April 2009

When will Griffey get hot?

There have been some recent inquiries about the way Ken Griffey Jr. has been hitting — or not hitting — during the first three weeks of the regular season.

I just received this one from T.J. Lee, of Spokane: Hi Jim: Junior is flat not hitting.  Is he just in a slump or is it something else?  I haven’t noticed anyone mention his poor performance in the media.  Is the media leaving it alone because they don’t want to bad-mouth a legend?

Love your blog.

Well,T.J., one of the dangers in this business is jumping to conclusions. A baseball season lasts 162 games, not 22. Yes, Griffey is off to a slow start, but I expect him to heat up when the weather warms up.

I can’t speak for other media-types, but I am reluctant to get on the “Griffey-is-washed-up” bandwagon, which, fortunately, is not overcrowded. In my opinion, he will have a solid season. If he hits 25 home runs and drives in 70 or 80 runs, which I believe will happen, that would be more than satisfactory from the 39-year-old. His value in the clubhouse also is worth about 50 points on his batting average, along with a few home runs and RBIs. You would have had to be in the Mariners clubhouse last season, and again this season, to fully understand what I’m talking about.

From what I can gather, Griffey isn’t that far off from making solid contact more times than not. During a recent chat with him and other Mariners writers in the visiting clubhouse in Anaheim — it was not an exclusive interview as one of the Seattle-area bloggers intimated — he talked about some of the scuff marks on his bat that came from balls that he had hit, explaining that he was less than an inch away from hitting the sweet part of the bat.

Junior knows his swing better than anyone else, and when he says “I’m not that far off”, I believe him.

My advice is T.J. and everyone else is to relax and see what happens over the long run. If we get to the All-Star break and he is still hitting below .200 with few home runs and RBIs, that would be the time to get concerned, not on May 1.

Meanwhile, it is back to the AL West battles for the next five games as the Mariners play the Athletics for the fourth, fifth and sixth time this season, and get their first look at the Rangers.

If someone had told manager Don Wakamatsu — and probably any of the players along with GM Jack Zduriencik — that the Mariners would have a 13-9 record in April, I’sm sure they would have taken that in a heartbeat.

— Jim Street

 

Gutierrez gets a breather

The Mariners replaced a .196 hitter with a .313 hitter for tonight’s game against the Angels.

In is Wladimir Balentien, playing left field, and out is Franklin Gutierrez.

“(Gutierrez) has been battling a little eye infection and he’s on the downside of that,” manager Don Wakamatsu said during his pre-game media session. “But it’s a good time to give him a little break.”

Gutierrez, acquired from the Indians in the three-team, 12-player trade last December, has been solid on defense, but has struggled on offense.

“He’s a guy who undetrstands that there are some mechanical things he must adjust,” Wakamamatsu said. “Alan (hitting coach Alan Cockrell) has had good talks with him.”

Wakamatsu senses that Gutierrez wanted to get off to such a good start in his first season with the Mariners that he might be putting too much pressure on himself.

“He’s a big part of this club and saw him do some things in Spring Training, if he hits the ball to right-center,” the manager added.

Endy Chavez moved from left field to center field, but look for Gutierrez to return to the lineup in Sunday’s series finale.

Wakamatsu said the general health of the team is improving.

Ronny Cedeno has a sore right hamstring and is day-to-day, but Mike Sweeney (back) and Russell Branyan (back) are good to go.

“Russell came out of (Friday night’s game) real good,” Wakamatsu said. “There was a little scare on the slide at home (scoring on a wild pitch in the fifth inning), but he Said he didn’t feel it. It’s good having Russell back in the lineup and have him start out with a home run. It takes some of the pressure off other guys.”

Ken Griffey Jr. has yet to get into one of his hot streaks. He went into Saturday night’s game batting .196 with two home runs and two RBIs.

“I think he is still kind of searching for his mechanics,” Wakamatsu said. “It will take a little time.”

With an 11-6 record and leading the AL West, the Mariners brass can be a little more patient with some of their struggling hitters. Adrian Beltre (.169) and Jose Lopez (.236) are not hitting the way they can.

The stars come out in Anaheim. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart had a large group of kids behind the batting cage watching BP. Singer Nick Lachey, part-owner of the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, was on the field, and so was former Mariners pitcher Dennis Powell, a former teammate of Ken Griffey Jr.

Tonight’s Mariners lineup:

1. Ichiro, RF.
2. Chavez, CF.
3. Griffey, DH.
4. Beltre, 3B.
5. Branyan, 1B.
6. Lopez, 2B.
7. Balentien, LF.
8. Rob Johnson, C.
9. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS.
P. RH Carlos Silva.

— Jim Street

Mariners tie one on for the skipper

Ken Griffey Jr. is not all that fond of wearing a tie and he good-naturedly balked near the end of Spring Training when manager Don Wakamatsu discussed a small list of team rules. Among them: players must wear ties when the team travels from city to city.

Being his his usual creative self, Griffey found a way to put the tie rule front-and-center. He had 40 white ties made with Wakamatusu’s picture on the front.

Players, coaches and Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus were proudly wearing their “Wak ties” when they boarded the plane taking the Mariners from Seattle to Orange County following Thursday afternoon’s game against the Rays.

When asked where his tie was, Wakamatsu got out of his chair in the managers’ office at Angel Stadium, walked over to his locker and pulled out the tie.

“Griff’s going to sign it and I’m going to put in a (glass) case,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s one of those things you look back on and laugh. I have a picture in my office (at his home near Dallas) of a bat rack with jumper cables on it.

“We got no-hit for eight innings by (Barry) Zito one night and (Tim) Hudson the next night, and were getting no-hit by (Mark) Mulder through the sixth inning the third night and (David) DeLuccia said ‘that’s it’ and went to the clubby (clubhouse manager) and asked him to go out in his car to get his jumper cables. We were in Oakland and they had the old-time bat racks so he hooked the cables up to the bats. I had the photographer take a picture of it. Now, no one knows where that was or what it was all about.”

“Those are things you like to keep.”

— Jim Street

West is where the Ws are

The best way to make hay in the AL West is to beat up on the teams that also play in the division.

And so far so good for the Mariners.

They open a three-game series against the defending division champion Angels tonight in Anaheim sporting an overall record of 10-6, and an even more impressive 5-1 mark against their AL West colleagues — sweeping the Athletics in a three-game series in Oakland to end their first road trip of the regular season on a high note, and opened the nine-game homestand by taking two-of-three from the Angels at Safeco Field.

Of all the Major League divisions, the AL West is the only one with just four teams, which means the Mariners, Angels, Athletics and Rangers have more intradivision games than anyone in the big leagues. Therefore, how well those teams do against their division brethren goes a long way in determining the division champion.

When the Mariners were perennial playoff contenders from 2000 through ’03, they fared well against AL West teams, going 45-27 against the Rangers, 44-27 against the Angels and 37-33 against the Athletics.

Seattle had some dominating head-to-head results — 15-5 vs. the Rangers in 2001; 15-4 against the Angels that same season; and 12-7 against the Athletics in ’03, the last time the Mariners won at least 90 games in a season.

But the shoe has been on the other foot for the past five seasons.

Not counting this season, the Mariners are 36-59 against the Angels; 39-55 against the Athletics and 40-55 against the Rangers. That is 48 games under .500 and, not surprisingly, four last-place finishes in the the past five seasons.

The Mariners were 5-14 against the Angels last season, winning just two of the nine games played at Angel Stadium.

In case you were wondering, the Mariners will play 19 games against each of the AL West foes this season.

— Jim Street

 

Bunting is all the rage

It is 3:15 p.m. and the swiftest of the Mariners position players are going through bunting drills off Iron Mike the pitching machine.

The group includes Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Ichiro, Ronny Cedeno, Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez.

The sluggers on the team — Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Sweeney and Russell Branyan and Adrian Beltre — might have been in the indoor batting cages working on their power swings.

The Mariners have hit nine home runs this season, which is tied with the Angels for next-to-last in the American League. In the hard-to-believe department, the Athletics have three (count ’em) 3 home runs AS A TEAM.

The Indians have the most in the AL with 24.

Congrats to the eight Mariners listed on the All-Star Game ballot. I think this might be the first time that has happened to Branyan, but I’ll check on that when I get downstairs. The media isn’t allowed in the clubhouse until 3:40 p.m.

This just in from the Public Relations Department: The organization has been able to reduce the amount of paper used in the press box for each home game by approximately 2,000 sheets per day. That calculates to about 160,000 sheets per season. Not quite sure how many trees that would be.

The team’s 2.94 ERA after 14 games is the lowest in the Majors and also the lowest in franchise history at this point of the season.

— Jim Street

Cordero, Johnson progressing nicely

Veteran relievers Chad Cordero and Tyler Johnson continue to make good progress in Arizona, manager Don Wakamatsu reported today during his pre-game media session.

Cordero, the former All-Star closer with the Nationals, “Is feeling good and is scheduled to throw a simulated batting practice on Saturday,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s progressing nicely.”

Exactly where he would fit into the Mariners bullpen remains uncertain, but a lot can happen between now and when Cordero is ready to join the Mariners. That could be as soon as mid-May.

The progress on the left-handed Johnson also is encouraging. He will throw one-inning stints in extended Spring Training games on Thursday and Monday, Wakamatsu said.

Meanwhile, at the MLB level, first baseman Russell Branyan still has some back stiffness and missed his third consecutive start in tonigt’s series opener against the Rays.

He remains day-to-day.

Also, catcher Kenji Johjima, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a sore right hamstring, threw long toss ear/lier day and also took 35 swings in the batting cage.

“Tomorrow, we’ll see how he does, he’ll take some batting practice and probably when we go on the road to Anaheim we’ll start his running program,” Wakamatsu said.

The middle of the Mariners lineup is off to a slugghish start. Ken Griffey Jr. (.206), Adrian Beltre (.200), and Jose Lopez (.195) have been in the third, fourth and sixth spots most of the season.

As we go forward, if that continues we’ll look to re-arrange it,” Wakamatsu said. “But right now, with Russell down, the changes in the lineup the last couple of days are more due to injuries than anything else.”

— Jim Street
 
 

Chris Burke back to Padres

The Mariners are back to being a one-Burke operation.

Almost three weeks after acquiring infielder Chris Burke from the Padres for cash, the Mariners have sent him back to the National League club. Details of the trade are expected to be made today.

That leaves veteran catcher Jamie Burke (no relation) as the only Burke in the system.

Chris Burke, who saw limited action in Spring Training after the initial trade, was batting .237 in 38 at-bats for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers.

Burke, 29, was a first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2001. He’s played in 445 games in the major leagues over the past five years, mostly at second base and in the outfield, and is a career .241 hitter.

The Mariners get their first look at the reigning AL champion Rays tonight as Tampa Bay makes the first of its two visits to Seattle. In fact, six of the eight games between the teams this season will be played at Safeco Field. The Mariners and Rays play a two-game series inside the Tropicana Dome on Sept. 22-23.

Fingers are crossed that the defensive lapses by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on back-to-back grounders in Sunday’s loss to the Tigers was not an indication that Yuni’s focus has dwindled — again. He has a tendency to fall into moments when his concentration isn’t what it should be and he makes silly mistakes.

— Jim Street

 

Why two runs were charged to Jak

Several readers of this blog have written wondering why starting pitcher Chris Jakubauskas was charged with two runs in Thursday night’s game against the Angels although only one of the two runners he put on base in actually scored.

After retiring 15 of the first 18 batters he faced, the rookie surrendered singles to two of the three batters he faced in the sixth inning and was replaced by Roy Corcoran with one out and runners on first and third. Corcoran recorded an out by inducing Torii Hunter to hit a high chopper to third baseman Adrian Beltre, who threw the ball to catcher Rob Johnson who tagged out Chone Figgins. Bobby Abreu, who had singled off Jakubauskas, went to second and Hunter reached first.

Both runners eventually scored and although Jakubauskas never actually faced Hunter, according to the official baseball rules, Hunter was still Jak’s responsibility.

The rule says: The departing pitcher is responsible for any runners that he allowed to reach base who are there when he leaves. If a runner is “replaced” at a base due to a fielder’s choice, the “replacement” runner is charged to the same pitcher the original runner was.
 
Rule 10.18, says “It is the intent of this rule to charge each pitcher with the number of runners he put on base, rather than with the individual runners.”

In short, the rules makers believe a relief pitcher should not penalized for getting an out, but Corcoran was still beating himself up this afternoon for allowing any runs to score in that decisive sixth inning.

“It was just a bad pitch, a really bad pitch,” he said of the 0-and-2 pitch he threw to Mike Napoli that was hit into center field for a two-out, two-run single. Before the inning ended, the Angels had scored five runs.

In other hot-off-the-press news, left-hander Cesar Jiminez threw a 30-pitch simulated game prior to tonight’s game. He will throw another on Tuesday and if all goes well, he’ll begin a rehab assignment next Thursday.

Left-hander Jarrod Washburn returned to work after missing all of yesterday with the flu. He gave a pretty graphic description of his illness, but the less said, the better. He is expected to make his next start, which is Tuesday against the Rays at Safeco Field.

— Jim Street

Mariners make roster moves

The Mariners have made a few of roster moves,including putting catcher Kenji Johjima on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring.

Veteran backup catcher Jamie Burke was promoted from Triple-A Tacoma to replace Johjima. Also, the Mariners sent third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo to Tacoma and promoted right-handed reliever Sean White from the Triple-A club. An opening in the bullpen was created on Wednesday when left-handed starter Ryan Rowland-Smith went on the 15-day DL with triceps tendinitis.

— Jim Street

Griffey starts his own club — 400

The Mariners have their first 400-HR club member, the same guy who started the 300-HR club.

With one mighty swing of his bat in the fifth inning tonight, Ken Griffey Jr. sent a Jered Weaver pitch into the right field seats.

The 400th home run of his career wearing a Mariners uniform was the 613th of his Major League career. The latest came on a 1-and-0 pitch from Weaver. Two pitches earlier, left fielder Endy Chavez hit his first career home run with the Mariners.

The crowd gave Griffey a thunderous ovation and he came out for a curtain call.

— Jim Street