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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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March 16, 2009 10:33 AM

Wak on walks

Posted by Geoff Baker

mariners0316 008.jpg

UPDATE: 10:35 a.m.:Just found out, the Post-Intelligencer is ceasing print operations after tomorrow. This is a terrible time for the newspaper industry, in Seattle particularly. I'm told that the PI will continue online operations in slimmed-down fashion. But this appears to be the end of the line, for now, for top quality writers like my colleague, John Hickey. It's a real loss for baseball fans in Seattle.

A look above at Chris Shelton, preparing to take his .500 batting average into action this afternoon against the Cleveland Indians in a split-squad game in Goodyear, Ariz. The Mariners take on the Los Angeles Dodgers here in Peoria in the other split-squad game.

Shelton has a .621 on-base-percentage this spring and has a team-leading seven walks. So, when discussion turns to walks -- or lack of them -- drawn by this team, he isn't the problem.

But others are, There have been too many walks issued by pitchers this spring and too few drawn by hitters.

The Mariners have drawn 40 walks in 576 at-bats this spring. Good teams shoot for about a 1-in-10 figure, so the M's have a ways to go. They've also struck out 129 times. And that's just in Cactus League games. We won't throw in the results of the Charity Game against San Diego or the exhibition contest versus Australia.

On the pitching side, the M's have walked 74 batters and struck out only 78. A 1:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio usually gets you ticketed out of the big leagues. When a whole team does it, it tends to raise eyebrows.

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu spoke this morning about the walks on both sides of the equation. He isn't thrilled with what he's seen from the pitchers, to put it mildly.

"The only guy who's missing down in the zone right now is Shawn Kelley,'' he said.

Hear Wakamatsu's morning session with reporters by clicking here.

Obviously, if you're going to miss, you'd rather it be low rather than up high where a guy can take you deep.

On the hitting side, Yuniesky Betancourt was mentioned prominently yet again. Wakamatsu was quick to state that Betancourt had seen only four pitches in three at-bats against the Cubs at Mesa, Ariz. the other day. Wakamatsu then added that he was pleased yesterday to see Betancourt see a half-dozen pitches in his first at-bat before notching a single.

Betancourt's errors came up again too. He'd better kick things into gear because he's quickly making an impression on his new coaching staff and not in the best of ways.

Bottom line: Wakamatsu insists his staff keeps preaching to hitters on an individual basis about the need to be more selective, especially in certain counts. They have broken down video footage of every at-bat from last season and has actually walked players through it as they sit in front of a screen watching themselves.

Now, they expect to see the efforts and results.

Same with the pitchers. They have preached the need to keep the ball down and to avoid nibbling when the situation calls for a more direct approach.

Wakamatsu cautioned that it's still early in camp. The team is still sifting through a variety of players who will no longer be here come April. They cut a couple today as pitcher Stephen Kahn and outfielder Freddy Guzman were sent to the minors. But regardless of whether it's minor leaguers or major leaguers committing the biggest baseball sins, Wakamatsu wants to see more of them start getting with the program. He's confident the numbers will improve once the full-timers start to play more and others return from the WBC.

So, let's keep on watching.

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