June 2009

Rotation remains fluid

Another day, another change in the upcoming starting rotation.

Manager Don Wakamatsu just told me (ok, me and a few others) that right-hander Brandon Morrow will remain in the starting rotation with the Mariners and start Thursday’s series finale against the Padres in San Diego.

Lefty Jarrod Washburn was slated to start that game, but his back gave out on him again yesterday and he has now been pushed back to Friday, or perhaps Saturday. Stay tuned on that one.

Fellow lefty Erik Bedard, who missed one start because of slight inflammation in his left should, was penciled in to start Friday, but now might go on Saturday, depending on Washburn’s health.

What we know for sure is that the rotation against the Padres is: ace right-hander Felix Hernandez pitching the series opener on Tuesday night, followed by left-hander Garrett Olson and Morrow, whose pitch count will be increased to 75 to 80.

Meanwhile, rookie reliever Shawn Kelley threw off a mound for the first time since straining his left oblique on May 5 in Seattle. He threw 25 pitches in the bullpen this morning and was all smiles when it was finished.

He will throw another BP on Tuesday in San Diego.

And today’s Mariners lineup:

1. Ichiro, RF

2. Russell Branyan, 1B

3. Adrian Beltre, 3B

4. Jose Lopez, 2B

5. Ken Griffey Jr., LF

6. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS

7. Guillermo Quiroz, C

8. Franklin Gutierrez, CF

9. Jason Vargas, P

— Jim Street

Corcoran and rain return, Johnson on bereavement leave

This just in: the game will start at 5:50 p.m. PT, which is 35 minutes from now.

Meannwhile, catcher Rob Johnson was placed on the Major League’s bereavement list earlier today following the death of his mother-in-law, who was killed in a traffic accident near Houston  Friday night.

Manager Don Wakamatsu said it was too early to determine how long Johnson would be away from the team, but players are allowed to be on bereveavement leave for three to seven days.

Johnson returned to the lineup on Friday night after missing almost a week because of various ailments, including a sore left foot sustained when he fouled off a pitch. He contributed a single and run-scoring double in the Mariners’ 6-4 loss, but also had a passed ball, throwing error and base-running gaffe.

Corcoran, sidelined since April 30 with a strained neck, is available for tonight’s game against the Rockies. Because Johnson went on the bereveament list, the Mariners did not have to make another roster move to create an opening on the 25-man roster.

Left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith went five innings on Friday night, but it appears he will remain with Triple-A for at least one more start. He surrendered three earned runs (two earned) against Sacramento, and the reports indicated that his changeup needs more work.

Unless something changes, Garrett Olson will start Wednesday night’s game against the Padres in San Diego.

The “threat” of rain caused batting practice to be canceled prior to tonight’s game.

It is almost 5 p.m. and there’s no rain in sight. Duh.

— Jim Street

 

 

Lightning, thunder, but no DH or Bedard

This just in — Erik  Bedard has  been scratched from tomorrow night’s game with “slight inflammation” in his left shoulder.

Taking his place will be right-hander Brandon Morrow — making his first start of the season and possibly the first of several starts the remainder of the season.

I will get a story up ASAP on mariners.com.

Meanwhile, the rain, which coming downb in  buckts, has stopped, so the Mariners play their first game this season without the designated hitter rule in effect, meaning neither Ken Griffey Jr. nor Mike Sweeney are in tonight’s starting lineup.

Second baseman Jose Lopez moves into the cleanup spot, just ahead of Endy Chavez. Not quite a Murderer’s Row — on paperat least.

There were so many bolts of lightning that the grounds crew was rushed off the field.

It’s kind of cool, actually.

And tonight’s lineup

1. Ichiro, RF

2. Russell Branyan, 1B

3. Adrian Beltre, 3B

4. Jose Lopez, 2B

5. Endy Chavez, CF

6. Ronny Cedeno, LF

7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS

8. Rob Johnson, C

9. Jarrod Washburn, P

— Jim Street

Morrow might return to starting role

To start or relieve, that is the question facing right-hander Brandon Morrow.

After beginning the season as the closer and now assigned to middle-inning relief duty, Morrow has asked the Mariners if he could go  back to starting, according to Tacoma News Tribune beat writer Larry LaRue.

Morrow, the Mariners’ first-round Draft selection two years ago, is expected to be sent to Triple-A Tacoma later this week to build his arm strength. It could be a month or more before he returns to the Mariners’ pitching staff.

Morrow did the same thing a year ago, you might recall, came back and pitched a one-hitter against the Yankees. He finsished the season in the starting rotation and began Spring Training in that role.

But he became ill during camp and, without a sure-fire closer emerging from Peoria, returned to the bullpen coming out of Spring Training. Morrow stumbled in his first outing, against the Twins, but reeled off six consecutive saves before the roof caved in on him in back-to-back games in Texas, victimized by two game-losing ninth innings.

David Aardsma  became the closer and has done a masterful job, going 9-for-10 in save situations.

Morrow, meanwhile, has done more soul-searching than pitching, trying to figure out where he would best help the team going forward.

His conclusion: in the rotation.

He has great stuff, reaching the high-90s with his fastball. But he needs to learn how to pitch, changing speeds, moving the ball around and commanding his fastball.

With left-handers Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard likely to be gone next season, if not next month, Morrow could be more valuable in a starting role down the road than in relief — if his body can handle it.

The Mariners’ organization wonders if Morrow, a diabetic, has the physical stamina to handle 100-plus pitches a game 30 times a season. That might be the biggest question of all.

While Morrow attempts to do what he can to be of more value to the organization, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt continues to do just the opposite.

He was on the bench again last night in the series opener against the Orioles and is becoming more of a distraction than an asset.

The talented Cuban exile spent most of the last weekend prior to games against the Twins sitting in front of his locker at Safeco Field pouting because he wasn’t in the starting lineup. You would think that he might be in the weight room, or in the batting cage, or anywhere other than sitting around doing nothing.

Furthermore, it is standard practice for the team to have early batting practice following a day off, which the Mariners had on Monday as they traveled to Baltimore. There were 12 players taking early BP yesterday afternoon at Camden Yards. Not Betancourt.

He was a no-show, telling LaRue that “I was asleep on the plane when they announced that.”

The Mariners are an all-around better team with Betancourt in the lineup, but the new, improved management team has introduced “accountabilty” to the program this season and Betancourt doesn’t seem to get it. Playing time is predicated by working time and if he doesn’t start working harder, he could find himself looking for a job outside of baseball, or playing at Triple-A Tacoma. He’s not so good that other teams would offer anything decent in return.

It’s high time for him to wake up and get his act together.

— Jim Street

The first pick is. . .Dustin Ackley

The Mariners went back to college today, selecting Dustin Ackley from the University of North Carolina as the first of their two first-round picks in the First-Year-Player Draft.

It was not a surprise.

Based on pre-Draft speculation, Ackley figured to be the second player selected.

And sure enough, several minutes after the Nationals chose right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg out of San Diego State as No. 1 overall, the Mariners went on the offense and chose the best hitter available.

Ackley, a first baseman this season, led the Tar Heels to their fourth straight College World Series, batting .412 with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs. He holds school records for most hits (338), most runs scored (225) and total bases (535). He also has hit 39 home runs during his college career.

— Jim Street

And the first pick is. . .stay tuned

The Ellis Pavilion at Safeco Field is a hub of activity as we wait for the First-Year Player Draft to begin in a few minutes.

As my friend and colleague Kirby Arnold of Everett Herald fame noticed a few minutes ago, a high-ranking club official (well, not that high) walked out of the “war room” looking dapper in his dark suit and “Carolina blue” tie. Just a hunch, but I still think Dustin Ackley is the first player the Mariners will take — unless, of course, the Nationals pass on pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

If that happens, President Obama probably will decide to fire the whole Nationals front office staff and hand-pick his own replacements.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt continues to boggle the mind. He is not in the starting lineup again tonight, possibly because he decided (foolishly) not to participate in early hitting. Someone should bop him over the head! He has tremendous talent, but is clueless when it comes to being the best player he can be.

Anyway, today it’s all about the Draft and not about a moody, pouty shortstop.

Stay tuned for the Mariners’ first pick of the day.

— Jim Street

Comparing two nail-biting Mariners teams

It’s 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and I can’t sleep, so now what?

Well, start the coffee, feed the guinea pigs (Mr. Phab and Pumba), turn on the (over)-used and abused computer and compare the Mariners’ 27 one-run games so far this season to the first 27-one run games of the 1993 season, which started on the exact same day (April 6) and included a club-record 56 one-run games before it ended in early October.

That was Lou Piniella’s first year, way back when his hair was jet-black and his temper was red-hot.

Anyway, that Mariners team had a lot in common with the one we’re watching this season when it comes to nail-biters.

Here are some comparisons of the first 27 one-run games each team played.

*The ’93 team included a young Ken Griffey Jr. The ’09 team includes a “seasoned” Junior.

*The ’93 team scored 10 runs once, nine runs once, eight runs twice, and seven runs twice. The ’09 team scored nine runs once and eight runs three times, but never scored seven or six runs in any of its first 27 one-run games. Of course, the ’93 team played half of its games inside the hitter-friendly Kingdome.

*The ’93 team played nine extra-inning games, including two 14-inning marathons, while the ’09 team went into overtime five times, including a 15-inning affair.

*The ’93 team scored 114 runs in the first 27 one-run games and allowed 123. The ’09 team scored 101 runs and surrendered 98 runs.

*The ’93 team played its 27th one-run game on July 7. The ’09 team reached that mark on June 6.

*The ’93 team played one 1-0 game, and lost. The ’09 team played four 1-0 games and won three of ’em.

*The ’93 team played four consecutive one-run games between May 11-15 (they were off on May 13). The ’09 team played four consecutive one-run games from May 1-4 and were tied 1-1 after nine innings on May 5. The Rangers scored six runs in the top of the 10th.

*The ’93 team had a 9-18 record in its first 27 one-run games. The ’09 team was 15-12.

*The ’93 team finished the season with an 82-80 record. Stay tuned for the ’09 win-loss record.

And there you have it. Now, doesn’t your morning coffee taste better?

— Jim Street

From Junior to Senior — Open, that is

sahalee duo.JPG

Champions Tour veteran Ken Still (left) with former TV sports anchor Bruce King

 

An off day during the regular season is a rare treat for anyone involved in Major League Baseball. So Thursday was a five-star day for me. Not only was it an off day for the Mariners – which translates into a day off for me – I was able to combine my two passions,  baseball and golf, at Sahalee Country Club, one of the greatest golf courses I have been fortunate enough to play.

The U.S. Senior Open will be played next year at the lush layout in Sammamish, located about two Ken Griffey Jr. drives and a nine-iron from Safeco Field, and I was among those invited to participate on media day. Among the dignitaries at the lunch-golf event was Ken Still an infielder at a Tacoma high school, and an avid Mariners’ fan since Day One of the franchise.

Still loves baseball and counts among his many friends -and former friends – Sandy Koufax and the late Don Drysdale of the Dodgers.

“When I met them in 1964, Sandy was a 17 handicap and Don was about an 18,” Still told me. “Sandy is a five now, but Don never really worked at it and never improved much. But boy could ‘Big D’ pitch. How would you like him pitching for the Mariners in his prime? Now, that would be fun watch.

“I remember him telling Ray Floyd and me before a game he pitched, ‘The inside part of the plate is mine tonight. Just watch.’ Sure enough, the inside part of the plate was his.”

The 74-year-old Still also said one of his dreams is to watch the Mariners play in the World Series. That is not likely to happen before the U.S. Senior Open, which will be held next July 26-August 1 at Sahalee, but Still keeps hoping that some year the Fall Classic will be played at Safeco Field.

In the meantime, he’ll keep being a good baseball fan and goodwill ambassador for golf, especially in the Northwest. He is one of only two Washington native professional golfers that have played on the United States Ryder Cup team. Fred Couples is the other.

It was pointed out more than once on Thursday that Couples will be THE MAN at the U.S. Senior Open, one of the majors on the Champions Tour. “Boom  Boom” not only will be playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, but conducting a junior clinic during the week of the four-day tournament.

And if the Mariners are playing at home that week, he just might throw the ceremonial first pitch. Or deliver it via a wedge shot from center field.

During a taped interview shown, Couples said he follows the Mariners closely.

“I’m a huge baseball fan,” he said. “My dad and brother were very good baseball players. I chose golf at a younger age, but I still enjoy what’s going on. I think it’s great that Griffey is back. Hopefully, they’ll be in town (when the Senior Open is being played).”

Still, a feisty golfer in his younger days, said he played third base in high school.

“I loved the action there,” he said of the hot corner. “The faster the ball came down the line, the better I liked it.”

But Still was going to be the backup third baseman in his junior year and the coach recommended that Ken concentrate on golf – a sport he had been introduced to by an uncle.

“I was a 17-handicap at that time,” he said, “and had it down to a ‘zero’ the next year.”

Heck, my handicap (which will remain top secret) would go down too if hit 500 golf balls a day and played 36 holes six or seven days a week. Come to think of it, if I played 36 holes two days a week, I would hit something close to 500 shots, especially at a place like Sahalee, which apparently means “Many Tall Trees” in Indian.

Not that I hit many of them, but a family of woodpeckers, minding their own business, thought I must be related because I spent so much time in the trees than in the fairways. Why golf courses are built with fairways down the middle has always puzzled me. Trees belong in the middle with wide fairways on each side.

I asked Ken how good he would be if he was in his prime right now and used the equipment being used by the Tiger Woods of the world.

“Funny you should ask,” he said. “I spend one week a year with Jack (Nicklaus) at his house in Florida and the last time I was there we were sitting around and I asked him the very same question. He said, ‘Ken, let’s turn it around. How good would these guys be if they had to use the clubs and balls we had to use?'”

Believe it or not, I finally met someone who actually shot his age. Junior Griffey says he has, but I don’t believe him. He also says he’s the best putter not on tour. Yeah, right.

But Still told me he shot a 74 at the Tacoma Country Club about a month ago. How good is that? He said it was the first time he did that, and that he previously has missed by one shot.

Then a scary thought came over me: how old would I have to get to shoot my age?

Never mind.  But if that ever happens, it would not be accomplished at Sahalee. I mean, who wants to live to be 114?

— Jim Street

Keeping up with Ichiro — No. 25 and counting

As a little bonus tonight, I will be keeping you up to date at-bat by at-bat on Ichiro’s pursuit of a club record-tying, 25-game hitting streak in tonight’s series opener against the Orioles.

That didn’t take long. Ichiro hit the second pitch he got from left-hander Rich Hill into left-center field for a double — and went to third on left fielder Nolan Reimold’s error.

Here are some facts to go with the streak:

* Starting with a hit in his first at-bat in the second game of this 25-gamer, Ichiro got a hit the first time up 11 times. Only twice during the streak – games eight and 20 – did he have to wait until his final at-bat to keep it going.

* The last time the 35-year-old went on a hitting binge like this was in May 2007. He went 1-for-3 against the Yankees at Safeco Field on May 7 and had at least one hit for the nest 24 games, a streak that ended on June 1 when he went 0-for-4 against the Rangers at Safeco Field.
* Ichiro is batting .406 (43-f0r-106) during the current 24-game streak, which matches former Seattle second baseman Joey Cora for the second-longest hitting streak in franchise history. Cora, who finished second in the team’s managerial hunt this past off-season, had his hitting binge in 1997. Ichiro had his first inb ’07.

* The current streak is the longest active streak in the Majors.

* He has 30 hitting streaks of 10 games or longer during his eight-plus seasons with the Mariners, including 16 that lasted at least 15 games.

* Even if he sets a franchise record, Ichiro would need to stay hot for a few more days to stretch his streak to 30 games, which would be the 54th time that has happened. Nationals third  baseman Ryan Zimmerman is the latest to do it, earlier this season.

* Joe DiMaggio is the only player in MLB history to reach 50 — he holds the record with a 56-game binge in 1941.

— Jim Street