuts. So yes, wait on Clement until the next homestand.

But do read what was written below. It is still interesting pertaining to what teams face in terms of economic issues.

Greetings from Cleveland, where there is no snow falling, but rain is in the forecast for later. Did not arrive at my hotel until after 11 p.m. local time last night, but am caught up on my reading from yesterday's post and want to answer some questions. First off, while some of you are correct about looking into the service time issues regarding Jeff Clement, it did not factor into my calculations. That's because the team will have to wait at least another six weeks in order to avoid having Clement fall into the dreaded "Super Two'' arbitration eligible category. I know the feeling in the comments thread yesterday was that May 7 would be Clement's cutoff date to avoid this. By my calculations, it would be more like mid-June. Let me explain, since this is a great topic for the blog as it deals with real-world baseball issues. Please, beware that math was never my strong suit, as my French Canadian teacher in that subject at Chomedey High School (Mr. Bernard Goyetche was a very good junior hockey player once and tolerated me as an athlete, but barely as a student) could attest. But I have checked and rechecked these figures, so hopefully I haven't misplaced a decimal point.

Each player, as some of you already know, must accumulate three years of major league service time before becoming arbitration eligible. During that time, teams can pay those players major league "peanuts'' (though the money would come in handy for you and me). After those three years of paying players the major league minimum plus a few bucks in nominal salary increases, the arbitration process kicks in and good players can take teams to the cleaners -- see Ryan Howard jumping from $900,000 to $10 million in annual salary with the Phillies this past winter.

But not all players have to wait the full three years. The collective agreement also grants arbitration status to a select group of players, like Howard, who have played the equivalent of two full years and are working on their third season. Those with the top 17 percent of accrued time in their third year get "Super Two'' status.

It's all an estimate as to who those top 17 percent of players will be. But teams employ folks whose full-time job it is to monitor such brain-twisters and the computer age allows them to get pretty precise in their guesswork. If it was only a matter of Clement being kept in the minors eight or nine more days to avoid "Super Two'' status, I might understand the rationale. But for me, it would be more like June 14 as a call-up date at bare minimum. Let's do the math together.


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April 28, 2008 12:28 PM

Going bat-ty

Posted by Geoff Baker

Can't blame any of you who pulled your hair out watching yesterday's game. I stuck to merely shaking my head, nice and slowly, as I spent the afternoon culling over travel receipts (our expenses are due this week) and watching the Mariners waste a fine pitching performance by Felix Hernandez. I'm sitting at the airport as we speak, waiting for a flight to Cleveland (through Minneapolis) that's an hour late. Northwest Airlines this time. You've all seen my videos. How many late flights, all with different airlines? Nice way to run a business. Maybe if I filed all my game stories late, we could still run a profitable newspaper. What do you think?

Anyhow, it's getting real late, real early for the M's. Yesterday's game had to be a wake-up call for this team if it wasn't already. I've been saying all along that mid-May should be the cutoff point for a decision to be made about whether some bats are going to turn around, or not. Now, I'm starting to think I may have been too conservative. When a guy gives you seven shutout innings like Hernandez, you simply cannot throw that away because you offense has gone to sleep.

The M's are now 0-10 in games in which they've trailed by two or more runs at any point. This offense is now in chronically bad shape, to the point where small ball is only goingt to make up some of the difference. John McLaren got the ball rolling on some changes by moving Greg Norton more into the mix that he'd been before. Jose Vidro might see playing time reduced going forward unless he can prove he should be in there every day.

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April 27, 2008 12:59 PM

Oakland Athletics at Mariners: 4/27 game thread

Posted by Tom Wyrwich

3:27 p.m. Brad Wilkerson watches strike three, and strands the eighth runner of the night for the Mariners. Heading to the ninth, A's lead 4-2.

3:11 p.m. Two more RBI singles, and it's 4-2 Oakland, and here's the worst part for the Mariners: the bases are still loaded, with just one out. Now it's Sean Green's turn to try and escape.

Here's Hernandez's line: 7 innings pitched, six hits, four runs, four earned runs, 4 walks, 10 strikeouts. He's on the line for the loss unless the Mariners make something happen at bat.

2:59 p.m. Emil Brown's broken-bat single with the bases loaded brings home two runs to tie it at 2-2. And that's it for Felix Hernandez, who won't leave Felix Hernandez jersey day with the win. But he could with the loss. Brandon Morrow will come in, needing to get out of a jam with no outs to keep this game tied.

2:52 p.m. With men on second and third with no outs, the Mariners have Brandon Morrow going in the bullpen.

2:42 p.m. To correct my earlier post, now we're heading to the bottom of the seventh, with the Mariners sending out the top of the lineup. I don't see anyone up in the M's bullpen, so it looks like Hernandeez will come back out for the eighth. And it's beginning to drizzle in the ballpark.

2:30 p.m. Quick game, huh? Moving into the bottom of the sixth, and Hernandez continues to look like he has his best stuff going. He's at 83 pitches through six innings, and he's a solid bet to go eight or even nine innings tonight.

2:18 p.m. Big fist pump from Hernandez, who truck out two straight to get out of another jam. He's now at eight strikeouts in five innings. He had a pair of walks in that inning, and looked a bit frustrated by the strike zone. But he got out of it.

2:05 p.m. Yuniesky Betancourt found one way to avoid getting stranded on base: just hit a home run. He hit a rope that just cleared the Pepsi sign in left field and sent the A's bullpen scattering to get out of its way.

1:59 p.m. That might be the shortest distance Frank Thomas has ever hit a ball on a full swing, but it worked to give the A's the bases loaded with just one out. But Hernandez's strong day continues, as he works out of the jam with a strikeout and a ground out. The Mariners, meanwhile, have left six on base through three and still lead 1-0.

1:42 p.m. Another solid inning for Hernandez, who struck out two and is only at 30 pitches so far.

1:27 p.m. Bing. Bang. Boom. Three A's up, three A's down on strikes, and Hernandez has thrown fewer pitches through two (19) than Blanton threw in the first (23).

1:23 p.m. Offensive struggles? What offensive struggles? The Mariners get one run on three hits against Joe Blanton in the first. Jose Lopez's double to left center couldn't have threaded the needle between Jack Cust and Ryan Sweeney better, though I suspect those two A's outfielder are beating themselves up for not making a play on it. Beltre knocked Lopez home from third with a rope to left, and Greg Norton followed with his fourth hit in five at-bats. One guy's struggles continue: Richie Sexson, who could fall below .200 today if he goes hitless.

1:12 p.m.: A nicely turned 5-4-3 double play on an Emil Brown ground ball gets Hernandez out of the inning quickly after allowing a hit to Daric Barton.

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April 27, 2008 11:45 AM

4/27 Mariners-A's pregame

Posted by Tom Wyrwich

Tom Wyrwich here at Safeco, doing my best to fill in for Geoff today.

The Mariners look to win their three-game series against Oakland today, and they have Felix Hernandez (2-0, 1.67 ERA, .239 opp avg.) on the mound.

Greg Norton (6-for-12, 2 2B, 4 RBI) is back in the lineup as the designated hitter batting fifth, but this isn't just a reward for three hits on Saturday night. Manager John McLaren said the Mariners are going to try and find different places in the lineup and on the field for Norton to fit in.

The Mariners still have Carlos Silva (3-0, 2.83 ERA, .256 opp avg.) and Miguel Batista (2-3, 5.26 ERA, .305 opp avg.) slotted to pitch this week against Cleveland, Silva on Tuesday and Batista on Thursday. Both left their games this week, but McLaren said the M's don't have a reason to believe they won't start as expected.

Also, one more note: J.J. Putz (1-0, 2 saves, 9.00 ERA .333 opp avg.) is available today if needed.

Here are today's lineups:

Oakland

Mark Ellis 2B
Daric Barton 1B
Emil Brown RF
Frank Thomas DH
Jack Cust LF
Bobby Crosby SS
Ryan Sweeney CF
Bob Bowen C
Jack Hannahan 3B
Joe Blanton P

Mariners

Ichiro Suzuki CF
Jose Lopez 2B
Raul Ibanez LF
Adrian Beltre 3B
Greg Norton DH
Richie Sexson 1B
Brad Wilkerson RF
Kenji Johjima C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Felix Hernandez P

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April 26, 2008 10:21 PM

Norton, Bedard deliver

Posted by Geoff Baker

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The last thing a team needs is to see J.J. Putz coming in a game with Seattle ahead by four. Even though Putz walked a pair, loading the bases with one out and yielding a two-run single to Daric Barton in the ninth, you still got the feeling the Oakland Athletics had no shot. At least, if you're an M's fan, you prayed they didn't. Come on, though. Even after Putz wild-pitched the tying run into scoring position, or went 3-0 in the count on Kurt Suzuki, who out there really believed he was going to blow a four-run lead? Even after he walked the bases loaded on his 33rd pitch of the inning to bring up veteran Mike Sweeney (who'd homered his last at-bat). Geez, I'm sweating just writing this. Sure, Putz made things interesting. I'm curious to know what the problem was. Seemed to be his release point as he kept missing high. Putz had plenty of room to play with. He seems to tighten up and do better when there's no room for error. In the end, despite the sweating, the Mariners took home a 5-3 win. The A's were dominated by the starting work of Erik Bedard, outclassed when it counted by Arthur Rhodes and damaged big-time by the bat of Greg Norton.

Quite a night for Norton, now batting .500 on the season and 1.000 in the minds of Mariners fans after delivering three hits, three RBI and a run scored. All in a spot start replacing struggling DH Jose Vidro, who'd hit just 2-for-15 (.135) on the current homestand. Nothing like a wakeup call to get guys going. Thing is, Norton could get another start after this.

"I was just able to get some decent swings on some balls,'' Norton said. "As bench players, we do a lot of extra work and we try to stay ready for when we're needed.''

Mariners manager John McLaren said he wants to keep Norton "in the mix'' going forward, but emphasized the team has not lost confidence in Vidro. We'll see. Vidro has to step it up.

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April 26, 2008 8:32 PM

Oakland Athletics at Mariners: 4/26 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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8:32 p.m.: Arthur Rhodes did his job tonight, bailing the Mariners out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning. A nice start by Erik Bedard, who threw 6 2/3 shutout frames, leaving with two on, two out and a 3-0 lead. Sean Green came in and walked Jack Cust to load the bases -- not what his team needed in that situation. But Rhodes comes through with the strikeout on pinch-hitter Ryan Sweeney, flailing badly at a 1-2 pitch low and away. Mike Sweeney finally put Oakland on the scoreboard, tagging Brandon Morrow deep to left with two out in the eighth. So, it's now 3-1. If you're going to give up a homer, doing it with a three-run lead, no one on and one out to go until J.J. Putz isn't the worst time.

Mariners manager John McLaren (pictured below), as we mentioned earlier, is growing tired of waiting for his hitters to produce. The season is now almost four weeks old. I told you I thought mid-May might be the cutoff point for some guys, but McLaren is already trying to send a message of sorts. I asked him why Jose Vidro wasn't playing tonight and Greg Norton was.

"I want to keep Norton in the mix,'' he said. "I've talked to Jose Vidro about it. We need to get some guys going. Like I said, we're a month into the season now and if we've got to pinch-hit for people we're going to pinch-hit for people. We've gone far enough. We've given everyone an opportunity. This game is about winning. It's not about me being everybody's best friend. It's me doing best for the Seattle Mariners and for the ballclub.''

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April 26, 2008 4:56 PM

Corcoran sent down

Posted by Geoff Baker

Not much suspense on this move today, though the Mariners took their time announcing it. Roy Corcoran has been sent down to Class AAA to clear roster room for Erik Bedard to be activated off the DL.

I'll have more for you in a bit. Also, Jose Vidro takes a seat tonight and Greg Norton is the DH. Not just a rest being given Vidro, but a message as well. He has to get it going. The team is being told that as well, right at this moment now that BP is over. Manager John McLaren has seen enough and wants guys to know there will no longer be a free ride. If they want to play, they have to produce.

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April 26, 2008 3:04 PM

Criticism and analysis

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look above at Richie Sexson, Brad Wilkerson, Miguel Cairo and Jamie Burke taking some early batting practice this afternoon. Reading through your comments and private emails today after another long night for the Mariners. One thing that is becoming clear to me is that there is a disconnect between the expectations of criticism and analysis some of you have and what can reasonably exist.

A handful of you keep writing in, wondering "what has happened?'' in this space between this year and last. The simple answer is, absolutely nothing. One of the hallmarks of reputable criticism and analysis, as opposed to knee-jerk commentary, is flexibility. My two-second analysis of writing here in Seattle is that the quickest way to gain 100 percent support from the blogosphere is to rip Mariners management and managers at every turn. It's OK. Not much different from other markets that way. Problem is, not everyone is wrong at all times.

In this case, in the spirit of open-mindedness and flexibility, I approach each season looking at what a team's goals are. Not what my personal goals were for a team, but what that team is trying to do and whether it has a reasonable expectation of pulling it off. Going into last year, I didn't see the Mariners having much hope of pulling any of its expectations off because too much had to go right. A lot of it did go right and the result was an 88-win team. But I also did see some elements that surprised me. I saw a team that, until that fatal August losing streak, was able to win games when it had to and avoid being knocked out of the playoff race entirely. I saw some talented bullpen arms that -- while they withered under August intensity -- held promise for the future.

I still wasn't all that optimistic heading into the off-season and let it be known I wasn't all that confident GM Bill Bavasi could undo the starting pitching hole he'd dug for himself by allowing arms to walk away the previous years at a time the market for pitching was blowing sky high. Never did I imagine Bavasi could parlay some of his prospects into a trade for Erik Bedard, or land a top free-agent pitcher like Carlos Silva. But guess what? Bavasi surprised me.

And when things change, when they surprise you, the parameters of that criticism change.

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April 25, 2008 11:43 PM

Hitting woes and ze-ros

Posted by Geoff Baker

Not much to say about this game. Miguel Batista was pitching hurt and throwing all over the map the first inning-plus, putting his team in a hole it never climbed out of. The M's go on to lose, 4-3, to an Oakland A's team it probably should have beaten and now sit four games back in the AL West. The weekend is not lost, but taking the next two games just became pretty important for Seattle. If the M's don't win at least one game this weekend, this early season is going to get old in a hurry.

Oakland did not get a hit after Emil Brown's leadoff double in the third. The A's managed just one baserunner the final six innings of play, that on a ninth-inning walk. When the deficit is only 4-1 after three, a good team has to overcome that when it gets relief of that type. To be honest, these Oakland hitters don't impress me at all. Weren't much different from what we saw last week, other than jumping all over an injured Batista.

It's like we said about Seattle's hitters ganging up on Adam Loewen last night, then reverting to form. How did the M's look tonight? Not much better, huh? Not making the most of gifts they are given, like letting Andrew Brown off-the-hook after he'd loaded the bases on two walks after an error in the eighth, or registering just two sacrifice flies after loading the bases with none out in the sixth. They are simply not getting it done. They are trying, but not executing.

That Jose Lopez bunt attempt in the ninth? Didn't look good the way things ended up, with a foul ball into the first baseman's glove. Ichiro -- the team's best baserunner -- gets a leadoff walk and can't advance past first base until there are already two outs in the inning? There were some questions being asked after this one.

Mariners manager John McLaren said Lopez, riding a four-hit night, had been told to only bunt if A's closer Huston Street used a slide-step, which would have quickened his delivery to the plate and lessened Ichiro's chance of getting a good jump.

That forced Lopez to make a split-second decision as the ball was being pitched. Not easy for any hitter, let alone one as young as Lopez. Especially against a successful closer like Street, who will come up and in on hitters squaring up to bunt.

Ichiro said the bunt call was the right one. The thought of stealing a base had entered his mind once he reached first. But he said it wasn't an automatic decision with Lopez up.

"It's hard to think like that,'' Ichiro said through an interpreter. "Maybe there was a chance to steal. Or maybe later on the chance to steal will arrive. Personally, I thought the bunt was the obvious call to make in that situation.''

Didn't work.

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April 25, 2008 10:07 PM

Oakland Athletics at Mariners: 4/25 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

10:07 p.m.: Teams just can't squander gifts like the M's just did against Andrew Brown in the eighth inning. Brown saw shortstop Bobby Crosby make a throwing error to start the frame, and then, with one out, he walked Greg Norton and Brad Wilkerson to load the bases. But Yuniesky Betancourt grounded into a meek-looking 6-4-3 double play and that was that. I can't believe this is still a 4-3 game. The M's have not allowed a baserunner since the Emil Brown double in the third.

Since my still camera is on-the-fritz, I thought I'd post some video of this afternoon's Kenji Johjima press conference. You'll see a touch of humor from Bill Bavasi, Johjima talking through interpreter Antony Suzuki, with both the English and Japanese media, then a shot of him taking BP.

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April 25, 2008 5:05 PM

Thomas "not a good fit'' for M's

Posted by Geoff Baker

By the way, Kenji Johjima's contract, as per the Associated Press, is three years, $24 million. Just got back from talking one-on-one with Frank Thomas in the visitors clubhouse. All I wanted to know was whether he'd considered coming to Seattle.

Thomas told me the Mariners were one of four teams that his agent spoke with. The Oakland A's were another, obviously, but he declined to name the other two. In the end, he said, none of the clubs was offering any guartanteed money for 2009. It all boiled down to playing time.

"They told my agent they didn't know if the fit would work at this point in time,'' Thomas said. "Over there, they've got Jose Vidro, he's been around a long time. He's a professional, a great competitor. I don't want to go over there and get in a situation where there's a platoon, and they don't know how it's going to work. Where it's not a good fit, or a situation where it causes a problem in the clubhouse.

"Over here (Oakland), I've been here before,'' he added. "I know the guys, know the staff. I wanted to come back here again after 2006 to be honest with you. It was just the right thing for me. It was the right fit for them. For me, it was an easy transition.''

There you have it. Go nuts.


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April 25, 2008 4:05 PM

Johjima press conference

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A shot above of the Kenji Johjima press conference after his three-year, $24 million extension was announced today. Bill Bavasi is on the left, with Johjima nest to him. Going on down the line, there's interpreter Antony Suzuki and player agent Allan Nero. I asked Bavasi what today's extension means for the future of Jeff Clement as a catcher in this organization.

Here is what I asked and what he answered.

"I would guess that at some point along the way, because of Jeff's bat -- and assuming Kenji plays the way he can -- Jeff's going to get exposed to another position at some point,'' Bavasi said. "But we have not given up on him as a catcher. A lefthanded hitting catcher with power, those are real tough to find. So, this doesn't change Jeff's track to the big leagues much at all. Because his track to the big leagues is with his bat more than his glove anyway.''

Fair enough. Which is why I asked Bavasi a follow-up about whether he could see Clement breaking in at one position and then switching back to catching later on. Doesn't happen much. pretty much never. OK then, the alternative is that Clement catches a few days a week and serves as a DH or first baseman at other times. Remember, this team felt at spring training that there was no point in Clement being up here if he could play every day. Point being, it's doubtful he's going to be a full-time catcher for this club anytime soon. Bavasi said the question was too hypothetical to answer.

So, my logical conclusion? He comes up, fairly soon, to hit as a DH. And he gets to work in some games as a catcher. But logic doesn't always dictate the correct answer here. Look at Cha Seung Baek. Last night's game screamed for a long reliever after Jarrod Wasburn bowed out before the sixth. But Baek stayed glued to the bullpen bench. Not sure what his role is.

NOTE (4:54 p.m.): Let me alter what I said slightly in the previous paragraph. The situation didn't "scream'' for a long reliever. A starter getting knocked out in the third inning screams for one. This didn't. Sure, Baek could have been used in the sixth instead of Roy Corcoran. I know these guys have their roles and such, but by the time Baek's role actually comes up, his arm will be rusted to his side and unable to throw a pitch. Just wanted to clear that up.


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April 25, 2008 1:04 PM

Johjima signs three-year, $24 million extension

Posted by Geoff Baker

The Mariners just inked Kenji Johjima to a three-year extension through the 2011 season, which the Associated Press reports is worth $24 million. Fresh off the presses. Here's a quote from GM Bill Bavasi.

"As an organization, we view quality Major League catching as a scarce commodity,'' Bavasi said. "This extension allows us to feel very comfortable with our catching depth for the foreseeable future."

Here's the take from manager John McLaren: "Joh is a durable, intelligent catcher," McLaren said, "and he's still improving his game. It is a very tough adjustment to switch leagues from Japan, and he has done an outstanding job adapting his game to the US."

Obviously, the timing of the announcement -- given Johjima's batting stats -- could not be worse. Say hello to Jeff Clement, first baseman of the future. Or is that DH? I don't know. Feel free to discuss. I'm sure there will be plenty for you all to say. Have at it.

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April 25, 2008 9:58 AM

Waiting game

Posted by Geoff Baker

Whew! Is it my imagination, or are the days getting longer and the nights shorter? Seemed like a very long day yesterday that got even longer after the ballgame began. No writer likes to see a massive lead change like that while trying to write newspaper stories on deadline and keep a blog updated. Crazy stuff.

Reading through your comments this morning, a few things jumped out at me. I think it was Stevo in Oregon who wrote that the M's would not have what it takes to come back from a 5-0 deficit. As much as the M's would love to argue that point, so far, they can't. Stevo is statistically right. In fact, when Ichiro homered to tie the game 7-7, it marked the second time all year the M's have come back from a two-run deficit. Not that they won the game or anything. So far, in games the M's trail by two or more runs at any point, they are 0-8.

That underscores just how inconsistent the offense has been. Seattle did everything right offensively last night -- for one inning. The third inning was a complete package of everything the M's have preached since spring training: two-strike hitting, a hit-and-run, sacrifice flies, taking extra bases and even a double-steal. And then nothing. Take out the shaky, erratic starting pitcher, who may have been hurt, and the M's went back to being the same offensive club we've seen. I don't care if they scored seven runs. They were outscored 8-2 after Adam Loewen was pulled. This is why that whole Pythagorean thing gets to me sometimes. Not all seven-run games are created equal. The M's had one big inning, then went to sleep until they were trailing 7-5. Let themselves be outhit 12-5 before the bottom of the seventh. That is not a strong offensive showing. That's jumping all over a bad-looking pitcher for one inning. Big difference. On paper, the M's will look OK in the runs scored department because of last night's outburst and a few more like it. In reality, they tend to bunch up a couple of big scoring games, then go on prolonged droughts. They had scored four runs or less in six of the last seven games heading into last night.

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April 24, 2008 11:42 PM

M's lose a gut-wrencher

Posted by Geoff Baker

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I see some of you are already calling it a season, so I'll keep this brief. Yes, the offense did go AWOL in this 8-7 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. You can't score four runs in the third inning to take a 5-0 lead, then allow yourself to be outhit 12-5 through 6 1/2 innings. You've got to step on the other team's neck and crunch when you've got a foot on them. That's what winning teams do. This team isn't doing that yet. Didn't do it in the last two games against Baltimore. As a result, the M's have their first series loss at home.

Sorry, I'm not going to eat crow on the Erik Bedard trade on April 24 with the Mariners three games behind the AL West leaders. Yes, Adam Jones had a big night. His second one this year. Going into the at-bat, the Baltimore types who cover the O's felt it was a good decision to leave Mark Lowe out there to face Jones because the latter had been swinging too anxiously the first few weeks and seemed vulnerable for a strikeout.

Lowe made Jones look overmatched the first two pitches. But he couldn't finish him off. As I said, it was a good at-bat for Jones. No one says he is not going to be a good player. As of this morning, his .632 OPS wasn't going to make any hypothetical, marked difference on this team. Sure, you can argue that we can't tell how he'd have done playing here in Seattle up until now. But then, if you want to use that logic, you also can't say that he'd be demonstrably better than anyone else Seattle has offensively in his first full year. So far, in the only at-bats we've seen, he hasn't been. If you want to argue the merits of a.632 OPS versus a .546 OPS, I really can't help you. It's one more double and one home run spread over 22 games.

Yes, George Sherrill is pitching very well. The Erik Bedard trade did not look good on the M's tonight. But again, it's still only April 24. This team has cast its lot with improved pitching and we have to see how that pans out over the long haul. Those who aren't patient enough to wait around, you can always wait for college football to start, or go watch the hockey playoffs (big win by the Habs tonight). The rest of you, catch your breath, put the burning pitchforks down and try to pace yourselves.


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April 24, 2008 9:52 PM

Baltimore Orioles at Mariners: 4/24 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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9:52 p.m.: Just when you thought it was safe to breathe again, the O's just took am 8-7 lead in the eighth on a leadoff homer to right by Brian Roberts off Sean Green. This Seattle bullpen is not getting the job done once again tonight. The M's have two more innings to rectify that. My opinion? The sooner the Orioles leave town, the better things will get for the M's. This Baltimore club just spells bad news for Seattle. Some teams are like that some years. This is one of those years for the M's where the O's are concerned.

A look below at a video of the some of the Latin American players for the Mariners partaking in their usual pre-batting practice ritual. The game they are playing is called "flip''. They stand in a circle and bat the ball towards one another using their glove hands. The idea at first is to keep the ball from touching the ground. But after a while, they try to get each other "out'' by smacking a ball towards a player who cannot keep it in the air. They can position the ball with their bare hands by teeing it up, in mid-air, then whack it with their gloves. Anyhow, you know what they say: a team that plays together...hits together? No, that's not it. I'm not sure.

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April 24, 2008 5:43 PM

Bedard a go for Saturday

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look above at pre-game batting practice for the Mariners, quickly becoming a feature attraction here given all the hitting woes of late. Yes, that is George Sherrill taking notes in the black sweat top. Not that he needs many. Some quick news for you: Erik Bedard threw his second bullpen session this afternoon. Mariners manager John McLaren told me moments ago that Bedard is all clear to start on Saturday. Carlos Silva is feeling better as well. "Nothing's going to put me out of my next start,'' he said. "Nothing.''

Talked to Raul Ibanez about my theory that pitchers of late have been targetting the strike zone aggressively on Seattle's hitters because they know the M's are trying to draw walks -- and that they won't do all that much damage when they do swing. Ibanez says the team needs a strategy of "patience through aggression.''

In other words, no point sitting around waiting for the pitcher to throw strike one.

"I think, at some point, if it's a good pitch, you've got to put a good swing on it,'' he said. "I think sometimes, when you hit the ball hard early in the count, it forces them (pitchers) to be more fine.''


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April 24, 2008 12:20 PM

Silver lining?

Posted by Geoff Baker

Yes, even after this morning's post, there is a silver lining in what's gone on with the Mariners so far. Even with an offense as bad as it's looked -- whether it's the flu, aging hitters, bad hitters, etc. -- the team is still a .500 club. So, to answer what Jeff seemed to be asking in the last thread, no, what many folks were advocating in the off-season would not have automatically made this a better club. Bring in a hitter at the expense of upgrading the starting rotation? That was what many were calling for, if not Jeff in particular. Let's see, had the club kept Adam Jones in right field, it would now have a .632 OPS hitter playing that spot rather than Brad Wilkerson. Net gain there, despite Jones being slightly "better'' if you can call it that, would be about zilch. This offense is to the point where one big bat isn't going to make much of a difference. The team needs some of its existing bats to get going. It also has the option of interchanging Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement with some existing hitters if things don't improve.

This offense doesn't have to be night and day better than it is right now. Just more consistent. Too many games, as one of you noted, where the team scores four runs or less. Even with standout pitching, it's tough to always hold opponents to three runs or fewer. Add another run per game, though, and the one-run wins should start to pile up in Seattle's favor.

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April 24, 2008 8:59 AM

Hitters needed

Posted by Geoff Baker

They say the first month of any baseball season is all about taking stock. Figuring out what a team needs, making adjustments and moving on from there. It's been an interesting first 3 1/2 weeks for the Mariners. Far more interesting than some of us might have imagined. With six games left in month No. 1, the Mariners are playing .500 ball at 11-11, two games out of first place behind the A's and Angels. The team's Pythagorean Expectation so far sees them as a 12-10 team, one that should win 88 games based on run differential that's substantially improved because of pitching. Considering all this team has been through with injuries, including last night's minor one that finally prevented Carlos Silva from yet another seven-inning outing, being on-pace for an 88-74 record on the sabermetric front isn't too bad.

That's the good news. The bad news? Well, it's what we've alluded to since January. This team's schedule hasn't exactly been filled with contenders. A glance over at the third-order wins and losses adjusted standings at Baseball Prospectus (third set of numbers on the right, under W3-L3) shows the M's to be more of a 9-13 team based on strength of schedule. The Angels aren't doing so hot either, but good teams worry more about themselves this time of year. Now, let's not forget, this is all subjective. If it turns out the Oakland A's are a legit contender, the M's schedule for April just got a whole lot tougher than any of us imagined. I'll also owe Derek at U.S.S. Mariner and the Diamond Mind simulation people a huge tip-of-the-cap if the A's really are that good. Having seen them in-person last week (the A's, not Derek and Diamond Mind), I can't believe that's going to last. But, as we've said, that's why they play the games.

What's screaming out at me now? Some 3 1/2 weeks into the season? The offense, naturally. It's easy to jump all over Jose Vidro and Brad Wilkerson -- and we have -- but what jolted me this morning was the number of M's with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage below .700. That won't fly. Not for a team hoping to contend.

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April 23, 2008 10:30 PM

Silva update -- injury not believed serious

Posted by Larry Stone

Just came back up from the clubhouse, where the word was that Silva's injury is not believed to be major. In fact, Silva flat-out stated, "I will make my next start."

He said he tweaked his thigh when his spikes caught while making a pickoff attempt on Brian Roberts in the sixth. He finished the inning (giving up the only two runs he allowed), but alerted the bench of the problem after the inning. They let him start the seventh, but didn't like what they saw when he walked the first hitter, and took him out.

"It's not bad,'' Silva said. "It's hard to come out of the game, but sometimes you have to be smart. It's only my fifth start. There's a long way to go.''

Here's what McLaren said: "It's nothing serious. He felt something in his leg driving off so we took him out. It doesn't seem to be serious at all...I'm hearing good things from the training room."

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April 23, 2008 5:04 PM

Game thread, 4-23, Mariners vs. Orioles

Posted by Larry Stone

Lineups

BALTIMORE

Brian Roberts 2B

Melvin Mora 3B

Nick Markakis RF

Kevin Millar 1B

Luke Scott LF

Aubrey Huff DH

Adam Jones CF

Ramon Hernandez C

Luis Hernandez SS

Daniel Cabrera P

MARINERS

Ichiro CF

Jose Lopez 2B

Raul Ibanez LF

Adrian Beltre 5

Jose Vidro DH

Richie Sexson 1B

Kenji Johjima C

Willie Bloomquist RF

Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Carlos Silva P

IUPDATE 8:47 P.M. Silva left the game with tightness in his right thigh. No way of telling if it's a big deal until after the game.

t seems like just about the whole Mariners' team is sick with either the flu, bad colds, or both. Trainer Rick Griffin said it reminded him of a stretch three years ago when a similar flu bug leveled the Mariners. It's going to happen when you're in close quarters for extended periods of time. I just hope it doesn't hit the press box.

The most interesting nugget from tonight is that manager John McLaren said before the game that Willie Bloomquist is assuming Mike Morse's platoon role in right field; ie, he will start against left-handed pitchers. It just so happens that two of them are coming up -- Adam Loewen for the Orioles tomorrow, and Dana Eveland for Oakland on Friday.

Bloomquist is playing right tonight against Daniel Cabrera (a right-hander) because Brad Wilkerson is still limited by tightness in his hamstring. It's not believed to be serious enough to put him on the disabled list, or even to sideline him beyond the next couple of days. But injury or not, I'd think that Wilkerson needs to start showing something pretty quickly.

By the way, I did a little digging, and the Mariners don't think the name of Safeco Field will be changing "in the forseeable future" despite the Safeco Corp being acquired by Liberty Mutual today. I'll have a story about it in tomorrow's Seattle Times (all you subscribers, check the news section, not sports). In fact, that's why I'm a little tardy with this blog entry. I had to chase down the naming story.

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April 23, 2008 3:29 PM

Morse undergoes surgery

Posted by Larry Stone

Some tough news for Mike Morse, who underwent surgery yesterday for a torn labrum in his left shoulder that will almost certainly end his season. According to the Mariners, he will require a six-month rehabilitation schedule prior to his return to full activity. He should be able to start swinging a bat in approximately four months.

This injury didn't seem nearly this serious when Morse hurt himself on April 13 against the Angels, landing awkwardly on his left shoulder diving for a ball in right. I remember asking him after the game if he expected to go on the disabled list. "Nah, I don't think so,'' he replied.

But an MRI revealed he had dislocated his shoulder, and a torn labrum was also discovered. The surgery was performed by Dr. Edward Khalfayan, the Mariners medical director, at the Seattle Surgery Center. The surgery "went well," according to Khalfayan in a team-issued press release.

I feel badly for Morse, a good guy who was very excited to make the team out of spring training after a great spring. I hope he is able to resume his career next year.

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April 23, 2008 10:52 AM

See Putz get pied

Posted by Geoff Baker

You read about it in Larry Stone's piece from this morning. Heard about it on KJR AM 950. Now, you can see it for yourself, courtesy of the folks at FSN. J.J. Putz, master of post-game pies to the face, is clearly paranoid about getting his last night as he does a dugout interview. Then later, in the clubhouse...let's just say I'm glad Mark Lowe doesn't wear a goalie ,ask and carry a steak knife. Got a few hearts pounding with his sneak attack.

Here's the link: jjpie.wmv

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April 23, 2008 8:28 AM

Stayin' Alive

Posted by Geoff Baker

We all spent a couple of days over the winter waging computer battle over the relative merits/problems with keeping Jose Vidro as the team's everyday DH. At the time, I laid out the reasons why I felt Vidro was still a useful part of the club. There are still reasons why he is. We saw it last night, when he delivered a two-run single off Jeremy Guthrie (yes, I goofed, inititally, Dennis Sarfate came on to face Richie Sexson after Vidro's hit) to deliver a Seattle victory.

There is real value in having a switch hitter who is almost equally proficient from both sides of the plate. Vidro can hit lefties even better than he does righthanders, which is why you did not see the Orioles try to turn him around to the right side by pulling a tiring Guthrie to bring in lefty Jamie Walker. Over the last few seasons, even with his body not what it used to be healthwise, Vidro has put together a .291 batting average against right handed pitchers and a .311 average versus southpaws. When all you need is a single in any given situation, he's the guy you'd like to have up there. His versatility from both sides of the plate negates the strategy that managers could employ by bringing in a new pitcher. Those splits don't make for the sexiest of stats, but combine them with Vidro's patient eye -- you saw how he didn't go up swinging at Guthrie's opening gas, out of the zone (despite the umpire's expanded definition of what constitutes a called strike) -- and they're a useful, if somewhat hidden, weapon to have.

In fact, Vidro was everything this team needs. In a pinch-hitter.



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April 22, 2008 11:08 PM

A pie for Putz

Posted by Larry Stone

OK, this whole shaving-cream pie business has gotten a little tired, but there was a twist tonight that really made it memorable.

J.J. Putz, who is usually the mastermind of all pie capers in the Mariners' clubhouse, was talking to the press -- about 10 of us gathered around him in front of his locker -- after the game. It was a big night for Putz, of course, coming off the DL and earning the save in a 4-2 win by the Mariners.

Putz was in mid-sentence, talking about how nervous he had been, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Mark Lowe emerged from his locker and nailed him with a pie.

I've got to say, it was kind of frightening for a split second. I'm not the only one who felt that way. Turns out that Lowe had crawled behind the clothes hanging in Putz's locker -- a fairly large cubicle -- and was covered enough that no one could see him. The element of surprise was so absolute, for Putz and everyone else, that you had to think for just a second that it was some sort of intruder. But that passed quickly, and general hilarity ensued. Boys will be boys.

A very nice win for the Mariners. Felix has been bothered by the flu all week and really felt poorly -- dizzy, headaches, fatigue, In that light, his performance was excellent (7 ip, 6 h, 2 er, 3 bb, 7 ks). Arthur Rhodes got his first win since May 23, 2005 (while with Cleveland) and Yuniesky Betancourt led to two runs with his aggressive baserunning. Yes, he saw Sam Perlozzo's stop sign in the fifth. He just thought he could make it. And he was right -- as you had better be when you run through a stop sign.

Jose Vidro capped it with the game-winning hit in the eighth. He took a very long time coming out to his locker, so most, if not all, reporters didn't get a chance to talk to him. Deadlines, you know. I'd be interested in what he had to say after some people (ahem) advocated signing Frank Thomas to replace him.

It wasn't a great offensive night for Seattle -- just five hits off Jeremy Guthrie, who deserved a better fate. Brad Wilkerson remains a big concern. No word on the seriousness of the hamstring issue that knocked him out of the game in the fourth inning. His average is down to .178, and his struggles are getting more glaring.

Good night for now. I'll be back tomorrow night.

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April 22, 2008 6:38 PM

Mariners vs. Orioles, 4/22, game thread

Posted by Larry Stone


UPDATE 8:11 P.M. Willie Bloomquist just took over right field in the fourth. Wilkerson has a "tight right hamstring."

UPDATE 7:46 p.m.: Felix has gone into the seventh inning in each of his four previous starts, and is coming off a complete-game win over the A's, but he'll have a hard time matching that tonight. While his stuff looks outstanding, he is laboring with his command, and just threw his 52nd pitch to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning. It was a beauty, a called third-strike on Nick Markakis, who was 9-for-16 off Hernandez coming into the game.


UPDATE, 7:20: Hernandez's third pitch to Luke Scott in the first inning -- his 19th of the game -- was just clocked at 100 mph. Felix is struggling a bit with his control, but the RBI single by Kevin Millar was a great pitch that broke his bat. He blooped it into center field. It looks to me like he's really dealing.

It's an awfully small crowd tonight. One of these weeks, there will be a night game at Safeco where you don't freeze to death. I hope.

As usual, I'm anxious to see Felix, who could be going for his fifth win tonight but is only going for No. 3. I'm sure he's happy to see a healthy J.J. Putz back in the closing role, after the debacle in Baltimore when his 2-0 lead evaporated in the ninth.

The Mariners have some payback to give the Orioles after the four-game sweep in Baltimore. this is a classic example of a series this team should win if it expects to compete for the title. Let's see what happens.

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April 22, 2008 5:32 PM

Tuesday tidbits

Posted by Larry Stone

Lineups

BALTIMORE

Brian Roberts 2B

Melvin Mora 3B

Nick Markakis RF

Kevin Millar 1B

Luke Scott LF

Aubrey Huff DH

Adam Jones CF

Ramon Hernandez C

Luis Hernandez SS

Jeremy Guthrie P

MARINERS

Ichiro CF

Jose Lopez 2B

Raul Ibanez LF

Adrian Beltre 3B

Jose Vidro DH

Richie Sexson 1B

Brad Wilkerson RF

Kenji Johjima C

Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Felix Hernandez P


Lots of Hernandezes in this game! Hi, Larry Stone here at Safeco. Just to amplify on the roster moves, as Geoff mentioned R.A. Dickey went down to Tacoma to make room for the activation of Putz. The poor guy has been on a real roller coaster. He was devastated to be sent down two days before Opening Day, then ecstatic to make his first start in two years against the Angels. Today was...I wouldn't say devastation, but clearly extreme disappointment. He said the hardest part was that his family had flown in to spend the homestand with him, and now Tacoma is leaving on a road trip to Tucson. The Mariners are letting him stay back in the Seattle area with his family until his turn to start, which probably will be during the weekend.

"It's been tough,'' he said. "I'm thankful I'm a little older. I'm able to deal with it.''

Speaking of Tacoma, just had a chance to talk to Adam Jones. The Orioles arrived in Seattle on Monday early enough that Jones went down to Tacoma to see old friends like Matt Tuiasosopo and Charlton Jimerson (the game was rained out). Jones said he doesn't expect tonight to be too emotional because he didn't play long enough up here with the Mariners for the fans to form a real bond with him.

"It's not really as touchy-feely or emotional as it shoud be,'' he said.

Sherrill, on the other hand, said that he is indeed having some emotional tugs. Someone asked him if noted practical joker J.J. Putz had given him a special welcome.

"No, he didn't pee in my shoes or anything. That's good,'' Sherrill said with a laugh. "I'm glad he's back off the DL. Good luck to him. Hopefully, he does well, except in this series.''

Bedard will indeed start Saturday. He threw a 45-pitch bullpen session today that went very well, apparently. McLaren said, however, they want him to throw another bullpen session on Thursday before his Saturday start against Oakland. This gives them a chance to restructure the rotation a bit. Washburn will pitch Thursday against Baltimore, and Batista Friday against Oakland. That splits up the two left-handers, Washburn and Bedard.

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April 22, 2008 4:29 PM

Putz back, Dickey down

Posted by Geoff Baker

The Mariners have activated J.J. Putz off the DL, while R.A. Dickey gets optioned to Class AAA Tacoma. I don't understand the latter move all that much. Dickey pitched well the other night in Anaheim. One bad pitch cost him three runs and the game. Still, Baek has made similar bad pitches with lesser results. He does not seem comfortable coming in as a long man, which he will be if Erik Bedard now starts Saturday, as expected. Dickey is useful as a starter or a reliever. He gives you flexibility. So, the team now sends him to AAA where he has no use whatsoever.

Actually, I do understand the move. The club does not want to outright Baek to Tacoma and risk losing him to another team on waivers. Dickey has options left. But in this case, though, I'm not a fan of what's going on. Dickey helps this team right now and his flexibility might be his biggest asset. But this move negates that flexibility. Baek's greatest asset is as a starter. Right now, there's no room for him to start. So, in effect, he clogs up a roster spot.

This smacks of the team taking the "easy'' way out and trying to keep everyone, instead of putting the best guys out there.

ADDTIONAL COMMENTS (4:52 P.M.): For Jon B., if Bedard's health becomes a long-term issue, you could use Dickey as a swing-man in the bullpen and rotation. Have him be the long-man for now, which he'd be better at than Baek, then move him back to starting if Bedard goes down again. Dickey looked about as good as Baek as a starter as well and the knuckleball is not as prone to lefty-righty differences. I'd say it's better than a rotation with four righties and a lone lefty in Jarrod Washburn. If you want, you could call up Ryan Feierabend from Tacoma and have him start for a while, giving the rotation a second lefty, while Dickey becomes the long man. Either way, Baek is the least desirable option. Right now, he's going to sit and then come in to a role he's ill-suited for if a starter implodes. If a starter goes down, you'll have a guy who -- at best -- is Dickey's equal in the rotation. I know that keeping Baek gives you one extra body, one added option if the rotation thins out. But Dickey fills two roles at once -- long man and starter. Every day he spends at Class AAA is another day his value can't be maximized.


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April 22, 2008 1:32 PM

Adam Jones in town

Posted by Geoff Baker

Funny, how we've had all these discussions of late surrounding Jose Vidro, Raul Ibanez, Brad Wilkerson, the DH situation and what not, without mentioning the obvious. The solution to everyone's prayers is back in town tonight, albeit with the Baltimore Orioles.

Now, I'm being just a little facetious. But it seemed, late last summer, that there wasn't a thing Adam Jones could not do. I thought, at some point, that a few of you were going to mention that he play left field, right field and second base all at once. Have we already forgotten how many megabytes were deployed here, at U.S.S. Mariner, Lookout Landing, Detect-O-Vision and elsewhere in the blogosphere debating the merits of whether the M's should have thrown Jones into the stretch drive every day?

Remember, the talk was about putting Jones in left, bouncing Ibanez to DH, and bumping Vidro to bench player. Or, was it platooning Vidro and Ibanez? Or making Ibanez the first baseman and benching Richie Sexson? If you remember the parameters of the debate, it wasn't about whether Jones should start 2008 as an everyday player. That was a given. It was whether he should have been thrown into the lineup for the final eight weeks of a season with his team fighting for a playoff spot.

Once Ibanez and Vidro began hitting better, it became a moot point for me. As a new manager, I could not see John McLaren taking a huge risk by disrupting everyday players who were going well, at the expense of an unproven minor leaguer. Yes, Jones did have an on-base-plus-slugging percentage beyond .900 in Class AAA and traditionally, such numbers tend to project well in the bigs over the long term.

The point was, this was a short-term, eight-week stint we were talking about. There was no way of knowing how Jones would perform. Some have argued there was no way of predicting how Ibanez and Vidro would perform over a short-term stretch. But as a manager, I would tend to side with the guys who had a proven track record of hitting major league pitching and working their way through slumps. And both Ibanez and Vidro did do that. I didn't think, at the time, that the M's could afford the growing pains of a AAA callup learning the twists and turns of big-league ball when the hitters involved were taking off.

So, how has Jones done so far? He's hitting .242 with a .294 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage for an OPS of only .649 the first three weeks of this season.

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April 22, 2008 8:18 AM

More than just Happy Felix Day

Posted by Geoff Baker

OK, OK, I borrowed some of today's headline from countless other websites. But seriously, what's not to be happy about if you're a Mariners fan? The last time Felix Hernandez took the mound, in Oakland, he threw a complete-game. Got to be happy about that.

There are a few other things worth noting if you are a fan of this team. Or, even if you're looking for signs to see whether this 10-10 club is legit. Hernandez has gone seven innings or more in three of his starts already. But he is not even the staff leader in that department. Carlos Silva has gone seven or more innings on four occasions, Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista once each. (Originally, I'd written that Washburn had two, but it was only one).

That makes nine starts of seven or more innings by Seattle starters. Want to know how long it took the 2007 M's to notch that many? They didn't get their ninth such start until May 27. Yes, that's right. This year's team is five full weeks ahead of last year's pace.

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April 21, 2008 11:18 AM

Heading home

Posted by Geoff Baker

A look above at what a "getaway day" can be like for baseball writers who have to cover a game, then catch a flight home right afterwards. Don't forget, we have to have all of our newspaper stories and notebooks written before getting on the plane. Some of us even update our blogs. The half-hour it took to play the bottom of the ninth did not help at all. Enjoy the footage.

So, you want to talk Frank Thomas? OK, fine. Wonder what's running through Bill Bavasi's head right now? Bavasi is going to look at Thomas, just as every team looks at every potential waiver dump this time of year. Here's the thing, though. Remember how badly the 2004 season set Bavasi back? All of those veteran bats who went off the cliff on him at once? If you don't, here's a recap. I'll list the bigger-name veterans and their impressive 2003 numbers. Then we'll look at their 2004 totals. I'll use the OPS+ stat. Remember, that's the park-weighted on-base-plus slugging numbers. A score of 100 is league average, so anything below that is percentage points below league average while above it would be the opposite. A score of 105 is five percent above, 95 is five percent below. Capisce?

2003

John Olerud, age 34...107
Bret Boone, age 34...140
Edgar Martinez, age 40...141

Not bad, huh? And remember, these guys all had serious track records of productive hitting. But then...

2004

John Olerud, age 35...90
Bret Boone, age 35...94
Edgar Martinez, age 41...92

And so, if you're Bavasi, I'd think you'd have to be a bit skittish about going after Thomas.

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April 20, 2008 6:20 PM

M's salvage finale

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Sorry for the re-posting delay. I'm at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, waiting for my flight to leave in about 45 minutes. As you might imagine, it was a relieved clubhouse. That was quite the nervy ninth inning, with Ryan Rowland-Smith striking out Garret Anderson (above) with the bases loaded in a 4-2 game. But the Mariners prevailed, finish 3-2 on this trip and get back to .500.

Now, they get an off-day and head home with a chance to pad their record a bit.

In all, they survived this early-season test. Manager John McLaren did not confirm that J.J. Putz is coming off the DL on Tuesday. But he was talking like a mna who knows it's going to happen.

"When we see the big boy coming in from left field, we'll be feeling real good to be honest with you,'' McLaren said of Putz. "But I'd like to say the committee did a nice job while he was gone. They held together pretty good. That's a tough thing to ask young guys to toe the rubber with the game on the line in the ninth inning.''

McLaren was especially impressed with Rowland-Smith, particularly with how he handled Anderson in the final at-bat and the very last pitch.

"He threw some really nice pitches to Anderson,'' McLaren said. "I don’t know if 'froze' was the right word but it was a nasty pitch because Garret is one of the most respected hitters on their ballclub, if not the league. He's not an easy out by any means.''


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April 20, 2008 3:08 PM

Mariners at Los Angeles Angels: 4/20 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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3:08 p.m.: John McLaren did indeed let Miguel Batista head back out for the eighth. Batista notched two quick outs on a Gary Matthews Jr. grounder and a Vlad Guerrero flyball to right. Garret Anderson then singled up the middle and McLaren went to Arthur Rhodes in the bullpen. You know what that means here in Anaheim. A pitching change, runner on, the home side losing and time to kill? You guessed it...

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Rally Monkey time. Where normally sane adults and their kids start waving around multi-colored capuchin monkeys while leaping about to the tune of Naughty by Nature's classic (use term loosely here) "Jump Around!" tune. Anyway, the gambit failed, because Rhodes struck out Casey Kotchman. On to the ninth.

Remember, don't forget to take your video tour of Angel Stadium down below:


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April 20, 2008 9:07 AM

Take tour of Angel Stadium

Posted by Geoff Baker

A video tour of Angel Stadium ready for you above. First off, though, an update on Wladimir Balentien, helped off the field last night in Tacoma after hurting his knee. From what I heard, he slammed his knee hard when he was diving for a ball. He apparently didn't twist his knee or anything. So, at first glance, this would not appear to be a case of torn ligaments or something that could sideline the Class AAA right fielder the rest of the year. As long as he did not crack a kneecap or anything, this may not be a long-term injury. A bruised knee would be the best diagnosis for Mariners fans. I would have expected to see Balentien called up to the big club at some point in the next two months.

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April 19, 2008 10:24 PM

Barely a whimper

Posted by Geoff Baker

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The fireworks go off after the home team secures a victory in just two hours, 11 minutes.

Let's get a few things out of the way. The Mariners had some chances on some well-hit balls tonight, balls that died at the wall or near the warning track. They got decent pitching from Jarrod Washburn, who was indeed a Mike Reilly strike call away from getting out of a three-run fourth inning unscathed.

But the Mariners lost 4-1 here to the Los Angeles Angels because they simply haven't played good enough baseball. Good teams find ways to get runners home from third when they have to. They tend to get umpire's calls to go their way. More often than not, they find the luck that eluded Washburn on that Erick Aybar single off the end of his bat that cashed in two runs.

And goods teams don't pour salt on their own wound the way Brad Wilkerson did with those two terrible throws home from right field. I stopped counting the bounces after three or four. The second throw turned out not to matter. But the first one, ill-advised to begin with, led directly to a fourth Los Angeles run when Aybar moved up to second and was able to score on a two-out single by Chone Figgins.

"If we want to catch them...we've got to beat them,'' Washburn said. "We did a good job, played a good series up at our place. But we haven't played that well the two games here.''

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April 19, 2008 7:23 PM

Mariners at Los Angeles Angels: 4/19 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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7:19 p.m.: Yes, the M's really are getting beaten by Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar and company the past two nights. Izturis delivered the key hit last night and Aybar just ignited a three-run Angels fourth inning that's made it a 4-0 game. There were two on and two out when No. 9 hitter Aybar laced a flare into right field for a two-run single. Chone Figgins followed with another RBI hit to right. Not sure what those two throws home from Brad Wilkerson were all about.

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April 19, 2008 12:49 PM

Pivotal start versus Santana

Posted by Geoff Baker

Some of you are already predicting a series sweep by the Los Angeles Angels coming off last night's 5-4 defeat for the M's. Well, I can tell you one thing. Tonight's tilt (a 6 p.m. contest) will likely decide which team wins this series. And the Mariners are in tough against homebody Ervin Santana, a pitcher who would be one of the top arms in the AL if he threw every game at Angel Stadium. Who can figure this guy out? Santana is 25-9 with a 3.14 earned run average at home since 2005, while going just 10-21, with a 7.14 ERA on the road. There have been Masters theses done on this guy's splits.

Santana's batting average on balls put into play (BAbip) -- our hot new discussion stat of the week, it seems -- is .270 at home, but a whopping .323 on the road. When you consider that .290 is about average, one would guess Santana has been quite unlucky when it comes to batted balls his fielders convert into outs. One would expect him to regress back to the mean and improve on the road, right? He actually won a road game the other night in Texas. But, well, you know. It was Texas. Not a great team. But it was on the road, give him that.

But if you buy into the BAbip theory, that would means he's been unlucky for what, three years? Seems a stretch. His BAbip was just about normal on the road in 2006, but he still put up some ugly looking peripheral numbers, including a .796 OPS against. Not as bad as his .904 (!) career mark away from home, but hey. Still a good bet for the hitters.


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April 18, 2008 11:20 PM

M's win streak snapped

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Torii Hunter is mobbed by teammates after his game-saving catch on a Richie Sexson blast to the wall in the ninth.

Seattle made of game of it in the late-innings, survived some bullpen hijinks, but could not come all the way back in suffering a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Arthur Rhodes did a fine job of cleaning up after those two hit-batsmen by Sean Green in the seventh, then -- with Mark Lowe's help -- got the M's through the eighth. But the Angels have Francisco Rodriguez back and healthy this series and he took care of things in the ninth after the one-out single by Adrian Beltre.

In the end, this game came down to R.A. Dickey not being able to get Hunter out, or seal the deal when an escape route presented itself. I liked his chances with two on and two out in that sixth and .104-hitting Maicer Izturis at the plate. But Izturis got the hard grounder to the right side, Sexson couldn't make a diving stop and the game was effectively done.

Dickey was particularly upset with himself for not shaking off Kenji Johjima's demand for a fastball with the bases loaded, one out and a 1-2 count on Hunter with the game scoreless in the first.

"In that situation, getting the swings and misses like I was and throwing a pretty good knuckleball from the get-go, I should have just stuck with it,'' Dickey said. "But hindsight's always 20-20, I learned from it. It's kind of the learning curve of this thing. You try not to make the same mistakes twice.''

Yes, Sexson made things interesting with his second homer of the game. But too many other Seattle hitters went AWOL. It would have been quite something had the last Sexson blast gone out and given Seattle the lead.

"I thought it had a chance,'' said Dickey, watching from the dugout. "It wasn't a no-doubter, but I thought it had a chance.


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April 18, 2008 8:44 PM

Mariners at Los Angeles Angels: 4/18 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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8:44 p.m.: OK, scratch that last post. Things are looking decidedly better for the M's after a three-run homer to left by Richie Sexson in the seventh. The 24th two-homer game of Sexson's career has made it a 5-4 contest, with Seattle still trailing. Adrian Beltre notched a one-out double, then wisely held up at second on a bloop single to right by Jose Vidro. Beltre wasn't sure if the ball was going to be caught and held his ground rather than risk being thrown out with Sexson due up. The M's needed multiple runs in a hurry -- not just one -- and got them when Sexson crushed the 1-0 offering from Joe Saunders. Sean Green is now on for Seattle. R.A. Dickey goes six innings, allowing five runs.


In case you missed it earlier, here's today's video of our continuing road trip. I'll throw in some tips on how we save time with our car rentals and also what we try to do to save some money on hotel costs. For instance, we writers qualify for Marriott VIP rates at some of their hotels, like the one I'm staying at in Anaheim. Gives you half off their rack rate. Throw in the free parking, we save the paper over $100 per night over the other Marriott right up the road. Anyhow, not that important for you. But enjoy the video in any case.

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April 18, 2008 6:14 PM

White knuckle time

Posted by Geoff Baker

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R.A. Dickey seems just a little bored by all of this pre-game hype about his comeback, his knuckleball and everything else being said about him. Most of it good. Believe me, though, he is running a gamut of emotions today. When I talked to him last night, he told me it would be tough not to think about everything he's been through. And he has been through it.

Richie Sexson is in the lineup tonight, as is Jose Vidro, who fouled a ball off his leg last night. Brad Wilkerson sits again against the lefty. I asked manager John McLaren whether the strict platooning of Wilkerson and Willie Bloomquist will continue indefinitely and he said he isn't sure how long it will go. But he wants Wilkerson to start hitting and figures keeping him against righthanders for now will give him a bit of a break and help him find his stroke.

By the way, here's today's travel video on getting here from Oakland. You'll see the flight, the rental car pickup, the hotel and the drive up to the ballpark. Also, my chance meeting in the stadium parking lot with former big leaguer and Angels broadcaster Rex Hudler. He's a fan of the blog and reads it often.

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April 18, 2008 11:36 AM

Big weekend ahead

Posted by Geoff Baker

Sitting at the Oakland Airport, waiting to catch my flight to Orange County ahead of tonight's Mariners game against the Los Angeles Angels. I'll show you the video later. First, let me say how disappointed I am with some of the quality of discussion taking place on this site the past 24 hours. Truth is, the comments we generate represent a tiny fraction of our overall readership, which has nearly tripled since the start of last season. So, I'm not going to live and die off the comments, but, on the other hand, I do believe they are a reflection of who we are and what we want this blog to be.

I've said it before. This is a place where everyone, Adam, Mr. X, Oregongal, Stango, Chris from Bothel, and anyone else, should feel free to comment. I love having Adam on this site to play devil's advocate and push the sabermetric point of view. And he should be able to do it without being called a bunch of names. Argue your points with him, passionately if you want, but don't lower yourselves to mudslinging. It disproves everything you set out to do. For the record, I read USS Mariner every day, along with Lookout Landing, Detect-O-Vision and a bunch of other sites many of you have never heard of. I like listening to what USS Mariner has to say. They are having an event down the road that I will be making every effort to attend. Sure, we zap each other from time to time, sometimes just to keep things interesting. It's a long season.

The best part about the Seattle blogosphere is that you have both of us to listen to. We even agree on a whole lot of things, like the worthlessness of batting average, the uselessness of bunting in a majority of situations and the abilities of Reed Johnson and how he would have made a fine addition to the Mariners this year. We disagree on other stuff -- loudly disagree at times. So what? Get over it. Read both sites. It's not like you have to show an ID card to get past the velvet rope.


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April 17, 2008 11:05 PM

M's back over .500

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Brandon Morrow, above, closes out a perfect ninth inning to complete an 8-1 win by Seattle over the Oakland A's.

Something is seriously wrong with the baseball universe. At least, when it comes to taking pitches, drawing walks and generating runs. The Mariners have spent much of the past decade free-swinging their way to oblivion while the A's sat back and worked opposing pitchers to death.

That wasn't the case here this week. The Mariners turned that entire scenario in reverse, sweeping a two-game series from the A's with Thursday night's victory providing the capper. It was the A's swinging away early and often on strike-thrower Carlos Silva, who lasted seven innings for the fourth consecutive time this season. Oakland couldn't hit a thing off Silva or Felix Hernandez the night before.

Seattle, meanwhile, drew four more walks before the game was even three innings old. Three of those came in a five-run third inning that knocked Oakland starter Lenny DiNardo from the game. One walk, by Kenji Johjima of all people, Mr. I-Never-Saw-a-Pitch-I-Couldn't-Hack-At, forced home a critical third run that frame. What's going on here?

"To be real honest with you, the last two games, the offense has made the big difference,'' Silva told me afterwards. "They always give me the lead. After they scored those runs, I felt more relaxed. I was throwing the fastball right there. They made the big difference. I wasn't afraid to make mistakes because I knew I had a big lead. If I made a mistake, let's go, give me another batter. That's it.''

Hear more of what Silva said right here in this audio clip.


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April 17, 2008 9:21 PM

Mariners at Oakland Athletics: 4/17 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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9:21 p.m.: Carlos Silva did indeed go seven innings for the fourth straight time this season, needing only 98 pitches to do it after a 1-2-3 seventh. Ryan Rowland-Smith worked the eighth, with Seattle up by seven with an 8-1 lead following a two-run single by Jose Lopez in the top of that inning. Three outs to go and the Mariners will have a winning record again. Brandon Morrow will work the ninth. His first action of the season.

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April 17, 2008 5:52 PM

Sexson out a day, maybe more

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A shot of Richie Sexson, above, trying out a new split-fingered fastball under the watchful eye of pitching coach J.J. Putz. OK, maybe not. But the two players have something in common tonight. Both are hurt and not going to play. Sexson has been bothered by nagging leg and shoulder pain and is getting a rest. Might get another rest tomorrow. Greg Norton gets the start at first base.

Here's John McLaren's explanation:

"Richie's had a sore leg, a sore shoulder,'' he said. "I wanted to calm things down a bit.''

McLaren added he wasn't certain Sexson would play tomorrow night's opener in Anaheim.

"I don't know,'' he said. "You know him. He wants to play every day. But he's got some soreness.''

Brad Wilkerson also gets a night off. Willie Bloomquist is in to face the lefty pitcher. Yes, yes, I know, some of you are going to write in telling me Wilkerson has better splits against southpaws. He's also not hitting. So he gets the night off to collect himself.

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April 17, 2008 12:31 PM

Take a tour of McAfee Coliseum

Posted by Geoff Baker

As promised, here's the video tour of McAfee Coliseum in Oakland. See it from ground level, including the short wall Miguel Batista was alleged to have hopped over when ejected during last summer's "brawl'' between the Mariners and Oakland A's. We all know he didn't do it. That manager John McLaren gave a story to the umpires so they didn't toss Ichiro instead. Afterwards, follow me through the concessions area over to "Mount Davis'' -- the massive center field bleacher area that Oakland Raiders boss Al Davis had built by the county when he moved his team back here from Los Angeles in the 1980s. We'll get a view from possibly the worst seats in baseball and talk to some A's fans as well.

If that doesn't satisfy you, and, in case you missed it last night, the video below is of the road trip it took to get here from Seattle. Includes the (one-way) clip of me doing my Talkin' Baseball segment on the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR 950 AM prior to departure (where Mitch asks who I think the Mariners will call up in Erik Bedard's spot), the flight here, the cab ride to downtown Oakland and the commuter train to the ballpark. Between the two videos, you should have a feel of what it's like to be here.


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April 17, 2008 11:26 AM

Kings for a day

Posted by Geoff Baker

That's how the Mariners are feeling this morning after Felix Hernandez shut down the Oakland A's, 4-2, in a complete game victory last night. I'll take you on a video tour of the McAfee Coliseum within the hour, once we get some technical issues out of the way. For now, let's look back on what last night's ballgame meant to a Mariners team still reeling from early-season injuries to Erik Bedard and J.J. Putz.

For all of their troubles, the Mariners are suddenly back to .500 at 8-8 and just a game behind the first-place A's and Los Angeles Angels. A big reason is the work of Hernandez and Carlos Silva. Simply put, that duo is doing the job that Bedard and Felix Hernandez were supposed to be doing. Bedard was supposed to be what Hernandez is right now, while 22-year-old Hernandez was supposed to be a little closer to what Silva is doing.

Silva and Hernandez are both 2-0. They have gone at least seven innings in six of their seven starts between them -- Silva doing it in all three of his contests. Jarrod Washburn has done it once, making that seven outings of at least seven innings by a Seattle starter already. Do any of you remember how long it took the Mariners to receive seven such starts last year? Not until they were well into the month of May.

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April 16, 2008 11:00 PM

Hernandez pitches M's to win

Posted by Geoff Baker

athletics1.jpg

Fans file out of a quiet McAfee Coliseum after Felix Hernandez and the Mariners take a 4-2 win over the Oakland A's.

A vote of confidence shown Hernandez in that ninth inning when manager John McLaren sent him back out there with a pitch count at 108. But Hernandez was still hitting 97 m.p.h. on the ballpark radar gun in the eighth and the A's weren't exactly tatooing him.

"He's a fierce competitor,'' McLaren said. "I can tell you, he really wants it. That's what you like to see. You want to see guys who like to close out games and he's got that in him.''

Hernandez wanted this one when McLaren asked him about it after eight. This wasn't Baltimore, where Hernandez was working on short rest from a between-starts bullpen session and didn't have the arm strength to finish.

"In the eighth inning, he asked me 'How do you feel?','' Hernandez said of McLaren, who'd seen his starter throw 108 pitches through eight frames. "I said 'Good, I can come back. You don't take me out.' "

I counted four bloop singles out of the eight hits managed by Oakland though those eight innings. In other words, Hernandez was feeling strong. He looked strong in the ninth, closing out the victory by retiring the side in order.

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April 16, 2008 8:38 PM

Mariners at Oakland Athletics: 4/16 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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If this isn't the worst seat in the house, I'm not sure what is. His date probably took one look at the seats and split. Anyhow, I hope he didn't come expecting to see Eric Chavez play, or else it's going to be a tough night all around.

8:38 p.m.: We are already in the seventh inning stretch -- believe it or not -- as Felix Hernandez continues to protect a 4-1 lead. Seattle has 11 hits already, but has done nothing to build on its lead since the first few innings. It hasn't had to do much. This Oakland offense is absolutely pathetic. Hernandez is pitching well, don't get me wrong. But the A's look like they've never seen a pitch they couldn't swing at. This is nothing like the Moneyball A's, walking their way to victory. Lots of free-swinging tonight. I'm all for it, even if it has set me back a little as I scramble to get my newspaper stuff done.

I promised you a video of today's road trip. Here it is, down below. It starts with the packed bags and me doing my Talkin' Baseball segment on the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR AM 950. After that, it's planes, trains and automobiles, literally, to get to the McAfee Coliseum. First the plane from Seatac, then the automobile (a taxi) to my hotel in downtown Oakland, followed by a train from the hotel to the ballpark, Gives you a feel for the day and the neighborhood. Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at the park itself. Enjoy,

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April 16, 2008 4:32 PM

Morrow called up

Posted by Geoff Baker

3:28 p.m.: Just arrived at the ballpark. Will have video of the trip for you in a bit. But first, Brandon Morrow is indeed the pitcher who's been recalled to fill Erik Bedard's roster spot. Morrow had yet to regain all of his command down in Class AA West Tennessee. We'll know in a real hurry whether or not he's ready for the bigs (hint: see whether he can throw strikes).

In other news, Charlton Jimerson cleared waivers and has been signed to a minor league deal. No word yet on which affiliate club he'll be playing for. Assume it will be Tacoma, but who knows?

4:32 p.m. (UPDATE): Just talked to Morrow in the clubhouse. Says he feels better than at any point this year and did plenty of work on a third pitch -- a changeup -- that he can use to keep lefties off-balance. That was a problem for him last season. He tells me he has enough confidence in the pitch to use if often.

Also spoke to J.J. Putz, who is almost certain not to be activated until after this road trip is over.

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April 16, 2008 7:35 AM

Pack small stuff for trip

Posted by Geoff Baker

Guess the Mariners got the memo about the need to manufacture runs. Ichiro gets on in the first inning and instantly swipes third base. Yes, the timing was right, with a lefty on the mound and a righty at the plate. But hey, the timing's been good on other occasions too. This time, he put himself in a position to tie the game on the first of three sacrifice flies by Jose Lopez.

Seattle had only two sacrifice flies heading into the game. But the M's now have seven. It's not often where the ability to manufacture runs will factor into an 11-6 game. But those five sacrifice flies, tying a major league record by one team, proved the difference on the scoreboard. Also nice for M's fans to see Jose Vidro finally notch a double. He's going to have to do better than one per month to stay in this lineup every day. His team needs at about eight per month from him on-average, unless he suddenly becomes a home run hitter. Kenji Johjima also got his bat going yet again. Looks like he's slowly climbing out of that hole he dug himself.

Now, on to Oakland. I leave on a flight in a couple of hours, but will first be doing my Talkin' Baseball segment for the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR 950 AM at 8:20-8:25 a.m. Things won't change this weekend on what is obviously an important early-season trip against the A's and Angels. Important, because if the M's mess around and get swept -- minus Erik Bedard this weekend -- they will find themselves in a Johjima-sized hole before April is even three weeks old.

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April 15, 2008 8:46 PM

Viva la sacrifice fly!

Posted by Larry Stone

I'm going to keep this short and sweet, because I've got kids that want me home by bed time (too late for that already).

This was a long, cold, sloppy night in which the Mariners tied a major league record with five sacrifice flies, and Jose Lopez tied an individual major-league mark with three sac flies in one game. It's now been done 12 times in history -- the last by Edgar Martinez in 2002. Lopez actually had a chance to break the mark, but he blew it by singling with Willie Bloomquist on third base in the fifth inning. I'm sure he'd rather have the base hit than the sac fly record.

Now the Mariners are off on the a pretty big road trip to face two AL West rivals -- the A's, who are playing great ball, and the Angels again. The Bedard question is still hovering over this team, so things are still uneasy. R.A. Dickey was confirmed as the Friday starter against the Angels. The hope is that Bedard will now be ready to start on April 24 against Baltimore, the day he is eligible to come off the DL. Until Bedard shows that he's healthy and can string together a few starts, however, his future has to remain a question mark. And so does the long-term hopes of this team.

Geoff returns full-time to his blog on Wednesday, a homecoming I'm sure you all will celebrate. It's been fun, but this is his show, and I am happy to turn the keys back over to him.

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April 15, 2008 3:44 PM

Game thread, Mariners vs. Royals, 4-15

Posted by Larry Stone

Miguel Batista vs. John Bale. Big news today: Erik Bedard on the disabled list (see previous blog entries). Today is Jackie Robinson Day, so you'll see several players wearing No. 42. For the Mariners, those choosing to wear the number are manager John McLaren, Yuniesky Betancourt, Arthur Rhodes, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Batista and Mike Morse. For the Royals, manager Trey Hillman, Joey Gathright, Jose Guillen and Luis Silverio.

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April 15, 2008 3:15 PM

Bedard placed on DL

Posted by Larry Stone

Erik Bedard was just placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 9, the day after he last pitched in Tampa. That's doesn't necessarily indicate a major setback for Bedard. He is eligible to come off on April 24 -- a week from Thursday. Considering that R.A. Dickey has already been slotted into Bedard's next scheduled start in Anaheim, this will give him a chance to make sure the hip is completely healthy, and the M's will have a chance to fortify the bullpen with another pitcher.

I wouldn't be surprised if Brandon Morrow is called up. Arthur Rhodes, who was in West Tennessee, told us yesterday that Morrow is throwing very well. He said that Morrow had a health setback involving his biceps, but after resting it a couple of days, he came back strong.

I talked to Bedard earlier today (see previous blog entry) and he says he's feeling better each day. But this remains a very worrisome issue for the Mariners, obviously.

The Mariners said the corresponding move (Bedard's roster replacement) won't come until tomorrow.

Here's a quote from John McLaren from the press release:

"We have said consistently that we're not going to rush Erik back. At this point, we thought it made the most sense to go ahead and place him on the DL. It should not change when he's available to make his next start, and gives us the ability to add another player in the meantime."

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April 15, 2008 1:50 PM

Tuesday tidbits, Bedard talks (briefly)

Posted by Larry Stone

It's kind of a sleepy afternoon here at Safeco Field. I wouldn't be surprised if the crowd is one of the smallest in Safeco history, considering the weather, the 3:40 p.m. start time, the fact that it's a school night, and the reality that KC is not the greatest draw in the world (even though I think they're going to be much better than I ever expected, especially if Greinke has truly arrived). It sure looked like it yesterday. Greinke-Meche-Bannister ain't a bad top 3, and their closer, Soria, is very good as well. Billy Butler looks like a stud, and so does Alex Gordon. Finally, the Royals have a future. But I don't think they have enough offense to compete for the division title this year. I can see a .500 record as a nice stepping stone.

Now, on to the Mariners. Bedard played catch and reported that he didn't feel anything in his hip. That's an encouraging sign. But the Mariners are waiting until he throws a bullpen session to decide when his next start will be. That bullpen will probably come in the next couple of days, when the team is in Oakland, McLaren said. The upshot is that knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will almost certainly start Friday, the first game of a three-game series in Anaheim against the Angels.

"I will talk it over with Mel, but it looks like that is the way we are going to lean,'' McLaren said.

I, for one, am eager to see how Dickey will do in a start. The way he pitched in spring, the way he pitched in Tacoma, and the way he pitched Monday leads me to think that they might have quite a find here. That will be a good showcase for him.

But obviously, for the sake of this season, the Mariners need a healthy Bedard. I keep hearing and reading ominous speculation that this injury is worse than anyone suspects, but it sounds like he's getting better to me. I'd love to talk to Bedard about it, but he has been zealously avoiding the media
ever since his hip started hurting again. I have a feeling we won't be getting many insights from him, but I hope he will eventually tell us how he's feeling.

UPDATE, 2:15 p.m.: I just want down to the clubhouse after batting practice ended, and Bedard very pleasantly, albeit briefly, talked to three reporters.

He said that he feels better each day. He said that they're going "day by day" on his regimen. "I can't say if I'm going to throw a bullpen Friday or Saturday. We'll go day by day and see how it goes."

Asked if he was encouraged by the progress of his injury, he said, "It's always encouraging when it's getting better."

Asked if he was concerned that this injury was going to drag on, he said, "We'll see after my next start if it hurts still. Then maybe it will be something that drags on.''

And if that's the case, "I think rest is probably the only thing" that will help, he said.

Comparing how it feels now to how his hip felt in Baltimore last week when he was scratched the first time, he said, "I think it's better."

So there it is, straight from Bedard's mouth.

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April 15, 2008 9:48 AM

Offensive showing

Posted by Geoff Baker

Want to begin today in a better mood? Looks like Jeff Weaver finally found work. And no, it's not with the Mariners! An incentive-laden deal with the Brewers. See? I told you your mood would pick up.

That's about as good as it gets, I'm afraid. Yes, there is a double-entendre to the headline above. Two weeks into the season and the Mariners are a 6-8 club largely because of the inconsistency we saw from the bats last night in that loss to the Royals. I'm tempted to say it was just a case of a hot pitcher shutting Seattle down. It happens. Thing is, it seems to happen to the M's a lot. Happened against Joe Saunders the day before, not to mention Edwin Jackson last week. For all that talk of throwing in the towel by the manager that dominated some of the blog discussion here yesterday, the Seattle players themselves don't inspire a whole lot of confidence in regards to their ability to come back when they fall behind by multiple runs.

In fact, the M's haven't won a game this season in which they've trailed by two or more. They are now 0-5 in that regard. For me, that's a worrisome trend. And when that happens, the paper trail usually leads us back to the offense.

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April 14, 2008 11:02 PM

Gracias y buenas noches

Posted by Jose Romero

Thanks so much for all the comments from tonight's game. And also to those who welcomed me back personally, if only for a night.

Washburn was really mad about his mistake changeup that Miguel Olivo hit out of the yard for a home run.
The guy hasn't won at home since June 29 of last season and is now 0-7 at Safeco ever since.

"I'm too old and been playing too long to ever be happy with a loss, so no," Washburn said when asked if he was happy with his outing tonight.

Washburn was also impressed with Zack Greinke, who he said "looks like he's figured it out." The Royals, Washburn said, have a solid lineup 1 through 9, with speed, power and guys who provide tough at-bats.

Another note from tonight: Ichiro has a 25-game hitting streak against KC dating to April 14, 2005. He had two hits tonight.

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April 14, 2008 8:05 PM

Two homers, same pitch

Posted by Jose Romero

From what I saw, the Royals home runs by Olivo and Billy Butler came on the same pitch from Washburn, fastballs that were up and caught too much plate.

Is this former M nite at the Safe? Olivo has gone deep and Jose Guillen has doubled.

Check this out: The scoreboard says Jose Vidro's first job was as a parks department field assistant. I'm excited about these little things because it's my first game that I get to cover at the ballpark this season.

This is a very small crowd. Might be because it was only 45 degrees at game time and you should have seen the guys coming up from batting practice earlier. Complaining about the cold. Washburn is pitching in shirt sleeves. He's a Wisconsin guy, he can handle it.

And this from my esteemd colleague Larry Stone, who got some quotes from Arthur Rhodes before the game. Rhodes said Brandon Morrow had a minor setback down in the minors.

"He’s looking real good, throwing all his pitches," Rhodes said "He had a little setback, his arm was hurting a little in his bicep, but he took a day off, maybe two days off, then back throwing. Came in and got two outs on five pitches. He’s looking good."

Hope you are all enjoying the game. I'm happy to step in briefly for Geoff tonight.

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April 14, 2008 6:21 PM

Pregame comments

Posted by Jose Romero

John McLaren was asked about the roster moves from today when he spoke to reporters this afternoon before the game.

On optioning P Eric O'Flaherty to AA:
"We had to get Eric his confidence back. He was struggling so much. The velocity is there and we're trying to give him a chance to work through it and it just wasn't happening and we had to make a move and Arthur was ready."

On Erik Bedard's hip (Note: Bedard was in the clubhouse and looked to be walking around just fine, though he evaded commenting on his injury): "He said he's feeling better today...Hopefully this will be short term."
Bedard will throw a bullpen session before he returns to game action.
McLaren wasn't sure when Bedard was going to throw again but it could be tomorrow.

On R.A. Dickey: "He's kind of versatile. He'll be everywhere. In case Erik's not ready [for his next start] he might take that slot."

On Adrian Beltre's hamstring: "He said he feels fine, so we'll go from there."

On J.J. Putz: "He's taking the day off [from throwing]...He's fine. We do not have a time frame on this guy. It's something where we want him to be 100 percent and take his time."

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April 14, 2008 3:19 PM

Finally, a 12-man pitching staff

Posted by Geoff Baker

You've all heard the news by now, that Eric O'Flaherty was indeed optioned to the minors, going to Class AA West Tennessee to find his game again. Coming up will be R.A. Dickey and Arthur Rhodes. Mike Morse goes on the DL. Expect to see Rhodes used as the second bullpen lefty. Can't imagine the Mariners would put him in the eighth inning role right away. John McLaren will address the media in an hour or so and the clubhouse doors haven't opened yet. So, until then, it's all guesswork.

Some of you continue to harp on the semantics of what I wrote about McLaren's decision to stick with O'Flaherty after yesterday's fifth inning. Again, here's the entirety of what was said. You don't burn a bunch of bullpen arms after five innings of a 4-0 game. Once it became a 7-0 game, what's the harm in riding O'Flaherty all the way? Even at 7-2 or 7-3 going to the seventh, the game is pretty much a done deal. O'Flaherty was the second lefty and it was his job to go multiple innings if needed. In a 4-0 game in the middle innings, with the M's trailing, he was needed in that capacity. You don't use three pitchers to do the job of one guy in a game getting out of hand. At 4-0 through five, it was starting to get that way. At 7-0 through five-plus, it was out of hand.

This has nothing to do with any pre-season predictions by me. It's merely smart baseball when you have a bullpen that's undermanned.

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April 14, 2008 8:19 AM

Monday blues

Posted by Geoff Baker

I see cliff diving has regained popularity with some of you after a couple of days' worth of hiatus. Certainly, there is some angst while awaiting the results of Erik Bedard's hip injury. From what I'm hearing, this isn't season-ending stuff. That would be catastrophic to this team's playoff hopes, no doubt. But for now, it is not that severe. So, let's see what transpires and take things from there.

For couger, in the comments thread, No. 1, learn how to spell cougar. No. 2, if you think you're going to get someone to cry "uncle'' on a contender's expected playoff hopes two weeks into a 26-week season, you're best off going back to watching football. In baseball, one week is a mere blip on the radar screen. I saw it written on one blog that things could not have gone much worse for the M's the first two weeks of the season.

Au contraire, mes amis. As bad as things have looked for the M's at times, they could be far worse. The M's could have lost three of the first four series, rather than winning three of four, and found themselves with a record of 3-10 instead of 6-7. They could be five games out of first place instead of two. Carlos Silva could have been a major bust instead of pitching the way Bedard was supposed to for this team.

It's not eternal optimism, it's just reality. Even if you really thought the Oakland A's were going to run away with this division, a two-game deficit with 24 weeks to go is hardly insurmountable. So, first things first. The M's will take care of some bullpen housekeeping tonight by adding R.A. Dickey to the club. In return, Eric O'Flaherty will be sent down to Class AAA Tacoma. Not everyday a team bails on its once-designated situational lefty two weeks into a season, but O'Flaherty has options left and this is the right move to make at this stage.

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April 13, 2008 5:26 PM

Gloomy day at The Safe

Posted by Larry Stone

Remember how good everyone was feeling after Saturday night's win, the second in a row over the Angels? Now, not so much.

For starters, there was the 10-5 loss Sunday, one of the few games this year tthe Mariners have been blown out. Of course, there's the lingering concern over the health of Erik Bedard. If he's out long-term, that's a major blow to their playoff hopes. Even if he's cleared to pitch this week, you have to wonder if this hip injury is going to be a lingering thing. Not the sort of feeling you want to have about the guy brought in, at great cost, to be your ace.

There's the hamstring injury that kept Adrian Beltre -- another huge key for this team -- out of the lineup on Sunday. And a new injury cropped up during the game. Mike Morse had his left shoulder in a sling afterward, the result of his dive in the sixth inning. He has what is being called a sublexation of his left shoulder. Basically, it popped out when he hit the ground, then popped back in. He was going to have an MRI tonight. He could be headed for the DL. Even if not, you have to wonder how much more outfield time Morse will be getting. He struggled out there today, particuarly on the double by Howie Kendrick, a catchable ball that sailed over his head in the fifth when the game was still relatively tight.

Finally, there is the continuing struggles of Eric O'Flaherty, who gave up eight hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings -- and had his ERA remain at 20.25. McLaren left him in the game today in hopes that he would figure things out, but it was another rough outing. McLaren said the brain trust was planning to meet later in the evening to discuss various issues. Obviously, one issue will be what do with O'Flaherty. No doubt Tacoma will be an option. They also may need to import some short-term long relief help now that Baek has been burned.

And now that the Angels are gone, things don't get any easier. The mighty Royals are coming to town.
It might not last, but they're looking great so far, with the best starting pitching in the American League.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are some new faces when we get to the ballpark tomorrow.

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April 13, 2008 1:02 PM

Game thread, Mariners vs. Angels, 4-13

Posted by Larry Stone

Well, it's about 20 degrees colder than yesterday -- far more typical for Seattle in April. The Mariners have a lot going against them tonight -- a rusty Baek making his first start, no Beltre, and Joe Saunders, with a 0.56 ERA through his first two starts, going for the Angels. If they can pull this one out, they might earn a few believers.

To address Pokenour, absolutely no way is this being done to showcase Baek. Believe me, they want Bedard pitching this game. This is what they got him for -- games like this, against their main rivals.. There's no conspiracy theory. Bedard is hurting, and they're being cautious, which is the smart way to go. Baek pitched all spring, and has made 23 major league starts. Teams know what he's about.

Im wondering what the crowd here at Safeco Field is thinking. They came expecting to see Bedard, and Baek is walking to the mound. As far as I can tell, no announcement has been made.

No Torii Hunter in the Angels lineup today. He has a sore toe. Gary Matthews is back in center after a miserable day yesterday. He hit into three double plays and made an error.

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April 13, 2008 11:56 AM

Bedard scratched, Beltre also hurting

Posted by Larry Stone

I started to hear rumblings when I got to the ballpark today that Bedard's hip was hurting again. Sure enough, he was scratched from his start for the second Sunday in a row, this time replaced by Cha Seung Baek. The official diagnosis is "inflammation in his left hip,'' and while the Mariners are saying they believe it's not major, it's got to be very, very worrisome to all concerned.

Here's what McLaren told us: "We don't think it's a serious thing, but we don't want it to become something serious.''

It turns out that Bedard, who threw 107 pitches in a win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday, began to be bothered by his hip again on Friday. He had been scratched from last Sunday's start against Baltimore with the same problem. The Mariners began treating the inflammation on Friday and it got better, but he was still feeling discomfort today so they decided to go the safe route and scratch him. Bedard will throw a bullpen session tomorrow and they'll re-evaluate.

As if that's not enough bad enough, Adrian Beltre is out of the lineup today with tightness in right hamstring. Miguel Cairo is getting the start.at third. That's another injury they don't believe is serious, but hamstrings can be touchy, as we all know. He'll be re-evaluated tomorrow also.

The one good injury news was that J.J. Putz threw off a mound for six minutes and felt great. But the high from winning the first two games against the Angels has been tempered considerably by the news that Bedard is hurting again.

Today's lineup (check out that Morse-Cairo-Burke trifecta)

ANGELS

Figgins 5

Matthews 8

Guerrero 9

Anderson 7

Kendrick 4

Kotchman 3

Rivera DH

Mathis 2

Aybar 6

Saunders 1

MARINERS

Ichiro 8

Lopez 4

Ibanez 7

Sexson 3

Vidro DH

Morse 9

Cairo 5

Burke 2

Betancourt 6

Baek 1

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April 13, 2008 9:04 AM

Bedard needs to be ace today

Posted by Geoff Baker

This Angels team sure doesn't look like the 2007 version. I know many of you just love to see what's going on in the Angels' blogosphere, so here's a look at the panic in Halos Heaven.

Yes, the M's have the Angels on-the-run. I know there was plenty of hand-wringing over signing Carlos Silva to that $48-million deal. So far, though, he's delivered what I felt was his biggest asset. The ability to go seven-plus innings. That's three straight for Silva, two of those innings ranking as "quality starts'' -- including the eight frames, three runs allowed last night. This is what the Mariners envisioned when they made their off-season moves. They now have the pitching to compete. Los Angeles, with two staff aces out, does not. At least, not right now.

Aside from the debacle in Baltimore, the M's have now won three out of their first four series to start the season. That's pretty good. But do you know what would really help them now? A sweep. Why not? We went over this last year, but contending teams do find a way to put away a reeling opponent by sweeping early and often. It enables them to gain momentum and negate the opposite -- being swept. In this case, taking three in a row from the Angels would go a long way towards easing some of the pain of dropping four straight to the Orioles last weekend.

When John Lackey and -- maybe -- Kelvim Escobar return to the Angels, these pitching matchups won't favor the M's as well as they do now. Especially with Seattle staff ace Erik Bedard on the hill today. Make that No. 1 starter Bedard. He's not an ace just yet. Aces go more than six innings. Bedard has only given up four earned runs in a pair of six-inning outings. That's got ace potantial. But aces win the big ones. I expect to see the "ace'' Bedard show up today. This is the reason the M's acquired him. They need a seven-inning quality start from their No. 1 starter today.


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April 12, 2008 10:02 PM

Two down....

Posted by Larry Stone

That was an impressive win by the Mariners, and a surprisingly sloppy showing by the Angels. They made two errors that each did big damage. Starter Jon Garland was not particularly sharp, and they blew one opportunity after another against Carlos Silva. They did have some hard-hit balls turned into outs (especially poor Gary Matthews Jr., who grounded into three double plays off Silva). Many Mariners players commented how they love to play behind Silva, who works fast and throws strikes. Silva, by the way, said he was going to work the ninth until Raul Ibanez's homer gave Seattle the five-run lead. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre told Silva at that point that they were going to go to the pen to finish it off.

The Mariners had six guys with at least two hits, including Jose Vidro, who had been 2-for-20 in his last six gtames, and Ibanez, who is on fire. Sexson came back from a bases-loaded popup in the third with a huge two-run homer off Garland in the fifth, probably the key moment in the game. And they didn't make any errors. All in all, a very good night.

Here's a totally premature statistic: Sexson has nine RBI through 12 games, which puts him (as well as Jose Lopez) on a pace for 122. Ibanez has 10 ribbies, on a pace for 135. I just love April "on pace fors". Oh, and the Mariners have hit 15 homers this season, second in the AL to the Angels, who have 17.

The crack Mariners' PR staff just reported that Matthews is the first player to hit into three DP in one game against the same pitcher since Colorado's Todd Greene (9-29-04, against Odalis Perez of the Dodgers). That wasn't the end of Matthews' misery, however. He also let a ball get past him in the outfield that led to a Mariners' run, and grounded out to the pitcher (another hard-hit ball, actually) in the ninth to end the game.

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April 12, 2008 6:00 PM

Game thread, Mariners vs. Angels, 4-12

Posted by Larry Stone

UPDATE 7:39 P.M.: I lied. I had to come back to comment on Sexson's tie-breaking two-run homer to center. So much for his bruised psyche, huh? That shows what Sexson can still do when he gets his arms extended. That was just about the deepest part of the ballpark, a very impressive blast. Now we'll see if Silva and the bullpen can hold on.


UPDATE 7:19: Sorry, I took a little blog break to write my Mariners' notebook for tomorrow's paper. I think Silva is very thankful he's pitching in Safeco and not the Metrodome tonight. The Angels have hit two drives to the track that were caught -- one by Torii Hunter in the second,and one by Garret Anderson in the fourth. Not to mention the two-run homer by Casey Kotchman in the fourth that tied the game.

Silva is really walking a tightrope tonight. It's kind of a typical game for him -- lots of hits, no walks (but one costly hit batter), lots of runners stranded. (Oops, he just walked Guerrero in the fifth, but got out of the inning by retiring Anderson on a groundout).

For the Mariners, the key moment so far obviously was the Sexson popup with the bases loaded and one out in the third. That was a chance to break the game open, or at the very least tack on a run. It's the sort of thing that can haunt you later in the game (and it can't help Sexson's psyche, either).

I was just about to send this when Ibanez hit a blast to right that Guerrero caught against the wall.

I'm going to have to start writing the game story. Very tight deadline on Saturday nights. So farewell for awhile. Talk amongst yourselves.

UPDATE 6:19 P.M. OK, shock No. 2 -- a Raul Ibanez triple, scoring Jose Lopez, who had reached on an error by Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick. Ibanez is scorching hot right now. Looking it up, he's actually had more triples than I thought -- 31 in his career, including five last year.

A nice bit of two-out hitting by the ever-maligned Jose Vidro, by the way, in guiding the ball into right field to bring home Ibanez.

UPDATE 6:12 P.M.: I've already had my first shock of the night. No, not Carlos Silva's slick seven-pitch first inning. The Mariners announced the game-time temperature as 80 degrees, which floored me (and others). No way it feels quite that warm. But I'm not going to knock it. I'm just going to soak it in.

It's an unbelievably beautiful night for baseball, for those who aren't in the Seattle area. I'd say it's about 65 to 70 degres, still sunny and bright. Let's hope this weather sticks around for awhile (but don't count on it).

Interesting matchup tonight in Carlos Silva vs. Jon Garland, two pitchers who weren't with their teams last year. The Angels traded their shortstop, Orlando Cabrera, to the White Sox for Garland, and, of course, the Mariners signed Silva as a free agent (four years, $48 million). How those two pickups work out will go a long way toward determining the division winner, I'd think. Garland has been a godsend for the Angels, considering that both John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar are out.

Mike Scioscia said that Francisco Rodriguez, who's been out with an ankle injury, is available to close tonight.

Sorry if anyone was offended by the Dalai Lama comments. None intended.

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April 12, 2008 4:32 PM

Hello, Dalai (and J.J. too)

Posted by Larry Stone


Larry Stone here. Thanks to Bob Condotta for a great pinch-hitting appearance yesterday. Man, now I've not only got Geoff to live up to, but Condotta.

Sorry, I couldn't resist the awful pun in the headaing. For those out-of-towners, the Dalai Lama is in Seattle this weekend and appearing today in a "Seeds of Compassion" event at Qwest Field, across from Safeco. That led to some major traffic snarls near the two ballparks, but I eventually made it here.

Just got done talking to Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Turns out the Angels are staying in the same hotel as the Dalai Lama, and Scioscia had a chance to talk to some of his entourage. "Junior Dalai Lamas,'' Scioscia said. "Is that what you call them? Vice Lamas?"

The Angels were pretty loose despite their tough loss yesterday. During stretching, a few of them were messing around with the J.J. Putz "soul patches,'' an adhesive replica of Putz's facial hair that the Mariners are giving out as a promotion. Reggie Willits was applying it to his cheek, forehead, hat, etc., while Jered Weaver plopped one on his chin and went over to talk to Putz to see if he'd notice.

Speaking of Putz, the news was again encouraging today. He had another 10-minute throwing session that went very well. He long tossed, then threw hard from pitching distance, but on flat ground. He said he had no discomfort at all. The next step will come Sunday when Putz will throw a bullpen session from the mound. It is likely he will throw a simulated game before a decision is made on when to activate him, but there still is no timetable on his return, or any decision on whether he will need a minor-league rehab appearance. His bullpen session Sunday might help give some answers.

Otherwise, manager John McLaren was still glowing over Friday's victory but lamenting the team's sloppy defense. They now have 12 errors, tied with Texas for most in the American League (the Phillies have 13, and the Pirates 16, proving that no one in Pennsylvania can field).

"Defense is a big part of our game, and we have been really sloppy,'' McLaren said. "It is something we take pride in. We have to do a better job. When it is your strength and it works as your weakness, that’s not good."

OK, in honor of the Dalai Lama (and stealing an idea from the Mariners' P.R. staff), here's Carl Spackler's legendary riff from Caddyshack. Baker may give you video, but does he give you Murray?

"So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one -- big hitter, the Lama -- long, into a ten-thousand foot crevice, right at the base of this glacier. And do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga...gunga -- gunga galunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consiousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

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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.


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April 11, 2008 11:17 PM

Angels post-game

Posted by Bob Condotta

A happy clubhouse, as you might expect, after what was certainly Seattle's biggest win of the young season.

Still, the players know better than anyone that it only means so much this early in the season.

"We played well tonight and we got the hits when we needed it,'' said Raul Ibanez. "But it's really just one game.''

Mariner manager John McLaren said the biggest thing might have been that it was the first game of a home stand, and following a pretty disastrous 2-5 road trip.

"We needed this for us,'' he said.

A lot of other guys got what they needed tonight, as well.

Raul Ibanez had his first big game of the year with two homers, though maybe we should have known it was coming considering he is now 12-21 with four homers against Angels starter Jered Weaver. Ibanez said he had no idea why he hits Weaver so well, calling it "lucky.''

Kenji Johima got his first hit after 23 at-bats without one and also walked twice, saying later "I saw the ball well all night.'' He said he hopes this is the beginning of a turnaround.

Brad Wilkerson, who was 3-24 for the season, got the big two-out hit in the sixth that put the Mariners ahead for good.

Mark Lowe came on in the ninth to get his first save of his career and said he loved closing.

"It's just a different feeling, a huge rush, knowing your team is about to win and you are there to close it out,'' he said.

Richie Sexson got a bases-loaded walk, one of six for the Mariners for the night as they now have an AL-high 47.

And Felix Hernandez, despite some rocky moments, got his first win of the year, gutting out 117 pitches (68 strikes) allowing nine hits, four runs and three walks. He also struck out Vladimir Guerrero three times, only the fourth time that's happened to Guerrero since 2004.

The downside was the fielding --- two more errors to give Seattle an AL-high 12.

"We're better than that,'' McLaren said afterward, adding he plans to get with coaches and figure out some extra work to alleviate the problem.

McLaren said his players need to "slow down'' and "anticipate'' where they need to go with the ball.

And while it's just one game, and just one early series, as noted earlier, the Angels swept Seattle the first time the two teams met last year, setting a tone that seemed to last all season as the Angels went 13-6 against the Mariners. First impressions sometimes can tell a lot.

The two teams will be back at it at 6:10 tomorrow with Carlos Silva going against Jon Garland.

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April 11, 2008 6:45 PM

Angels game thread

Posted by Bob Condotta

MARINERS STRIKE FIRST ---- So it's finally over and the Mariners get the first game of 19 these two teams --- the two expected to vie for the AL West title --- will play this season. While really early, obviously, worth remembering that the Angels swept the Mariners in Anaheim in mid-April last season to set a tone for their domination of Seattle the rest of the season. The Angels won 13 of 19 against Seattle last year.

MARINERS BREAK OUT --- This is now a season-high eight runs for the Mariners coming on the heels of the first shutout of the season yesterday.

THANK YOU GARY MATTHEWS --- He's left five runners on in the last two innings allowing the Mariners to escape a couple jams and keep the lead. That wasn't pretty, but it could have been a lot worse.

MARINERS NOW HAVE 12 ERRORS --- After the back-to-back mishaps by Green and Sexson. No other AL team had more than nine entering the night.

MARINERS ADD A RUN --- Seattle takes 6-4 lead with some help from Gary Matthews, who dove and couldn't stop Ichiro's liner, allowing him to get to second. Ibanez then drove him in with his third extra base hit of the night, one fewer than he had in the first 10 games combined.

HE WAS DUE --- The three "struck out swingings'' on the scoreboard had to be blinding Vladimir Guerrero as he stood in the box that time. He finally broke through with a single up the middle making this one a lot tighter --- 5-4 with Sean Green now on to face Garret Anderson and two runners on.

TIMELY HITTING --- M's have just four hits but havve turned them into five runs tonight. And correction on Weaver --- he threw 102 pitches tonight.

WILKERSON DOUBLES RBI TOTAL --- Brad Wilkerson had just two RBI for the season before getting that little fly to land in center field and drive in two runs for the Mariners and give them a 5-3 lead. That was the 100th and last pitch from Jered Weaver who walked three batters in the inning. Sexson drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game at 3-3. He has now had 13 full counts this season and has walked seven times and struck out six.

ANGELS TAKE 3-2 LEAD --- The Angels have the lead after Felix just couldn't come up with the ball on a broken bat little blooper off the bat of Casey Kotchman, allowing Garret Anderson to score. The Angels had earlier taken a 2-2 lead on a HR to center by Garry Matthews Jr. Seattle, however, might have caught a break there at the end of the inning as the out by Izturis appeared to be a foul ball.If nothing else they might have wanted Hernandez to throw a few more pitches. He has thrown 94 (57 strikes) and it looks now as if the Mariners bullpen will have to come into play for an inning or two at least.

WHY WOULD YOU WALK A GUY HITTING .069? --- I know Jered Weaver didn't want to do it. Still, one of the coldest hitters in baseball and he walks Johjima on four straight pitches? But he then gets Betancourt to get out of the inning, leaving it 2-1 at the end of five, the Mariners still with just two hits for the night and just five in their last 14 innings.

GOOD INNING FOR FELIX --- The fifth was the first 1-2-3 inning for Hernandez (there was a walk and a caught stealing in the first) and he ended with a 97 MPH fastball to strike out Chone Figgins, his 70th pitch of the night. It's 2-1 Seattle.

RAAUUUUULLLLL --- It's 2-1 after another no-doubt-about-it homer by Ibanez off of Weaver on a 2-1 pitch that appeared to be another fastball, if a little lower. It's the ninth two-HR game of his career --- he's never hit three in a game.

BIG PLAY BY BELTRE --- Hernandez didn't exactly look vulnerable there, but there were two on and one out before Beltre made a fine play on a smash by Maicer Izuris and turned it into an inning-ending double play.Much has been made of Seattle's defensive woes this season but tonight has been good so far, with the Johjima throw and now that. Hernandez has thrown 57 pitches through four innings.

ICHIRO'S FAVORITE TV SHOW IS PRISON BREAK --- That's what it says on the scoreboard right now. Not sure if that's new this year or not. I just remember them always telling us whaat his favorite coffee drink was..
Anyway, it's 1-1 after three and the Mariners have just one hit though they also have struck out just twice, for what that's worth. And the dancing grounds crew is doing a routine to Michael Jackson's Bad, a song I had thankfully forgotten about until now. The crowd seems to like it, however.

MATHIS NOW HAS TWO HRS AGAINST FELIX --- Just checking the stats and see that Mathis is now 3-7 in his career against Hernandez with two home runs. That's as many as any of the rest of the Angels including Guerrero, (who has two in 25 career ABs).

FELIX FINALLY GIVES UP A RUN --- Hernandez had gone the first 17 innings of the season without giving up an earned run before that homer by Jeff Mathis leading off the third inning. Mathis has just seven home runs in his career (though spanning just 240 at-bats).

M'S UP 1-0 THROUGH TWO --- Seattle clinging to a 1-0 lead after two innings as the offense has nothing other than the Ibanez homer. But Felix has been just as tough allowing just a walk (erased on a caught stealing on good throw by Johjima) and a broken-bat single. He has 28 pitches through two innings, 15 strikes.

MARINERS GET ON THE BOARD --- Looked like a big mistake from Jered Weaver there as Raul Ibanez smacked a high fastball deep into the seats in right-center to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead ending the first inning. Considering Felix Hernandez has yet to give up an earned run in 16 innings this season, any lead is a good lead in this game.

PRE-GAME --- Bob Condotta checking in again, filling in for the real baseball guys tonight.

I usually cover UW football and basketball, so if there are some inadvertent references to touchdowns or three-pointers I ask your forgiveness.

As for the game tonight, it's obviously a huge one if you've listened to the Mariners' promos all week --- October intensity in April or whatever.

John McLaren didn't go quite that far beforehand, saying "I can't say it's a do-or-die situation by any means. We just want to play well.''

Obviously he's right. The only time I covered baseball regularly was the Mariners in 1995 (and if you ever got to cover just one team for just one year, that was obviously it), vivid proof of how the start doesn't necessarily indicate the finish.

On the other hand, the big hope with this team was that it would make hay with its easy early schedule while the Angels struggled with two starters out. (Speaking of which, Mike Scioscia said before the game that John Lackey remains on schedule for a return in the first week or two of May while F-Rod may be able to pitch tonight depending on how a pre-game bullpen session went).

So far, no good, as Seattle is 4-6 while the Angels are 6-4. If the Angels get out of here with a lead of three games or more, the Mariners will be left making up ground at a time they hoped to be setting the pace.

I may not check in as prolifcally as Geoff but I'll try to keep this going throughout the game, so stay tuned.

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April 11, 2008 4:31 PM

Norton up, Jimerson designated

Posted by Bob Condotta

Bob Condotta here filling in for Larry Stone and Geoff Baker on the beat for one night, and there is one little piece of news as the Mariners announced before the game they have recalled Greg Norton from Tacoma and designated Charlton Jimerson for assignment.

Norton is here and available to play tonight while Jimerson spent the pre-game on the phone, making plans for his now-uncertain future, and shaking hands with his former teammates. He said he doesn't know if he would accept an assignment to Tacoma, hoping he'll get picked up by a Major League team sometime in the next 10 days.

Mariner manager John McLaren said the move was made to add a little more offensive punch off the bench. He also said Norton will give the M's a more flexible bench, saying opponents had been able to "make some moves that we couldn't counter.''

"We need to get a different look,'' he said.

Norton, a switch-hitter, hit .409 in 22 at-bats at Tacoma with no homers and three RBI.

McLaren said he liked Jimerson's talents but that "we just never had the opportunity to use him.''

In Jimerson's only at-bat, he hit into a double play yesterday in the 7-0 loss at Tampa Bay.

PUTZ THROWS, GOES WELL --- In another piece of news, J.J. Putz threw for 10 minutes from 130 feet today and said "everything went well. We're not trying to forecast anything. All I know is tomorrow same thing, long toss, with 20 throws with the catcher down, flat ground. Not a bullpen, flat ground. We don't know what is going to happen after that.''

But McLaren sounded encouraged saying "he threw well, he felt real good, free. But we don't know the next step.''

TONIGHT'S LINEUP --- It reads like this:

Ichiro
Lopez
Ibanez
Beltre
Vidro
Sexson
Wilkerson
Johjima
Betancourt

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April 11, 2008 7:37 AM

Interesting weekend

Posted by Geoff Baker

Not the greatest start to a season by the Mariners. Not the worst one either, when you think about all that has happened with the hitters and bullpen. A lousy starting rotation, this team could be 1-9 instead of 4-6. Seattle has actually won two of the three series it has played this season. I know, I kind of smacked my head a couple of times when I thought about that last night.

Of course, dropping four in a row in Baltimore was an awful result that takes away from the two series wins. No doubt about that. So, I'd say the M's had best put the past 10 days behind them and look ahead. And why not? They have, as I said, taken two series out of three. And now, with a series win against the Angels, they'll have taken three of four. Yes, they will still be a sub-.500 club if they win this series instead of sweeping. But as I said, keep doing that -- taking series -- and this Baltimore debacle will eventually be overcome.

In other words, nothing catastrophic has happened yet. Look at the standings. Only two teams in the entire American League are more than two games over .500. Plenty of clubs have sorted through a myriad of troubles the first two weeks.

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April 10, 2008 5:44 PM

Tour Tropicana Field

Posted by Geoff Baker

In case you missed this earlier today, up above is a video look at Tropicana Field. We'll go down to field level and look at the artificial turf, complete with fake pellets designed to make it seem like earth inside real grass. We'll walk across the infield, then the outfield, then walk through an open fence in right center to take a short cut to see an aquarium filled with live rays that fans are allowed to pet. Later on, a look at a dining area behind the short fence in foul territory up the right field line. Finally, at glance at some on the goings-on inside the stadium concourse. If you've never been down here to see the Trop, now's your chance. Enjoy.

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April 10, 2008 2:53 PM

M's blown out in finale

Posted by Geoff Baker

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The crowd reacts in celebration as Richie Sexson, pictured above, takes a called third strike from Trever Miller to end today's game.

An ugly finish to this game for the M's, who trailed only 1-0 heading into the sixth, but gave up a run that frame and five more in the seventh to lose 7-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays. Seattle managed just two hits over eight innings against the Rays' fifth starter. A disappointing performance today. Manager John McLaren told me before the game he was looking for some momentum heading into this weekend's series with the Angels.

He told us afterwards: "It was not a good road trip. But we did win the series. The Baltimore series really set us back. Now, we've got to go home, get a good winning streak going out there.''

I think any momentum the Mariners gained in winning here the last two nights went out the window today. They looked flat. Swung into quick and easy outs and did not jump on starter Edwin Jackson when they had some chances in the early innings. Unimpressive showing today. Too many hitters not carrying their weight. Yes, it's early. But a few guys have to get going. Kenji Johjima looked terrible today.

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April 10, 2008 11:50 AM

Mariners at Rays: 04/10 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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11:50 a.m.: A disastrous seventh inning by the Mariners, who give up five runs and now trail 7-0. I have no problem with John McLaren allowing Miguel Batista to start the inning at 100 pitches. He's trying to spare his bullpen for the Angels series (and just spare it for the sake of sparing it given what we've seen since last week). Batista is capable of going well over 100 pitches and was still pitching well when he had to leading up to that point. The problem, after two opening singles, is what happened next. This probably wasn't the best place to soft-land Eric O'Flaherty, but Ryan Rowland-Smith had been used back-to-back days and let's face it -- if he wants to keep his job, O'Flaherty will have to start getting guys out. He didn't do it this time. Hit the first batter he faced to load the bases, putting himself behind the eight ball when he could least afford it. O'Flaherty then yielded a single to right that eluded Richie Sexson. Mike Morse made a poor and ill-advised throw home in a bid to nab the second runner. All that did was allow the two other baserunners to move up a bag. O'Flaherty got a gorundout, then intentionally walked Jonny Gomes with first base open to load 'em up.

Roy Corcoran came in. Unflappable to this point in the season, he walked pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano on four pitches to force in another run. Mike DiFelice then blooped a single to right to cash in two more. And that, my friends, is likely the ballgame. With just two hits heading into the eighth, the M's were likely cooked in any event. Het, a Miguel Cairo sighting. He'll make a pinch-hit appearance to start the eighth. First appearance all year. Good thing they kept that extra position player on the bench.

By the way, J.J. Putz threw today on flat ground for eight minutes at a distance of about 90 feet. He'll see doctors in Seattle when the team returns there and they'll decide on the next step in his recovery from that rib injury.

Hey, want to take a tour of Tropicana Field? Not the kind they give you from the stands with guides and stuff. We'll do much of it from field level, where I'll show you the artificial playing surface here. We'll actually walk across the field, over to an aquarium where fans get to pet live Rays in a tank beyond the wall in right center. Check it out on the video below.

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April 10, 2008 6:07 AM

Batista goes for sweep

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A few hours away from Miguel Batista trying to notch Seatle's first sweep of the season. To answer some questions from the last post: to Mike, nobody asked John McLaren why he put Ryan Rowland-Smith in for the blowout game because the answer was fairly clear. The M's have stated they will try to avoid warming guys up and then not using them this season. When Rowland-Smith began warming up, it was still a three-run game and a save situation. When Jamie Burke's homer blew the game open, McLaren still used Rowland-Smith since he was warmed up in any event.

For TomD, I take all of the photos for the blog. Many of them from the pressbox during the game, others from the field pregame.

Back to Batista, he was busy yesterday giving a ballpark tour to leukemia sufferer Pat Pedraja, organizer of the Driving for Donors campaign to sign up more bone marrow donors across the U.S. You can see Pedraja, his mother, Claudine Andrews and Batista posing for the photo above. Down below, Batisa gives Pedraja some batting tips in the indoor cage here. The two met at a talk show in Los Angeles.

The M's need Batista on his game here today. This has been a tough road trip, but it can end a whole lot better than it began. By the way, if you want to hear the clip from my new weekly Talkin' Baseball segment on KJR 950 AM yesterday morning, here is the link.

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April 9, 2008 8:15 PM

Two in a row for M's

Posted by Geoff Baker

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The pitching was there from Jarrod Washburn and the bullpen tonight and the hitting finally put something together with men on base. The result was a 7-1 victory for the Mariners over the Tampa Bay Rays, their second win in a row after an 0-4 start to this road trip.

"We know we're a talented ballclub,'' Washburn said. "Obviously Baltimore didn't go the way we wanted it. But nobody in here was real worried, I don't think.''

Washburn added: "I don't think we're the kind of team that's going to blow many teams out, but we're going to win a lot of close ballgames with the pitching staff that we have and the way we can make things happen offensively.''

This was the first real "blowout'' of the year for the M's, but the game was far closer. Washburn had just a 3-1 lead entering the sixth, something becoming all-too-familliar for M's starters. That home run by Jamie Burke really took some pressure off.

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April 9, 2008 6:17 PM

Mariners at Tampa Bay Rays: 4/9 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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6:17 p.m.: Jamie Burke finally gives the Mariners the breathing room they've needed, blasting a three-run homer to left off J.P. Howell to make it 7-1 in the eighth. Burke also did a nice job of blocking the plate in the seventh inning, tagging out Willy Aybar, who was trying to score on a single to left field. I didn't think the M's had a shot at Aybar, but Raul Ibanez made one of his better throws and Burke took care of the rest. Seattle will try to win two in a row for the first time this season. A nice, seven-inning effort from Jarrod Washburn, who's now out and being replaced on the mound by Ryan Rowland-Smith.

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April 9, 2008 9:27 AM

On hitters and missers

Posted by Geoff Baker

So, for those of you who heard the radio spot on KJR AM 950 this morning, you know that Mitch Levy and I discussed the hitters and who I'm more worried about than anyone else. For me, the top two worry candidates are Jose Vidro and Brad Wilkerson. I don't like to pick on guys when they're down, as Wilkerson certainly is, in spite of his two-run single last night. But for me, of all the struggling hitters, these two may be the ones with the most to prove. Wilkerson struggled the past two seasons and a lot of that was attributed to injury. He is still struggling now, even though he's healthy. If you want people to believe the downward trend in numbers since his heyday is related to health, then you have to start showing something when health isn't a factor. Otherwise, one would have to believe there are other factors causing the drop. And that maybe those earlier career numbers will never be replicated. It's too early to tell. Let's see if Wilkerson can keep putting some steady at-bats together (if he draws a walk every game, you'll know he's being more selective on the pitches he's swinging at) and bunch some hits together. Otherwise, right field is too valuable a spot to be giving away this much on offense.

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April 9, 2008 8:20 AM

New weekly spot on KJR

Posted by Geoff Baker

Join me this morning, about 8:25 a.m. on KJR 950 AM for my new weekly radio spot, Talkin' Baseball, with Mitch Levy, host of the Mitch in the Morning show. We'll be on every Wednesday, roughly 8:20 or 8:25 a.m. to do the segment. Very excited about it. It's a good show and hopefully this segment will liven things up even more. Plus, it will force me to get out of bed early.

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April 8, 2008 9:23 PM

M's finally win

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Lots of relieved-sounding people in the visitors' clubhouse tonight as the Mariners pull off a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays to snap their four-game losing streak and improve to 3-5 on the season. We talked about the work by Ryan Rowland-Smith, notching five straight outs to record his first career save and preserve Erik Bedard's first win as a Mariner.

But how about Jose Lopez and his mad dash to second on that foul pop-up? Or his relay throw to third and the way Adrian Beltre blocked the bad to prevent B.J. Upton from sliding in safely for a triple? Big plays in a big game for Seattle.

"We got sloppy and we left some men on base, but we got a win,'' manager John McLaren said.

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April 8, 2008 7:20 PM

Mariners at Tampa Bay Rays: 4/8 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A very different feel here as there is actually a crowd in the stands numbering more than the usual 3,000 or 4,000 (never go by the announced totals they give you here). They are calling it "a new beginning" in Tampa Bay (or St. Petersburg, if you'd like). We'll see. The devil may be in the details, but it's no longer in the name. The local team is now the Rays, not the Devil Rays. The M's have to beat them.

7:20 p.m.: A tough eighth inning for the M's, who see Ichiro and Jose Lopez get on with singles, then leave them there. Adrian Beltre lined out to left, Ichiro advancing to third. But Raul Ibanez, finally getting a crack at the clean-up spot with runners on, grounds into a double play. Another nailbiting finish apparently in store.

Had one heck of a time getting here today. My flight from Baltimore to Newark was an hour late, causing me to miss my connecting flight to Tampa Bay. Hopped on another flight an hour after that and made it here just in time to hear McLaren speak. Continue to follow me along on this road trip, via our latest video offering down below.

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April 8, 2008 6:34 AM

Time to try again

Posted by Geoff Baker

Well, that was fun wasn't it? I'm trying to get out of Baltimore as we speak. Continental Airlines doesn't seem to want to co-operate by getting its flights out on-time. Hey, what's an on-time flight in the airline industry these days? I think you have to buy a luxury upgrade for that one. The Mariners, fortunately for them, flew out last night and rid themselves of the karma they experienced here. At least, they hope.

A 2-5 start does not have them looking like a contending team. Yes, it's early. But it's also time to step up. No comfort zone this year. The team is expected to win. So, it's time for some folks to get uncomfortable and start delivering. It won't be as easy to do that at Tampa Bay as it's been in previous years. How often have you seen a headline like that regarding the Rays? They're disappointed to be at .500 after playing on the road against the Yankees and the O's team that just waxed Seattle. Uh-oh. Looking for "a fresh start" with tonight's home opener. Tampa Bay is loaded with talented young players, courtesy of all those high draft picks, and now have some pitching to go along with that. Seattle is fortunate in that it won't have to face the shelved Scott Kazmir, or second-year phenom James Shields, this time around. They will get a look at Matt Garza, acquired in the Delmon Young trade with the Twins, as well as Edwin Jackson -- he of multiple trade rumors with Seattle this past winter. Bullpen probably won't be as good as what the M's faced here in Baltimore. Not with Troy Percival closing and representing the Rays' best quest for stability in their relief corps. What year is this again?

Here's a look at one humorous take on some of the goings-on this first week. No, the M's do not come off looking very good.

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April 7, 2008 3:42 PM

O'Flaherty, Oh Mariners!

Posted by Geoff Baker

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So, back up from the clubhouse after Seattle's 5-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles caps a four-game sweep by the home side. Aubrey Huff takes Eric O'Flaherty deep in the eighth to snap a tie score. The Camden Yards fans, pictured above, were far happier than the guys inside the visiting clubhouse. On to John McLaren: yes, his explanation was that O'Flaherty was his situational lefty -- accent on WAS -- and that he and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre decided it was best to get him "back on the horse'' right away. Even on a third consecutive day. George Sherrill did it today. Then again, Sherrill has produced far better results.

The end result is, O'Flaherty is not the late-inning, situational lefty anymore. Remember I talked about McLaren giving some guys enough rope to hang themselves? Well, O'Flaherty just did. Not in permanent fashion, but at least for now. McLaren wants to use him in some non-pressure situations going forward and the team will probably go with lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith in the eighth and ninth for now. Arthur Rhodes is on the minor-league DL and not eligible to come off until Thursday. He has thrown back-to-back games in extended spring training. Not sure you throw him in late right away, so Rowland-Smith looks like the guy.

Frankly, I thought he'd be the guy today and asked McLaren if he had any hesitation about using O'Flaherty three days in a row.

"Absoloutely none,'' he said. "Mel and I talked about it and Mel said he felt strong. We were very comfortable in using him.''

I wasn't comfortable seeing him out there. Not with Rowland-Smith available. But I don't manage the team.

McLaren said his decision was two-fold: he wants to get O'Flaherty going and Rowland-Smith did not yet have the mindset that he might be coming in to pitch late. I understand the first part of the equation, but not the second.


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April 7, 2008 2:27 PM

Mariners at Baltimore Orioles: 4/7 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Looks like the Mariners aren't much of a draw in Baltimore. Not in the middle of a Monday afternoon, anyhow.

2:27 p.m.: Obviously, we'll have to see whether something is wrong with Ryan Rowland-Smith. If not, this is going to be an interesting post-game session with John McLaren. Not sure I agree with using Eric O'Flaherty three straight games. Gives up a go-ahead home run to Aubrey Huff (yes, a lefty) in the eighth and the M's are now three outs from victory, down 5-4. Felix Hernandez took the heat off McLaren yesterday, but I have a feeling it's now back on flame broil. Let's see if there's an explanation down below after the game, other than letting O'Flaherty "get back on the horse.'' Don't think this was the time, if Rowland-Smith is available.

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April 7, 2008 8:40 AM

Monday musings

Posted by Geoff Baker

You know, as bad as the Mariners have looked at times this first week, things could be far worse. The Angels are not exactly setting the world on fire. A win this afternoon and the M's will be a game out of first place. As I said, this is not the time to panic. And no, to answer the reader question in the comments thread of the prior post, getting swept by the Rays will not amount to panic time either. A lot can happen between now and May, never mind now and season's end.

I liked the theory one reader put forth about this being a bad time for good teams to play expected cellar dwellers. Just ask the Angels about that after they dropped a series to Texas on the weekend. Or ask the Detroit Tigers how it felt to have their lunch handed to them by the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox. Neither of those two other clubs was expected to do anything this season.

Perhaps the Boston Red Sox can explain what it feels like to get swept by division-rival Toronto. A 3-4 showing was not what the defending champs wanted after week number one. Toronto is a trendy pick this year and I do have them ahead of the New York Yankees. But not the Bosox.

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April 6, 2008 5:32 PM

Watch out for falling Mariners fans

Posted by Geoff Baker

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OK, I see how this is going to work. Less than one week into the season and some of you are ready to jump out windows and trade the entire team. I see. Is there any use pointing out that the team is only 2-4, not 2-20? Probably not, but duty and logic compells me to. I've always wondered, why is it, for some people, that sample size is the be-all, end-all in a baseball debate, but the minute something happens to "confirm" their worst fears, the concept of sample size goes out the window?

Here it goes, for the sake on getting it on-record: yes, the M's are playing lousy baseball right now. The offense needs to score more runs. The bullpen needs to do a better job of getting the job done. The starters not named Felix Hernandez or Carlos Silva have to deliver more than five innings a little earlier than they normally would in April.

But let's get real. If J.J. Putz was healthy, this team is probably 4-2 right now. And if this team was 4-2, a lot of the other problems would be nitpicked at, but no one would be getting fired or burned in effigy. Not telling you it's wrong to be concerned about the offense. I am a little concerned about it. Some guys, like Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro, have to pick it up. We saw Raul Ibanez pick it up today and Richie Sexson seems to be rediscovering his power and still is drawing more walks than he normally does.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the season is not even a week old. As bad as this loss hurts today, this wasn't the Pittsburgh Pirates blowing a 2-0 lead to Atlanta in the ninth inning of the decisive game of the 1992 NLCS. By mid-season, the M's should be above .500 and the Orioles will probably be the worst team in the American League. Much better chance of that happening than the M's being sub-.500 and the O's being the AL East leaders. Yes, these losses are frustrating. The players are frustrated too.

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April 6, 2008 2:13 PM

M's blow it in ninth

Posted by Geoff Baker

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OK, I'm back up from the clubhouse. I did ask John McLaren about pulling Felix Hernandez after eight. Also asked Hernandez and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre about it. Some of you are not going to like this, but Hernandez took all the heat off his manager today.

It seems that Stottlemyre asked Hernandez after the eighth whether he wanted to continue, given his pitch count being at only 97. Hernandez usually insists on going back in. This time, he did not. He told them he wasn't feeling 100 percent and thought Eric O'Flaherty could better handle things with three lefties due up among the first four batters. Hernandez threw his bullpen session two days ago instead of the normal three days he would take before a game. Remember, Hernandez was pressed into service because of Erik Bedard pulling up lame. Hernandez says the one fewer day of rest after his bullpen session made a difference today, enough that he wasn't fully ready to tackle the ninth and did not want to put his team in a bind.

Very unusual for Hernandez to say that.

It was still a shocking loss here by the M's, dropping a 3-2 game to the Baltimore Orioles after taking a 2-0 lead into the ninth. Eric O'Flaherty gave up a leadoff double to Nick Markakis and an eventual run on a groundout. O'Flaherty also allowed the tying run on when Luke Scott singled through the right side with two out. Mark Lowe replaced O'Flaherty and allowed a single through the same right side by Jay Payton that left runners at the corners. Lowe then uncorked a wild pitch that brought Scott home to tie the game. Ramon Hernandez walked and Luis Hernandez then lined the game-winning single to center, sending the fans here into a frenzy, as you can see in the photo above.

Hernandez was brilliant, allowing just five hits through eight scoreless innings. The offense slumbered again today, but the pitching was there for eight innings. The pitching will have to be there as Seattle sifts through its early-season hitting and bullpen woes. I'll be back in a bit with some quotes and clips. Just wanted to update you for the moment while I tackle our newspaper duties for a bit. As I said, Hernandez himself is saying he told McLaren and company they'd be better off going with the bullpen. Might just be enough to save McLaren from a public crucifixion this time around.

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April 6, 2008 12:43 PM

Mariners at Baltimore Orioles: 4/6 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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12:43 p.m.: Felix Hernandez is pulled after eight innings of scoreless, five-hit ball with six strikeouts. Two of the first three hitters due up this inning are lefties, so the M's have Erik O'Flaherty out there to try to nail it down. Hernandez was at only 97 pitches. If this blows up on the Mariners, expect John McLaren to hear about it for weeks.

Listen to this part of the national anthem played here earlier. When they get to the "Oh say does..." part, the fans here tend to do something a little unique. What do you think about it? I tend to have mixed emotions. Part of me thinks it's OK, the other part thinks it's not cool to appropriate your team name into the Star Spangled Banner. I don't like having to stand for anthems prior to games with players from a multitude of countries. And I think, if you're going to make people honor America, you should honor it by sticking to the anthem the way it was supposed to be played. I mean, if not, why not just play the team fight song? But the other part of me doesn't care, because I don't take this anthem thing all that seriously. At hockey games, they'll start clapping and cheering all the way through the anthem if it's a big game. What do you think?

In case you missed it last night, here's a look again at Camden Yards and the pressbox, filmed yesterday when it was much warmer and the sun was out. Enjoy for now.

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April 5, 2008 8:17 PM

Bedard scratched for tomorrow

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look at the fans filing out of Camden Yards after the Mariners were beaten, 6-4, by the Baltimore Orioles.

Some surprising news downstairs that Erik Bedard won't make his scheduled start tomorrow. He's got what John McLaren termed as "a little inflammation of the hip" and has been pushed back to Tuesday. Felix Hernandez takes tomorrow's start, then Carlos Silva goes on Monday.

"It's Felix's regular throw day and it's Carlos's regular throw day after that, so he won't miss a beat,'' McLaren said.

McLaren said "throw day" but meant "start day" obviously.

McLaren says Bedard has had this type of problem before. The pitcher first felt it earlier today, while playing some pre-game catch.

"He felt something when he was pushing off.''

The team hopes Bedard will be ready to start on Tuesday at Tampa Bay.

"If he's not, we'll have to make an adjustment Tuesday,'' he said.

Hear what McLaren said in this audio clip.


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April 5, 2008 5:56 PM

Mariners at Baltimore Orioles: 4/5 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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7:17 p.m.: George Sherrill gets the side 1-2-3 in the ninth and Seattle loses 6-4. I'm off to the clubhouse and will be back later.

Down below, take a walk to Camden Yards with me in our latest video. Tour the pressbox, where we work and then come down on the field during batting practice.


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April 5, 2008 9:34 AM

A modest beginning

Posted by Geoff Baker

Not to repeat myself, but it has been only four games since the regular season began. No, a 2-2 start is probably not what the Mariners envisioned, starting the regular season at home against Texas and then playing one game in Baltimore against one of that team's weaker starters in Steve Trachsel. But a lot of funny things have happened around the game the first four or five days. I'm not making excuses. Just telling it like it is. Ask the Detroit Tigers if they thought they'd be 0-4 to start the year, especially getting to feast off the Kansas City Royals at home the first few days. So, what do you think? Are the Tigers out of it already? Hmm, I would not make that bet.

I know, I know. The offense hasn't looked very good and the bullpen is a little shaky. Tell you what, if the same thing is happening a couple of weeks from now, it will be time to worry a bit. In the meantime, the Los Angeles Angels are not exactly running away with the AL West. The Mariners could even be in first place by the end of tonight. Their goal coming in here had to be to at least split, if not flat out win this series by taking three of four. Win tonight's game and there's a strong chance that will happen with Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez going after that. The advantage of a staff with dual aces. The Angels don't have that right now, started replacement arm Dustin Moseley last night and got torched by Ben Broussard and the Texas Rangers. It's a long season folks. Strap yourselves in.

In the meantime, here's something to cheer you up. This is one of the funniest Mariners-related videos I've seen in a long time, submitted by Charles Armstrong, one of our regular readers. If you can't laugh at this, you seriously need to seek treatment. Especially after the winter we all endured arguing with one another back and forth. Enjoy it. Something for everyone.

If not, we can still talk about panic areas.


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April 4, 2008 9:26 PM

M's thumped 7-4

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A look at the crowd on its feet at Camden Yards for the game's final at-bat, with former Mariners reliever George Sherrill retiring his onetime battery-mate Kenji Johjima to notch his second save as the Orioles' closer. A much-deserved 7-4 loss for the Mariners here tonight. I can tell you that, down in the clubhouse, the team isn't as worried about its long-term hitting situation as it is the short-term bullpen status. Mariners manager John McLaren admitted his experiment with an 11-man pitching staff might soon be over.

"It's something we're going to have to talk about,'' he said. "We have talked about it.''

Hear what McLaren said in this audio clip.


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April 4, 2008 7:15 PM

Mariners at Baltimore Orioles: 4/4 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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7:15 p.m.: Raul Ibanez led off with a single in the ninth and Richie Sexson followed with a two-rum homer off Greg Aquino, but it wasn't enough for an M's team that had only four hits all night up to that point. Seattle winds up taking a 7-4 loss and falls to 2-2 on the season. The 420-foot homer by Sexson might be what he needed to get going. It was the first time this season the Baltimore bullpen has given up any runs. Mike Morse wound up doubling into the right field corner as well, enabling George Sherrill to come in and notch the save (see, I told you) by getting popouts on Jose Vidro and Kenji Johjima. Let's get the whole Morse/Wilkerson argument going. As I said, it was all too little, too late. I'm off to the clubhouse and will return later...


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April 4, 2008 3:36 PM

Rain has stopped

Posted by Geoff Baker

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That's the good news so far. Cross your fingers. It came down pretty good about 90 minutes ago as you'll see from my shots down below, taken from the Orioles dugout. Lots of reunions going on for both teams today. I chatted with Adam Jones and George Sherrill in the Baltimore clubhouse and dugout respectively. Over in Seattle's clubhouse, lots of Baltimore media gathered around for an Erik Bedard chat. Won't be many stories coming out of that session, I can tell you now. Things were different in the visitors' dugout, where Mariners third base coach Sam Perlozzo held court (see the photo on the next page). Perlozzo, you may recall, was the Orioles' manager until being fired last season, midway through a three-year contract.

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April 4, 2008 6:23 AM

Come along on M's road trip

Posted by Geoff Baker

Ever wanted to be an MLB beat writer but couldn't find the time? Well, now you can stick to your day job and come along with me for the first Mariners road trip of the season. I made it in here to Baltimore last night after my connecting flight from Newark, NJ got delayed by some four hours (last time I checked). Anyway, I called an audible and flew to Washington-Dulles Airport in Virginia instead. It wound up being a 100-minute ride to Baltimore from there, but it sure beats sitting around an airport all afternoon and possibly all night. Never did hear why the airline had no plane for us. That's the reality of air travel today, right? As I say in the video: "This is the kind of stuff that doesn't show up in the stats sheets." Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common experience for us. I used to travel on the team plane back in 1998 when I covered the Blue Jays, but that stuff went out of style 10 years ago. Newspapers try not to depend on the teams for their travel arrangements if they can help it.

In total, a 12-hour trip, door-to-door. Right now, it's stopped raining, but more is in the forecast. The Orioles got rained out last night. I'm dreading what's ahead. You'll see on the video footage just how bad the rain was and is expected to be at points this weekend. This reminds me of what happened in Cleveland last year. It's not snowing, but I'm sure the M's will do all they can to get all four games in here. Could make for some long days and nights. But anyway, in this video, I try to show you what a trip out to the East Coast looks like, how we pack and prepare. Not like taking a family vacation. This is work. Stuff has to be done before and after the flights, which is the only reason you're seeing this and watching the video. Enjoy.

p.s. -- For those of you asking what was on TV, calm down. It was some type of advertising reality show where they were checking out fashion of some sort in a boardroom to decide what slogan to go with. Seriously, stick to talking about Richie Sexson...or my cab bill, if you want. It was a flat-rate fare BTW, so the added minutes didn't really matter. Good thing.

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April 3, 2008 5:24 AM

Versatility comes through early

Posted by Geoff Baker

I'll bet I'm the only member of the Seattle media to have witnessed Miguel Batista's previous save as a Toronto closer back in September 2005. Not all of Batista's saves back then went as smoothly as his 1-2-3 ninth inning last night. There's a reason he's now a starting pitcher again. But hey, as a backup closer? You won't find much better than Batista. We talked about this versatility back in spring training, when Batista was named the No. 5 starter. Remember, we mentioned how his new role at the back of the rotation would enable Batista to step in to the bullpen from time to time? Last night was one of those.

No, Batista is not the closer. He'll be a starter on Saturday in Baltimore since Wednesday was his throw day. But with Mark Lowe having worked back-to-back nights, getting Batista in there was a no-brainer. I've said it before, if the M's find themselves down an eighth inning setup man come August, as was the case last year, Batista is a very plausible solution.

So, that's one day down in what could be an absence of several weeks for J.J. Putz. Those rib injuries, for anyone who has ever done even minor damage to a rib, the ribcage, or its lining, you know it is excruciating at times. Never mind trying to throw fastballs in the mid-90s. Putz needs to take his time getting back. This will be a huge early season test for the M's. Hey, no one said this would be easy.

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April 2, 2008 10:35 PM

Mariners 4, Rangers 1: The aftermath

Posted by Larry Stone


What a day it was for the Mariners. It started with J.J. Putz going on the DL -- pretty devastating news -- and ended with their No. 5 starter, Miguel Batista, getting the save.

After the game, Batista showed us the fortune cookie he got today when he ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant: "Someone will need your help this month."

Pretty funny. He had shown the fortune to John McLaren when he got to the ballpark and found out that Putz was going on the DL. Using Batista for the save emerged as a good option for McLaren for several reasons:

1) It was his normal throw day;

2) He had been a closer for Toronto as recently as 2005;

3) Mark Lowe and Eric O'Flaherty were pretty much out of commission after working the first two games.

McLaren was prepared to give Sean Green first crack at it. Green started the ninth (after also working the eighth) but walked the leadoff hitter, Josh Hamilton. That's when Batista was summoned to face the 4, 5 and 6 hitters for Texas. He got Hank Blalock and Milton Bradley to fly out, and Frank Catalonotto to ground out.

I asked McLaren if using Batista to close was a one-time thing. His answer left a little wiggle room: "At this moment, yes."

My hunch is that Mark Lowe will end up doing the bulk of the closing. O'Flaherty has struggled a little early, and Lowe's 95 mph fastball is suited for the job. He seems to have a pretty unflappable demeanor as well.

You've got to be encouraged by the Mariners' starters. Carlos Silva was simply outstanding, and he showed a lot of emotion on the mound, too. He said he was motivated to match the efforts of Felix and Bedard. The three of them have combined for a 0.95 ERA in their starts (two earned runs in 19 innings). There's a long way to go, but if the Big Two becomes a Big Three, it bodes very, very well. I'm interested now to see how Jarrod Washburn, who I thought looked pretty sharp in spring, does Friday in Baltimore.

The bats still need to pick up. Even though the M's got their first two homers of the season from the Joses (a three-run shot by Lopez, a solo by Vidro), they managed only seven hits. Ibanez, Sexson and Wilkerson -- 3, 4 and 6 -- are a combined 4-for-33 (.121).

But I'll leave you with a statistic that shows some progress in their approach at the plate. For the second time in three games, they had more walks (2) than strikeouts (1) on Wednesday. They have now walked 14 times in three games. Last year, they didn't collect their 14th walk until the 8th game.

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April 2, 2008 6:50 PM

Game thread, 4/2, Texas vs. Mariners

Posted by Larry Stone


Here are the lineups:

Texas

Ian Kinsler 2B

Michael Young SS

Josh Hamilton CF

Hank Blalock 3B

Milton Bradley DH

Frank Catalonotto LF

David Murphy RF

Gerald Laird C

Ben Broussard 1B

Jason Jennings P

Seattle Mariners

Ichiro CF

Jose Lopez 2B

LF Raul Ibanez

Richie Sexson 1B

Adrian Beltre 3B

Brad Wilkerson RF

Jose Vidro DH

Kenji Johjima C

Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Carlos Silva P

The big mystery today will be who gets the ball in the ninth if the Mariners have a lead. I'm going to guess Sean Green, because O'Flaherty and Lowe have both worked twice already, and it would probably be unwise to go three days in a row this early. Lowe said he told Mel Stottlemyre he could go -- he threw just nine total pitches in those games -- but Stottlemyre told him it was too early to push it.

So that leaves Green or a darkhorse, Miguel Batista. Batista saved 31 games for Toronto in 2005, and tonight is his day to throw in the bullpen anyway. When McLaren was asked about the possibility of using Batista, he laughed and said, "You know what? We have the staff. We're ready.''

I took that to mean it's not out of the realm of possibility.

I'm not sure why Corcoran got the call rather than R.A. Dickey. Never got a chance to ask McLaren.

I'll probably be light on in-game updates again tonight. I've got to write up the Putz story for the newspaper and then start working on the game story. Don't worry, Geoff returns on Friday for the road trip.

Have fun, and keep the light on for me.

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April 2, 2008 5:41 PM

Putz update

Posted by Larry Stone

Just got back up to the press box and finished transcribing all my taped interviews. To answer the questions I know you have:


1) No one has been named as the replacement closer. It will be the good, old "closer by committee." I'd suspect that the bulk of the ninth-inning work will go to the three late-inning guys, Mark Lowe, Eric O'Flaherty and Sean Green. Today is the throw day for Miguel Batista, who spent a season as a closer in Toronto, and McLaren didn't rule him out of relief duty. One thing McLaren did say was that he would ride a hot hand, if one emerged.

"We’ll go that route for sure,'' he said. "We’ll see if someone gets hot, and we’ll run with it. We’ll try everything. Opportunity has been big for people over the years. Some people are going to have an opportunity."

2) There is no timetable on J.J.'s return. They have to let the injury quiet down, and then rehab begins. I'm not even going to hazard a guess, because I have no medical expertise, and the Mariners, including trainer Rick Griffin, were adamant about not predicing how long this well take.

That being said, they were very encouraged by the diagnosis, because there was fear yesterday it might be an oblique or soft tissue injury, which traditionally takes a lot longer to heal. Griffin said the doctor who read Putz's MRI termed his inflammation as "mild." And the other good news, Griffin said, was that it was on the de-celerating side (that's a word, right?) of his ribcage, rather than the accelerating side.

Griffin said former Seattle closere Kaz Sasaki had a similar injury. Yes, the infamous "tripping while carrying his luggage up the stairs" incident. Sasaki was out for five weeks, but Griffin said that wasn't really a good comparison because Sasaki broke three ribs.

"It took a lot longer than this is going to take,'' he said.

3) Putz was pretty glum, as you might imagine. He said he felt the pain on the third pitch to Michael Young. "It felt like an ice pick stabbing my side."

But he called the diagnosis "the best of the bad news,'' a fancy way of saying it could have been worse.

4) The bullpen guys were saying all the right things about pulling together to compensate for this loss. We shall see how they weather this storm. it will say a lot about their prospects for this season.

I have some other duties to fulfill, so I'll let you chew on this.

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April 2, 2008 3:19 PM

Oh oh: Putz on DL

Posted by Larry Stone

Just got a press release from the Mariners informing us that J.J. Putz has been placed on the disabled list with a rib injury. Turns out that he felt discomfort last night on a pitch to Michael Young in the ninth inning. Putz actually struck out Young, but then gave up a two-run homer to Josh Hamilton.

When Putz was still sore after the game, the Mariners ordered a precautionary MRI exam for today, which revealed that he has something called mild costochondritis on his right side. That is described as inflammation where cartilage attaches to a rib. Right-hander Roy Corcoran was called up from Tacoma to take Putz's spot on the roster.

Yikes. This is a huge blow for the Mariners, obviously. It will be manageable if Putz is just out short term, but if the injury lingers for any length, they are losing one of their major strengths.

There will be a press conference shortly to get more details. It will be interesting to see who will be named the fill-in closer. Could be George Sherrill, could be Rafael Soriano. Oh, wait. Never mind. My guess is Mark Lowe, because he is a power pitcher, but they could also go with the famous "closer by committee" setup, and hope that Putz is just out for 15 days.

We'll find out shortly. For now, you all have permission to worry.


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April 2, 2008 8:55 AM

Ease away from the ledge

Posted by Geoff Baker

Yes, that was a tough one last night. But it was only loss No. 1 of the 2008 season. Truth is, the Mariners didn't much deserve to win it, whether or not J.J. Putz was on his game. He clearly wasn't. You can't leave 15 men on base and expect a victory. The only reason Seattle was still in it was the Texas Rangers booting the ball around. You saw the value of Ichiro in that eighth inning, the stuff that doesn't show up on the stats sheets. His speed from home to first base is what caused second baseman Ian Kinsler to hurry too much and bobble what would have been a potential double-play grounder by any other hitter. Not for Ichiro. No way he gets doubled-up on that ball.

But the turning point of the game, for me, was not the Josh Hamilton homer off Putz. It was the Richie Sexson at-bat in the eighth with one out and the bases loaded in what was still a 3-3 game.

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April 1, 2008 11:33 PM

The aftermath: 5-4 Rangers win

Posted by Larry Stone

Sorry for the lack of updates, folks, but on a night game with so many plot twists, my main priority has to be writing my newspaper story on our tight deadline. If you had seen me sweating blood in the latter innings trying to make sense of it all, you'd understand.

What a devastating loss for the Mariners -- but mitigated by a truly outstanding effort by His Highness, the Big Dog. I was impressed not just with Felix's stuff, excellent as usual, but his economy of pitches, and especially his composure. Yeah, his throwing error was bad, but he made a handful of great fielding plays and always seemed in control of himself, and the game. I'd say this bodes well for a big year from him.

On the downer side, 15 left on base is obviously unacceptable. I know the vultures are already circling Richie Sexson, but I don't think it's fair to write him off after two games. He was quite a standup guy after the game, availing himself right away to reporters -- all of us under very tight deadlines.,

He admitted he got over-anxious in the at-bat in which he struck out with the bases loaded against Benoit. He said he felt the fans were behind him in that at-bat, and observed that they only boo because they want so badly for him to succeed.

"Down deep, they want me to be successful,'' he said. "This is just two games. I am going to have a big year. This is not a major setback."

I was surprised that McLaren didn't pinch-hit Mike Morse for Brad Wilkerson in the seventh against lefty Eddie Guardado. It seemed like the ideal situation for Morse's hot bat, and McLaren said he considered it. But I think he wanted to show confidence in Wilkerson, who ended up striking out with a runner on base. Wilkerson had a tough 0-for-5 night and is still hitless.

I wouldn't worry too much about Putz. Back to back nights in the cold weather -- I'm sure it was not easy getting loose. I didn't have time to wait around for J.J. to come out to his locker and give his take, but if anyone has earned a little grace, it's Putz.

I'm not sure if anyone is still up, but I'm going to sign off and get some sleep myself. I'll be back at it tomorrow.

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April 1, 2008 6:36 PM

Game thread, Seattle vs. Texas, 4-1

Posted by Larry Stone

Update 7:08 p.m.: Is there such a thing as a Freudian typo? Make that Game Thread, not Game Threat.

Precisely one year ago today, Felix stepped to the mound for the season opener against Oakland. Remember what he did? Eight shutout innings, 12 strikeouts, in a 4-0 Mariners' win. That was followed by the best game I saw pitched all year, by anyone: A one-hit gem at Fenway against the Red Sox in a 3-0 victory. The story line going in was the Boston debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka, but Felix completely overshadowed him.

Combined line for those two games: 17 innings, four hits, 0 runs, four walks, 18 strikeouts. It was legitimate to think at that point that Felix was on the verge of becoming the dominant pitcher in the game. It didn't quite happen. He had some elbow problems shortly thereafter that landed him on the disabled list, and when he came back, he never regained that dominance.

We'll see if can get back there now.


Here are the lineups:

Texas Rangers

2B Ian Kinsler

SS Michael Young

CF Josh Hamilton

3B Hank Blalock

DH Milton Bradley

LF Frank Catalanotto

RF David Murphy

C Gerald Laird

1B Ben Broussard

RHP Vicente Padilla

Seattle Mariners

CF Ichiro

2B Jose Lopez

LF Raul Ibanez

1B Richie Sexson

3B Adrian Beltre

RF Brad Wilkerson

DH Jose Vidro

C Kenji Johjima

SS Yuniesky Betancourt

RHP Felix Hernandez

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April 1, 2008 5:16 PM

Happy Day Two

Posted by Larry Stone


Geoff is taking a well-deserved breather before starting the road travail in Baltimore on Friday, so Larry Stone here, back in the blogosphere.

I love Opening Day, but I've always liked the second day of the season even more. To me, it's when the season really begins, the day-to-day grind of it. All of the dilettantes and poseurs are gone -- in other words, the type of people who wouldn't frequent a hard-core baseball blog like this one. The real fans come out for Game 2. The attendance drops from 47,000 to about 20,000, the ones who are delighted to huddle in the cold. The media attendance drops by about the same percentage, which is very welcome as well, from a selfish standpoint.

McLaren talked before the game about his high hopes for Felix, whom he referred to as "Big Dog." Not quite as catchy as "King Felix," but it will do. Here's what he said when asked about Felix's growth off the field (say it out loud in your best Texas accent, and it's practically the same as one of Geoff's audio file)s:

"I think he is a good guy. He is a wonderful person. He likes to kid, have a good time. He has got a serious side to him, but also has light side where he lets his guard down and have fun with the guys.

"He reminds me of Freddy a whole lot. I say that with warm admiration, because I really thought a lot of Freddy. He was one of my favorites of all time. I hope he comes back (to the majors) at some time. I think Felix thinks very highly of Freddy also. He did a pretty good job for us time he was here."

Freddy, of course, is Freddy Garcia. There were rumblings of organizational concern over his partying ways while he was with the Mariners, but he was a front-line pitcher for a few years. I'd have to say, however, that Felix has the potential to leave Garcia in the dust, performance-wise. I believe I was the only Seattle Times writer to vote yes on the "Is Hernandez ready to compete for the Cy Young" question.

I just have a hunch that this will be his breakout year. I liked the way he handled himself in spring training. I believe Mel Stottlemyre will have a good influence on him. And I think that after two full seasons in the majors, his maturity and experience are at a point to coincide with his raw talent, which is when breakouts happen.

I'm really anxious to see what tonight brings.

"

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April 1, 2008 8:16 AM

Hernandez's turn now

Posted by Geoff Baker

A beautiful Tuesday morning kind of helps you forget about the snow and swirling winds we saw at the ballpark yesterday, doesn't it? One thing I haven't forgotten was how Erik Bedard battled and refused to get away from his game plan. I mean, one bad pitch to Josh Hamilton in that fifth inning, with a runner on second and one out, and we might be talking about a much different outcome for the left hander. It doesn't seem fair that one pitch, in which Bedard broke Hamilton's bat and induced the first of two lazy groundouts that ended the inning, could sway a verdict on a guy. But that's the way baseball works. That's why the team's coaching staff kept preaching the need for pitchers to focus on every single pitch last season.

Which brings us to Felix Hernandez.

Some of you have written in to ask what I've got against Hernandez. Absolutelty nothing. It's true, I did not pick him to show Cy Young Award form this season when we did our baseball special section "ballots'' in Sunday's paper. But I didn't exactly pick Hernandez to drive off a cliff either. The question was simple: whether I thought he could win a Cy Young. My answer, as of Sunday and right now, is no. Why is that, you ask? For the exact opposite reasons of what I saw from Bedard yesterday and Hernandez last season and in spring training. At age 22 (as of next week), I don't think he's gained the maturity, as of yet, to be able to get through games like we saw yesterday. I remember Hernandez melting down and making one or two catastrophic pitches in Toronto last season when an umpire was squeezing him.

I can remember him letting the elements throw him off his game as well.

I do still believe Hernandez, on raw talent alone, is capable of improving this season, maybe becoming a 15-game winner if things break right and lowering his earned run average a bit while tossing 200 innings for the first time. I just don't see him at Cy Young caliber yet.



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