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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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February 27, 2009 8:40 AM

Hines admits to a little rust

Posted by Geoff Baker

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It's been a while since third base coach Bruce Hines last coached third. A decade, in fact. And some of that rustiness has shown in the first two games of spring training, with a handful of Mariners thrown out at home plate by pretty big margins.

I spoke to Hines about it this morning, since I know a lot of you have him on your minds. I don't blame you. I once saw a third base coach lose his job in spring training back in 1999. That's when Sal Butera, a former major-league catcher, could not seem to get a handle on the hot corner and earned the ire of newly imported manager Jim Fregosi. The Blue Jays had just fired manager Tim Johnson for having lied about fighting in the Vietnam conflict, and Fregosi was brought in mid-stream during Grapefruit League play.

Fregosi took one look a Butera, waited a few days, then bumped him back down to, I believe, bullpen coach.

Third base is a tough place to coach.

The Mariners are not about to replace Hines. He was brought in here to work with the young infielders and is highly proficient in Spanish. He has tons of experience in this game and is still getting his feet back under him.

Best of all, from what I gleaned out of our conversation, Hines is fully aware of his early shortcomings and not too proud to admit he needs to get better.

"I've already found, in the last couple of days, I've found myself out of position,'' he said. "I had a feeling I was going to be a little rusty and I know now that that's the case. So, I've got some things to work on.''

One of those will be getting down the third base line more in order to have a better view of the outfielders and the advancing runner. Another will be getting to know his own runners a little better, determining their strenghths and weaknesses so he'll have a better idea whether or not to wave them in.

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There's a fine line between being too aggressive and too cautious. Teams want their coaches pushing the envelope at third. Sometimes, for every runner thrown out by a mile at home, the other 99 times out of a hunder that same runner will score because an aggressive coach forces the outfielder to do everything right, That won't always happen of course, and more often than not, the element of surprise rewards the aggressive coach.

He's still learning and willing to accept any criticism from manager Don Wakamatsu. So far, there's been none.

"Years ago, I learned that ego only gets in the way,'' Hines said. "If he has critiques for me, good, bad or indifferent, I'm all ears.''

My suspicison is the M's knew there would be a learning curve here when Hines was brought back in after years away from the majors. We'll see how the situation unfolds in the weeks ahead.

In other news, Adrian Belre will get a couple of turns at the DH spot today instead of the four innings he was supposed to play at third base against the visiting Dodgers. Turns out, Beltre had a bit of a sore back yesterday. That's improved today, so the team is breaking him into a game. But it sure does make the mind wander when it comes to the issue of his playing in the WBC. That call is coming down to the wire.

Still no word on Wladimir Balentien, whose visa issues are really going to hurt him if they drag into a third week.

Today's lineups:

Los Angeles Dodgers (1-1)

9 Juan Pierre (L) LF
12 Brad Ausmus C
55 Russell Martin DH
7 James Loney (L) 1B
27 Matt Kemp CF
5 Mark Loretta 3B
75 Xavier Paul (L) RF
13 Tony Abreu (S) SS
60 Chin-lung Hu 2B
58 Chad Billingsley RHP

Seattle Mariners (0-0-1)

3 Ronny Cedeno SS
4 Jose Lopez 2B
30 Russell Branyan (L) 1B
29 Adrian Beltre DH
39 Bryan LaHair (L) LF
12 Mike Morse 3B
21 Franklin Gutierrez CF
50 Prentice Redman RF
32 Rob Johnson C
45 Erik Bedard LHP

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