May 2009

Betancourt back in two-hole

Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt batted second in the lineup for the fourth time this season during today’s series finale against the Athletics, prompting KIRO radio’s Shannon Drayer to ask manager Don Wakamatsu how Yuni has performed batting that high in the lineup.

“I think you see little things,” Wakamatsu said. “He is taking more pitches and his walks are up, to a career high seven. That part of it is fine. But when you ask a guy to be a little more selective, does it change the other side of it?”

Betancourt was 2-for-8 with two walks in his first three games in the two-hole and his on-base percentage (.400) is encouraging, especially when you compare it to the .282 OBP as the ninth-place hitter, which is where he has been most of the season.

He’s not as aggressive batting second and the Mariners are still trying to find a happy medium with the 27-year-old project.

“It’s all part of the education,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ve had struggles in the two-hole all year and have to find some consistency there.”

A little consistency from the 3-4-5 spots also would help. The Mariners are getting way too little production from the middle of the lineup.

Ichiro, who went into today’s game with a 20-game hitting streak, has scored just 16 runs all season, which is a staggering number considering he has been on base so often.

In other news, injured catcher Kenji Johjima (broken left big toe) has returned to Seattle to recupperate.

Wakamatsu said that when the team returns from this road trip, “We will start to do some upper-body exercises with him to try to do everyuthoing we can to keep him in shape.”

Johjima is expected to miss six to eight weeks of the season.

Backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz will start one of the three games in Anaheim.

Furthermore:

*Left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith will start for Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday night, throw around 75 to 80 pitches and then rejoin the Mariners and throw a bullpen session, at which time a decision will be made on when he will return to the starting rotation.

The best guess is that it would be during the next road trip.

*Right-handed reliever Roy Corcoran had no ill-affects from his simulated game in Oakland will have another one in Anaheim before being sent out on a rehab assignment.

*Second baseman Jose Lopez, who is in an 0-for-9 skid, was given today off and replaced by Ronny Cedeno.

“Lopey has some leg tighteness,” Wakamatsu said. “He could have played today,but it’s paramount to keep Ronny in the mix.”

— Jim Street
 

Sweeney KOd by back spasms

OAKLAND – Designated hitter Mike Sweeney left Tuesday night’s game with lower back spasms, an ailment that has plagued him off-and-on during his first season with the Mariners.

Sweeney doubled to right field in the first inning, reaching second with a head-first slide.

He apparently aggravated his back on the slide, but may have done more damage when he tripped over the third-base bag trying to score on Russell Branyan’s ensuing single down the right field line.

Sweeney was stranded at third when second baseman Jose Lopez grounded into a double play.

When he was due to bat again in the third inning, Sweeney was replaced by Ken Griffey Jr.

Sweeney, 35, went into the middle game of the three-game series against the Athletics with a .232 batting average, two home runs and nine RBIs. He has shared the DH role with Griffey.

— Jim Street

Washburn pushed back to Tuesday

Some discomfort behind his left knee has delayed left-hander Jarrod Washburn’s next start.

He was supposed to face the Giants in an Interleague Play game on Saturday night at Safeco Field, but has been pushed back to Tuesday night’s game against the Athletics in Oakland.

Left-hander Garrett Olson will pinch-hit for Washburn against the Giants.

Washburn, who is 3-3 with a 3.86 ERA, worked five innings against the Angels last Monday night, surrendering six earned runs – five of them in the fifth inning.

“He’s had some tightness in his back knee pushing off a little bit,” manager Don Wakamatsu said prior to Friday night’s series opener.  “The last outing, I saw a little bit where it seemed like on the change-up he couldn’t ride it through.

“Everything checked out fine. I think it’s just at this point it’s a little safer to back him up a couple days. It’s been feeling better, but at this point we’d like to eliminate it and just take a couple extra days.”

This will be Olson’s second start of the season. He went six innings against the Red Sox on May 16, surrendering four hits and five runs in a 5-3 Mariners loss at Safeco Field.

— Jim Street

Ichiro gets some good-natured ribbing for miscount

The players’ next Kangeroo Court undoubtedly will include a “substantial” fine for right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.

 

The fun-loving session, directed by “Judge Mo Money” (Ken Griffey Jr.), cites players for all kinds of “infractions” on and off the field and the cash register rang a few times on Wednesday night when Ichiro lost track of the number of outs in the fourth inning of the 1-0 victory over the Angels.

 

Ichiro ran a long way to catch up with a foul popup hit by Angels Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded.

 

Making sure the runner at third base did not tag up and try to score the tying run, Ichiro made the catch, quickly transferred the ball to his throwing hand and was ready to throw to the plate — when he finally realized that he actually caught the third out.

 

He sheepishly grinned and tossed the ball into the crowd, giving someone a souvenir.

He returned to the dugout, a little embarrassed, to say the least.

 

“The joke was, ‘In Japan they play four outs (in an inning),” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “(Carlos) Silva actually came up and gave (Ichiro) a kiss on the cheek. Just to see a guy of that stature have a little snafu like that was refreshing for the rest of us.”

 

But just wait until Griffey gets a gavel in his hand and presides over the next court session.

In other matters, left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith had a good bullpen session today and will report to Triple-A Tacoma for a short rehab stint. He is expected to make two or three starts and get his pitch count up to around 100 before rejoining the Mariners in early June.

 

At that point, the Mariners will decide which five starters would be in the rotation. As now now, Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, Jason Vargas and Chris Jakubauskas are pitching every fifth day.

 

Jakubauskas helped his status on Wednesday night, holding the Angels to two hits and no runs over six innings.

 

“When he pitches like that he deserves to stay in the rotation,” Wakamatsu said. “When Rowland-smith comes back we’ll have to make that decision.”

 

The only change in the Mariners lineup tonight is Mike Sweeney replacing Griffey as the designated hitter and batting third.

 

— Jim Street
   

Music and more at Safeco

If you are anywhere between downtown and Everett, the music you hear is coming from behind home plate at Safeco Field where guitarist Mike McCready is practicing the National Anthem on his really, really, really loud sound system.

Not that it’s loud, but I am trying to transcribe an interview that’s on my recorder and have absolutely not chance of hearing anything other than the guitar.

But he sure sounded good — and loud.

On another subject, Adrian Beltre is back in the lineup at third base and taking some extra batting practice as we speak, and Yuniesky Betancourt is back out of the lineup at shortstop, replaced (again) by Ronny Cedeno.

There are rumors out there that trade talks are ongoing between the Mariners and Pirates regarding Yuni and Jack Wilson. Nothing would surprise me, although I haven’t had anyone in the organization willing to discuss the subject.

Betancourt seems to be falling off the ship because of his lack of focus. He could be so much better if he could maintain his concentration.

Anyway, time to get this posted before the music resumes.

— Jim Street

Scuffling Beltre sits

Just when it looked like third baseman Adrian Beltre might be coming out of a prolonged batting slump, the current homestand has knocked him back into slump-land.

And, with a 0-for-11 skid the past three games and a hitless streak stretching to to 13 consecutive at-bats, manager Don Wakamatsu decided to give Beltre a breatherand took him out of the starting lineup for Monday night’s series opener against the Angels at Safeco Field.

Beltre, batting .211 with two home runs and 15 RBIs in 152 at-bats, was replaced at third by Ronny Cedeno.

The remainder of the lineup reads:

1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF.

2. Jose Lopez, 2B

3. Ken Griffey Jr., DH.

4. Wladimir Balentien, LF.

5. Russell Branyan, 1B.

6. Kenji Johjima, C.

7. Franklin Gutierrez, CF.

8. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS.

9. Cedeno, 3B.

P. Jarrod Washburn.

— Jim Street

Bedard in doubt for Red Sox

The Mariners’ rotation against the Red Sox this weekend at Safeco Field might not exactly scare the socks off the Sox.

Manager Don Wakamatsu said this morning that left-hander Erik Bedard will likely miss his scheduled start on Saturday night because of a sore right hamstring. It does not appear serious enough to put Bedard on the disabled list, but it does take one of Seattle’s most experienced starters out of the three-game series that starts tomorrow night.

If Bedard is scratched, the Mariners would start right-hander Chris Jakubauskas, left-hander Garrett Olson and lefty Jason Vargas in that order against the Red Sox.

They are a combined 18-25 in their MLB careers. Boston is scheduled to start Jon Lester on Friday, Josh Beckett on Saturday and Justin Masterson on Sunday.

Right-handed reliever Roy Corcoran was eligible to come off the 15-day DL today, but he didn’t.

He still hasn’t thrown since a neck injury put him on the 15-day DL and there is no timetable on his return.

Some Mariners fans were wondering why Mike Sweeney did not pinch-hit for Ken Griffey Jr. in the 10th inning on Wednesday night against Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson. Junior bounced into a 1-6-3 double play with runners on first and third.

“Sweeney was unvailable with his back and I wanted to give him another day,” Wakamatsu said. “Plus, Junior hit a home run in  Minnesota. There’s all different scenarios there. Junior’s going to be in there, and I’ve done that with Mike. I  haven’t pinch-hit Mike with Grif in those situations, either.

“As we go forward, we’ll see. Grif’s starting to swing the bat better. I didn’t think it was the time to pinch-hit  for him there, for a lot of different reasons.”

— Jim Street

Yuni gets seat on the bench

The lineup is out for tonight’s game and guess who isn’t in it.

If you guessed Yuniesky Betancourt, you win. But a few thousand others probably saw this coming. 

Betancourt could be a terrific all-around shortstop, probably one of the best in the Major Leagues, but he has tendency to lose focus on offense and defense.

His lackadaisical play in Tuesday night’s loss to the Rangers was especially bad in the eyes of manager Don Wakamatsu, who said after the game that some changes were forthcoming.

While only one change was made, Ronny Cedeno started at shortstop, the message sent was clear.

It might take a few more changes for the Mariners to have some success against right-handed pitchers. They are 9-15 against right-handers and that is no acceptable.

Betancourt’s focus, or lack thereof, isn’t the only blemish on the team, but it is one of the most glaring, so a step was taken to either get him to concentrate, or sit him for awhile.

— Jim Street

Big Units quest for No. 300 at Safeco Field? Maybe

Greetings from Arlington, deep in the heart of Texas, or wherever, it is. In case you hadn’t heard, Randy Johnson won the 298th game of his career last night in San Francisco.

But that’s not what this blog is all about because I always look ahead.

The Big Unit, who basically started his journey to the Hall of Fame midway through the 1989 season when he was acquired by the Mariners from the Montreal Expos, just might get the first crack at his 300th career win on May 22 — at Safeco Field.

I kid you not. If the Giants stay in rotation, Johnson’s next start would be this Saturday afternoon against the Mets in S.F., and his ensuing start could be the following Friday night against the Mariners in the opener of a three-game Interleague Play series.

With Monday being an off day, Giants manager Bruce Bochy could re-arrange his rotation to keep Johnson on an every-fifth day routine and start him Thursday night against the Padres in San Diego.

But I really don’t see that happening, especially if Johnson beats the Mets on Saturday for career win No. 299.

It’s just too good of a story for the Big Unit NOT to start against the Mariners with a chance to notch his 300th win.

Johnson won the first of his five Cy Young Awards with the Mariners in 1997 — the year he also became a 20-game winner for the first time — and still ranks second on the franchise’sall-time win list with 130. Jamie Moyer is first with 145 victories.

While waiting to have lunch with former Mariners president/general manager Dan O’Brien and his wife, Mary Ann, I was wondering how the current Mariners have fared in their careers against Johnson.

It is sort of mixed bag, actually. Ichiro is a solid 7-for-15 against the Big Unit. Second baseman Jose Lopez is 4-for-10. Endy Chavez is 2-for-6, and Adrian Beltre has three home runs off Johnson in 62 at-bats. Beltre also has two doubles and 18 strikeouts.

Mike Sweeney is 3-for-25 with four strikeouts against the Big Unit; Ken Griffey Jr. is 0-for-5 with three strikeouts; Kenji Johjima is 0-for-3 but with no strikeouts; and Carlos Silva is 0-for-2 with one whiff. Overall, the current Mariners are 32-for-139 with three home runs, four walks and 30 strikeouts.

However, former Mariners third baseman and now TV analyst Mike Blowers was 9-for-16 (.583) against Randy, so guess I will have to have a little chat with Blowers and have him explain why he was so good against the Big Unit.

— Jim Street

Sweeney slowed by tweaked back

A hard swing that Mike Sweeney took on the first pitch of his final at-bat in Saturday night’s game tweaked a muscle in his lower back and he spent most of Sunday morning in the trainer’s room getting treatment.

“We think he’ll be fine on Tuesday,” manager Don Wakamatsu said in his pre-game media session. “It’s in a little different spot than where it was before, just a muscle spasm so he should be fine.”

Sweeney was due to bat fourth in the ninth inning on Saturday night, but would have been removed for a pinch-hitter — Ken Griffey Jr. if there had been two runners on base or Ronny Cedeno with one out. It became moot when Jose Lopez grounded into a game-ending double play.

Wakamatsu said he talked to Felix Hernandez earlier in the day and was assured that there is nothing wrong with the ace right-hander’s right arm. Wakamatsu had expressed some concern after Saturday night’s game, saying it appeared that Hernandez was having an issue with his arm.

But Felix told reporters after the game that he was fine and said the same thing on Sunday.

“There were no repercussions from the game,” Wakamatsu. “His mechanics were a little out of whack and I think he tried to do too much.”

In other medical updates:

— Relievers Tyler Johnson and Chad Cordero are still working out with the extended spring group in Peoria. They will throw again onb Tuesday and Johnson could begin his rehab assignment real soon. Cordero is farther behind.

— Right-hander Roy Corcoran, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a neck issue, is much better and will begin playing catch on Friday before the Mariners face the Red Sox at Safeco Field.

— Shawn Kelley is improving, but the strained left oblique will keep him out of action for another six or seven weeks.

— Right-handed starter Carlos Silva (shoulder inflammation) is expected to play catch this week in Arlington during the three-game series against the Rangers.

Here’s today’s lineup:

1. Ichiro Suxzuki, RF.
2. Jose Lopez, 2B
3. Ken Griffey Jr. DH.
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B.
5. Russell Branyan, 1B.
6. Wladimir Balentien, LF.
7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS.
8. Rob Johnson, C.
9. Endy Chavez, LF.
P. Erik Bedard.

— Jim Street