July 2009

French on his way here, Wash on his way out

Word just in that left-hander Luke French, acquired from the Tigers earlier today, is en route to his new team and will arrive about an hour before the Mariners play the Rangers in the second game of the four-game series. We’ll let you know when and where he’ll be inserted into the rotation.

Meanwhile, Jarrod Washburn will soon be on his way to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where he will pack his bags, say goodbye to his former teammates, chat with the media and begin the next chapter of his career.

Wash is now a Tiger, having  been dealt to Detroit this morning for two left-handed pitchers. One of them is the 23-year-old French. The other, 20-year-old Mauricio Robles, will join a Minor League team.

The deal comes just two days after the Mariners acquired veteran big-league shortstop Jack Wilson from the Pirates for three Minor League pitchers. Today’s deal adds two arms to the system, which needs good arms — especially starters.

It probably took more than one rocky series against the Indians — a three-game sweep — for the organization to decide which direction to take heading into the non-waiver deadline, but that had to be a key factor, although the Wilson deal suggested otherwise. 

At the time, it appeared that the Mariners were becoming “buyers”, but today’s deal surely indicates that Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik hit the “sell” button. Actually, he probably is neither a buyer or seller. His mantra is “improving” and he seems to be building for the future. In reality, even with third baseman Adrian Beltre on the verge of returning to the lineup, catching either the Angels in the AL West or getting involved in the Wild Card race seem unlikely.

It will take a couple of years, or more, to determine just how good of a deal this is there is no guarantee that Washburn would not return to the Mariners next season. He becomes eligible for free agency at the end of the season. That  being said, he is having the kind of season that any free agent-to be could cash in bigt-time and Zduriencik might decide to spend more money on hitting than pitching.

The off-season will surely be interesting.

Meanwhile, I am heading downstairs to chat with Washburn and get some of his former teammates’ take on the deal.

— Jim Street

Done deal — Wash to Motown

It has just  been announced that left-hander Jarrod Washburn has been traded to the Tigers for two left-handed pitchers — Luke French and Mauricio Robles.

The Tigers were the latest team to become interested in acquiring Washburn, who had been  scheduled to start the series finale against the Rangers on Sunday night. But he could be starting against the Indians in Cleveland, instead.

The Yankees and  Brewers also showed interest in the 34-year-old Washburn, who is having a career year in terms of ERA (2.64) and quality starts. He had a 4-1 record in July and had a good chance of being named as the American League’s Pitcher of the Month, an award right-hander Felix Hernandez won in June.

When he left the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington last night, Washburn said he “had no idea” what might happen today.

Now he knows.

— Jim Street

Little O a big Wilson backer

ARLINGTON — I sure picked a fine day to travel.

While en route to Texas yesterday — via Houston,by the way — Trader Jack did it again, pulling off another multi-player trade — this time a seven-player swap with the Pirates, and followed that up with a minor deal involving major disappointment Wladimir Balentien.

So much for throwing in the towel following the four-game skid that some thought would make GM Jack Zduriencik a “seller” leading up to Friday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline. 

My mind might change if Jarrod Washburn is traded in the next 36 hours, but my gut feeling is that Wash will stay and eventually sign a contract extension.

I have never seen Jack Wilson play shortstop in person, but I have seen some of his defensive brilliance on MLB Network and SportsCenter wrapup shows. The dude is good with a glove, so I decided to visit former Mariners shortstop Omar Vizquel at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington last night after the Rangers played the Tigers and ask him about Wilson.

“He’s a great shortstop,” Vizquel told me. “I think he’s one of the best shortstops in the game right now. I love the way he plays. Every routine play that can be made he makes, and he also can make some pretty awesome plays. He’s fast and can turn double plays. They (Mariners) got a good one.”

That is quite a compliment coming from the guy I consider to be the best defensive SS that I’ve seen in almost 40 years covering Major League baseball.

Wilson makes his Mariners debut tonight against the Rangers in the opener of an important four-game series and it will be fun watching him in action. But the real fun starts next week, when third baseman Adrian Beltre comes off the 15-day disabled list.

To get a ball through the left side of the infield will be a challenge for any hitter.

— Jim Street

Branyan, Lopez remain sidelined

A big chunk of the Mariners’ power was missing from the lineup again tonight as first baseman Russell Branyan and second baseman Jose Lopez are still out of action with back soreness.

They have combined to hit 36 of the Mariners’ 93 home runs this season.

“When we talked about it yesterday, we thought wed have Lopey and Russell back in there today,” manager Don Wakamatsu said, “but they both still a little bit stiff. Again, I’d like to think they’re going to be in there. With Russell, with him being stiff, just giving him one more day against a lefty wouldnt hurt either. The bottom line is that I think it’s better off resting them right now and letting them get in there tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, third baseman Adrian Beltre continues to get closer to coming off the 15-day disabled list.

“You guys saw his BP yesterday,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s as good as Ive seen him in a long time. He says he feels great. Our concern is not to rush it too much and him get activated and have to go right back on. That’s out biggest fear, so I think we’re going to do this for a couple days and we’ll see down in Texas. We talked about possibly activating him in KC, if everything goes well. We’ll look at that. The next couple days, how he reacts from BP. He was hitting balls in the upper deck yesterday. He’s said it two or three times, this feels better than when he had the first surgery, so that’s a good sign.”

Tonight’s lineups:

Blue Jays

Marco Scutaro, SS
Aaron Hill, 2B
Vernon Wells, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Alex Rios, RF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Kevin Millar, DH
Jose Bautista, LF
Raul Chavez, C
Marc Rzepezynksi, LHP

Mariners

Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Franklin Gutierrez, CF
Mike Sweeney, DH
Chris Shelton, 1B
Jack Hannahan, 3B
Rob Johnson, C
Chris Woodward, 2B
Michael Saunders, LF
Ronny Cedeno, SS
Jarrod Washburn, LHP

— Jim Street

 

 

Waiting for Washburns status to be determined

Could this be the final few hours of left-hander Jarrod Washburn’s career with the Mariners?

That is one of the hottest topics on this hot Monday afternoon around Safeco Field, where the Mariners open a three-game series against the Blue Jays tonight.

Washburn, the hottest pitcher in the rotation not named Felix Hernandez, is scheduled to start Tuesday night’s game, but there is no guarantee that will happen.

Same goes for Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay, slated to start Wednesday afternoon’s series finale.

I will head down to the Mariners clubhouse in a few minutes and ask Washburn if he’s heard anything one way or another.

But the smart money says he will be traded to the Brewers, sometime in the next 24 hours.

— Jim Street

A busy Saturday around Safeco Field


lake shastina.JPG

WEED WEED — As I work my way north from Tucson to Seattle, I turned on the computer this morning and noticed an email that pointed out some important information regarding Saturday’s 1:10 p.m. game against the Indians at Safeco Field.

Because of the annual Seafair Torchlight Parade and Run through downtown Seattle that evening, the City of Seattle asked the Mariners to play a day game, which was done.

The Sounders schedule was announced several months after the Mariners announced the 2009 schedule. The Sounders start time was set by the MLS at noon because it is being televised by ESPN, and can’t be changed.

The Mariners asked the City of Seattle if they wanted their start time changed,  but because of the Torchlight Run and Parade, requested the 1:10 game time remain the same. What it means, of course, is that traffic and parking will be a challenge for fans coming to either event.  In addition, because of the start time, FSN Northwest is not able to televise the game because it is during the national exclusive “window” for FOX Saturday Baseball.

So there you have it.

Meanwhile, the first part of the drive — an 11 hour, 36 minutes trek from Tucson to Santa Nella, Calif. — was long and uneventful, except for the fact that the temperature gauge in my car reached 100 degrees as I neared Gila Bend, AZ and stayed in triple-digits the rest of the day and evening. It peaked at 109 degrees near Palm Springs. Even the rattlesnakes must have been thirsty.

The agenda calls for golf today at the foot of Mt. Shasta (Lake Shastina Golf Resort is a fabulous place). Played nine holes yesterday afternoon and, as usual, no birdies or eagles — but neither did my playing partner “Noodles”, my old junior college baseball roommate on road trips. He went on to become the national PE Instructor of the Year several years ago.

Well, time to rise and shine. Will check in later and let you know how many birdies (haha) I get.

A fabulous round of golf has concluded — with one birdie! — and an 89 on a 97-degree day. As you can tell by the above photo, the course and surrounding area, such at Mt. Shasta, is extremely scenic. Next stop: Dorris (pop. 1,000 or so).

— Jim Street

Greetings from the (108-degree) desert

TUCSON — In the all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end department, it is almost time to leave the 108-degree temperatures in lovely Tucson, Arizona and head back to Seattle to rejoin the Mariners for the final two-plus months of the regular season.

It will be a 1,600-plus mile drive through the desert, into California — where the gas prices are ridiculously high. I mean, why is the price of gas in Arizona $2.29 per gallon and the same grade of gas in California costs $3.10, or so, depending on which hour you fill ‘er up? Anyway, my mapquest says go north on I-5 until I reach Weed, Calif., the proud home of College of the Siskiyous, which has produced some of our proud nation’s wisest people. Well, a couple of wise people at least. The golf course at Lake Shastina beckons, so three of my former teammates on the COS baseball team (way back in 1964-65, by the way) are going shoot for birdies and eagles, and none are likely to be found. The journey then switches to Highway 97 for a stop at the old homestead in Dorris, Calif., where my high-80s parents still live.

Before leaving Tucson, I was able to get in one round of golf with buddy Bob, Mike and Patrick, the Three Amigos who make 9-1-1 Collision operate on all cylinders. I am still trying to convince them that “You crash ’em, we fix ’em” would be a nice motto. They think otherwise.

You’ll be happy to know that my golf score was lower than the temperature, didn’t see any snakes that rattle, scorpions that bite, or lizards that stick their tongue out at you.

Between playing golf and floating in the pool, I have been following the Mariners closely and it’s good to see that the three-day All-Star break didn’t change things much. They still win the close ones and continue to get excellent pitching.

Furthermore, Franklin Gutierrez is quietly becoming a star in the Major Leagues.

Speaking of stars, I have been working the past few weeks on a fairly in-depth story on Ichiro and it will be displayed on both MLB.com and Mariners.com sometime Monday evening. Several of his colleagues have some interesting things to say about the Mariners right fielder and now a nine-time All-Star as he moves closer to becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame. Also, on Monday, there will be an Inbox (formerly known as the Mailbox) on the Mariners Web site.

In the meantime, I’ll check back in during the l-o-n-g, lonely (superwife is flying back to Seattle pick pick up Mr. Fab and Pumba, the guinea pigs, and resume her work as an interior designer) trek back to the Great Northwest.

— Jim Street

Trader Jack II at it again; Morrow to Tacoma

Another day, another trade. It looks like MLB has its next “Trader Jack”, the monikor given to Jack McKeon when he was a busy GM back in the day.

Yuniesky Betancourt gone on Friday, Jack Hannahan acquired on Saturday.

Some of us thought it would take two players to replace third baseman Adrian Beltre and it looks like we were correct. I would expect manager Don Wakamatsu to platoon Hannahan and Chris Woodward at the position as both have similar games — good defensive players that have been offensively-challenged for most of their careers.

The addition of Hannahan to the 25-man roster means someone must go before tonight’s game. Infielder Josh Wilson has not been used a lot — actually, he has not been used at all, really — and he could be the one departing. That would be my guess.

Meanwhile, it’s happy 10th birthday to Safeco Field. It looks as young today as it did a decade ago when it opened to much fan-fare and celebration.

Stay tuned for the next roster move.

The move just came down and right-hander Brandon Morrow is going down to the Minor Leagues. He was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to work on a breaking pitch and further develop command of his fastball.

He simply needs to learn how to pitch and the organization decided the best thing for him is to pitch in an environment with less stress. 

— Jim Street

Big week looms for Mariners

A road trip that many thought would turn the Mariners into “sellers” heading towards the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline instead gave the team reason to believe they could be in the AL West pennant race well beyond the deadline and into the dog days of summer.

Winning two of three from the Dodgers and Red Sox on the road is something few teams have done this season and it says a lot about the makeup and tenacity of this entertaining group of players.

But they can’t let up on the gas pedal. The upcoming week at home looms large.

The Mariners have three games against the Orioles starting tonight and then four against the Rangers — a division rival they have not defeated this season — beginning on Thursday night. Those four games could be even bigger in the big picture than any of the nine games played on the recent road trip.

It isn’t a coincidence that the rotation is set up to where the four best starters are set to face the Rangers, beginning with All-Star Felix Hernandez on Thursday night. It gives the Mariners an excellent chance to 1) end a five-game losing streak against the Rangers this season and 2) set the tone for a series that takes both teams into the All-Star break.

While the Mariners are playing the last-place, but still dangerous, Orioles of the AL East at Safeco Field, the Rangers are in Anaheim to face the Angels in a three-game showdown for first place.

After that comes what shapes up as one of the most important weekends of baseball of the season. 

 — Jim Street

Niehaus just fine

Mariners Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus is in the booth at Fenway Park preparing for his 5,000-something game behind the mike.

He had a reaction to an insulin shot early this morning at the hotel where the team is staying and was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution.

“I’m fine,” the 74-year-old said. “It’s no big deal.”

— Jim Street