March 2010

Patterson opts out of Minor League contract

Outfielder Corey Patterson, hoping to earn a spot as an extra outfielder as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, came up short and decided to seek employment elsewhere.

Patterson, who has Major League experience with the Cubs (2000-’06), Orioles (2006-’08), Nationals (‘2009) and Brewers (’09)  has opted out of his Minor League contract and is now a free agent, available to sign with any team organization. 

Patterson appeared in 19 Cactus League games this spring, and batted .216 (8-for-37) with two doubles, two home runs and two RBIs.

His depature leaves the Mariners with 32 players in their Major League Camp, 27 roster players and five non-roster invitees.

Camp nears the end, in more ways than one

There is no stopping Mike Sweeney.

The 36-year-old wonder continues to act like someone much younger and at the peak of his career, going 4-for-5 and driving in the winning run in the top of the ninth inning in the Mariners’ 7-6 victory over the Rangers in Surprise this afternoon.

Sweeney is now batting .559 (19-for-34) this spring, which would be pretty darn good in a slow-pitch softball league, let alone the Major Leagues. He is still not “officially” on the 25-man Opening Day roster, but how do you keep him off?

“You can never underestimate a guy like that,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “We did have dialogue over the winter and he talked about how hard he was working and the things he was doing and how good his body felt. You look at his second half and statistically he’s pretty impressive. He keeps proving that there’s more in there.”

Sweeney might not have to wait until Easter Sunday to find out that his career will continue.

I missed the game, spending time on watching Cliff Lee play catch and Felix Hernandez to pitch in an instrasquad game on Field 3 at the Peoria Sports Complex. Not to worry, though, as MLB.com sidekick T.R. Sullivan was on top of things in Surprise.

Bet you didn’t know this, but as a young pup living near Fort Ord, Calif., where his late, great father was stationed in the early 1970s, T.R. was a paperboy and delivered the San Jose Mercury-News when I was covering the Athletics and the Mustache Gang of that era.

That is worth a yikes! or two.

Tomorrow is getaway day in Spring Training. The Mariners play the White Sox at 12:05 p.m. PT and then depart for Alburquerque for two games against the Rockies before returning to the Bay Area to face the Giants on Sunday and the Athletics on Monday night in the regular-season opener.

Unless the stock market goes belly up, this will be the last full-time Spring Training day on the Mariners beat for this scribe.. An annual routine that began 38 years ago, when the A’s trained in Mesa, a dude just two years removed from trying to keep his head down during firefights in Vietnam, entered the wild and wacky world of covering Major League baseball and the first Spring Training, in 1972, included the holdout of Vida Blue, midnight “press conferences” with Charlie Finley, an orange baseball used in Spring Training (bad idea) and having all stories sent by Western Union.

It’s never good when a long story comes across as one paragraph, but it happened wayyyyy too often.

Along the way, there were such “highlights” as Catfish Hunter describing the A’s 1973 World Series ring — the only one that I know of without at least one diamond — “I had a better high school ring!”; to Barry Bonnell accusing me of being Steve Kelley in 1986, my first year on the Mariners beat; Ken Griffey Jr. driving a black BMW into the Tempe Diablo Stadium parking lot, getting out of his car and asking if I knew the phone number of the Diablo Stadium office.

It was my introduction to cell phones — and a legend in the making.

A great run it has been, to say the least.

Now, bring on the season!!!

— Jim Street

 

Lee throws with no pain

Left-hander Cliff Lee made 30 throws from one knee and 25 more standing up this morning and said afterwards that he felt nothing in his lower right abdomen, which is the best news he’s had since being injured on March 15.”

“It went good, real good,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything. I am pleased with how things went today.”

More details are forthcoming.

Update: There still is no “official” word on Ryan Garko being placed on waivers, but he is on the lineup card as a reserve for today’s game agaisnt the Rangers in Surprise.

Garko was signed with little fanfare on Feb. 1 as a potential backup/platoon first baseman to Casey Kotchman. But Garko, who batted .235 with two home runs and 12 RBIs for the Giants last season, had a tough spring, offensively and defensively, and the Mariners need a roster spot, for either Mike Sweeney or Josh Wilson.

Sweeney has had a great camp and earned a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster and I still think there is a good chance that Josh Wilson will be on the 25-man and Matt Tuiasosopo, who has Minor League options left, will not. In my opinion, he is better off playing everyday in Triple-A than one day a week with the Mariners.

Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez will pitch a Minor League game at 9:45 a.m.

“I was told I would be pitching early, but not that kind of early,” Felix told me. “I can’t remember ever pitching this early.”

This will give manager Don Wakamatsu and pitching coach Rick Adair a chance to see Felix pitch and also make it over to Surprise.

One roster move was made this morning. Left-hander Luke French, acquired from the Tigers in the Jarrod Washburn deal, was sent to the Minors. He will continue as a starter.

Wakamatsu also announced his “tentative” starting rotation: Felix followed by Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas.

Here is today’s lineup:

1. Ichiro, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Casey Kotchman, 1B
4. Milton Bradley, LF
5. Mike Sweeney, DH
6. Jose Lopez, 3B
7. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
8. Adam Moore, C
9. Jack Wilson, SS
RHP David Pauley

— Jim Street

Three’s enough for Mariners, but oh that “O”

It’s one week before the regular season opener in Oakland and if you’re wondering when and where the Mariners offense will come to life, get in line.

“Obviously, we are concerned, but you don’t really know until the lights go on,” manager Don Wakamatsu said this afternoon after solo home runs in the eighth and ninth innings by Josh Bard and Franklin Gutierrez gave Seattle a 3-2 Cactus League victory over the Athletics. “There is a lot of talent there (on offense) and once we get them together we’ll see. If it continues, yeah you are concerned about it, but right now I don’t give a lot of stock to it.”

Standing out in today’s game was having a bases-loaded, no-out jam dissipate with nothing to show for it. Ken Griffey Jr., popped out and Jose Lopez bounced into a double play. That’s two consecutive games the Mariners have loaded the bases with none out, and not scored.

After 27 Cactus League games, the Mariners are batting .254 as a team and have scored 116 runs. That’s more than the Yankees ((95 in 23 games) and Orioles (93 in 24 games).

Only Baltimore has a lower batting average, .249.

Hmmmmmmm.

Bard, who probably will not be on the 25-man Opening Day roster, hit a massive solo home run over the left field fence and halfway up a small hill beyond the fence for his first home run of the spring. An inning later, Gutierrez, batting third, hit his third — a ball that just made it over the extended glove of center fielder Eric Patterson.

“Bard got player of the game for me,” Wakamatsu said. “The home run and then he blocked a ball (in the ninth) and threw the guy out.”

Right-handed reliever Kanekoa Texeira continued to impress, tossing two scoreless innings to pick up the win and reduce his spring ERA to 0.64.

Can you say “keeper”? The Rule 5 Draft pick from the Yankees has done everything he can to stick in Seattle.

Left-handed starter Jason Vargas worked the first five innings, yielding four hits, two runs and four walks.

“Vargas did OK,” Wak said. “I didn’t think he was as sharp as the last one, but we got him up to 83 pitches. The concern was the four walks with two outs, but still giving up two runs and four hits, he was on the way to a quality start if we had left him in there.”

Relievers Brandon League and Sean White each pitched one scoreless inning.

League did, however, mishandle a throw from first baseman Casey Kotchman — a play that is practiced day after day during PFP (pitcher’s fielding practice).

The Mariners are off tomorrow and then begin a stretch of playing 15 games on 15 days in five cities.

— Jim Street

Backward baseball a hoot; Fister throws 65 pitches

Nothing like a little game of “Backward Baseball” to change the pace of Spring Training.

That’s what the Mariners did this morning on one of the half-fields at the Peoria Sports Complex.

Two teams, one managed by Chone Figgins and the other by Milton Bradley, went at it for a few innings to determine who would get the backward bragging rights.

Right-handed batters had to hit left-handed and vice versa. The only other apparent rule was runners ran in the opposite direction, starting with third base and around the horn.

Let’s just say some players had more trouble adjusting to the rule than others and hitting rag- balls thrown by Al Wirtala, the Major League performance specialist, did not really help long-ball egos.

After taking a pitch for a strike (someone yelled ‘Draw a line”), Ichiro grounded out in his first at-bat batting right-handed and Ken Griffey Jr. was thrown out at third on a ball hit to left field.

You might recall that Ichiro was ejected from a game in Toronto late last season when he drew a line in the dirt with his bat to show the ump that the pitch was inside. He was ejected quickly — the first, and only time, a Mariner was tossed.

As you might expect in a backwards game, the first two home runs were hit by Chris Woodward and Josh Wilson, not exaclty known for their power.

The unusual game was the brainstorm of bench coach and camp co-ordinator Ty Van Burkleo.

A good time was had by all, it appeared.

I had to leave the game to trek over to Phoenix — the only regular scribe to do so by the way, those scoundrels — so missed the final innings. I asked Figgins who won and he said, “It’s under protest!” So I guess his team finished second. 

In other, more regular season-related news:

— Right-hander Doug Fister pitched in a Minor League game instead of the Cactus League encounter against the Athletics in Phoenix. Manager Don Wakamatsu said it would be easier to control Fister’s pitch count in the Minor League game. What he didn’t say is that us wise old baseball writers put two and two together and come up with the idea that a healthy Fister most likely will start the four-game series finale against the Athletics and lefty Jason Vargas, the starter against Oakland today, will be the starter against the Rangers on Friday.

Fister threw 65 pitches for Triple-A Tacoma against the Double-A West Tennessee club, striking out five. Fister made one major mistake, surrendering a home run to Carlos Peguero,but otherwise looked sharp, according to one eye-witness

Relievers Shawn Kelley and Chad Cordero also pitched in the Minor League game.

— Lefty Erik Bedard stopped on top of a pitcher’s mound for the first time since last July for a brief test run on his surgically-repaired left shoulder.

How he comes out of it will determine when his work load off the mound increases.

— Ken Griffey Jr. made his first road trip of the spring, handling the DH rule against the Athletics. “His (gray) pants came in,” Wakamatsu said, smiling. “We had to have them shipped from Oakland to here.”

— Jack Hannahan flew to Philadelphia to have his groin injury checked out by a sports hernia expert. He most likely will start the season on the 15-day disabled list.

— Griffey, Figgins and Mike Sweeney spent part of their morning today with the Minor Leaguers. The trio gave some hitting advice to the organization youngsters.

— This just in: The conference call Cliff Lee was supposed to have on Monday concerning his appeal on the five-game suspension he received for throwing a pitch over Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder’s head on March 15 was postponed. No makeup date was announced.

And now for today’s lineup:

1. Ichiro, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
4. Milton Bradley, LF
5. Ken Griffey Jr.
6. Jose Lopez, 3B
7. Casey Kotchman, 1B
8. Rob Johnson, C
9. Josh Wilson, SS
LHP Jason Vargas

— Jim Street

 

 

A much-needed booster shot from Down Under

The Mariners sure could use some positive vibes from their starting pitchers, and they certainly got a booster shot from lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith today.

With the loss of Cliff Lee expected to linger well into April because of a strained abdominal muscle — which basically has been a kick in the stomach for the entire organization — guys like Rowland-Smith need to step up big time.

Like today.

He held the Cubs, who came into the Cactus League game with a .288 team batting average, to five hits and one run over seven superb innings in a 1-0 loss to the Cubs.

“He is such a competitor that he gets so worked up some times that he starts rushing and his arm drags.” manager Don Wakamatsu explained. “In the one inning he gave up a run, left a couple of pitches up, but overall, it was night and day for me as far as emotionally and the way he went about his business. I was pleased.”

Rowland-Smith needed just 77 pitches over seven innings and went to the bullpen afterwards to throw 15 more pitches before calling it a day.

Rowland-Smith said “it was good. Like I say afer every outing, it’s a progression in Spring Training. You slowly chip away and chip away. My last outing and this outing felt like my command is where I want it to be. The difference today was I had better command inside and threw changeup a little more.”

The lad from Down Under said he has been working hard on controlling his emotions, which he was able to do against the Cubs.

Asked about how close his is ready for his first regular season start, which will come during the four-game series against the Athletics, he said: “Close, I think. My preparation the day before the game is getting better. Like I said today, I did a better job of getting the ball inside and my changeup was better and those are things I need to be ready. Another thing I did today was controlling my emotions. Give up a hit now and then, take a deep breath and keep up a good rhythm.”

Rowland-Smith said “you don’t want to let perfect get in the way of being good,” which means it’s okay to surrender a few hits and perhaps even a run or two.

“When you try to make perfect pitches all the time, it’s not going to happen. I am better off taking deep breaths and not showing emotions as much.”

Rowland-Smith said he has started thinking about the Athletics lineup to prepare for his first start.

Which of the four games he’ll start remains undecided. That will be decided on Thursday, either before or after the Mariners end the Arizona segment of Spring Training with a home game against the White Sox.

The way he pitched today, don’t be surprised if he follows right-hander Felix Hernandez.

In other developments:

— Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez left the game in the sixth inning because of stomach discomfort. As it turned out, he would have batted with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning. Instead, Minor League infielder Mario Martinez came to bat against Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster and struck out. Dempster also struck out Matt Tuiasosopo and Adam Moore to end the inning.

— Moore made a tremendous throw to second in the ninth to nail a potentional basestealer Sam Fuld.”He showed his arm strength on that one,” Wakamatsu said. “You could hang your laundry on that line.”

Moore showed no ill-effects from getting hit by a line drive just above his left ankle in Saturday’s game while on third base.

“There was no reaction time at all,” he said of the ball Mike Sweeney hit. “I can’t recall even one time getting smoked when I was on third base. That ball was crushed. I saw it all the way and did everything I could to get out of the way, even the splits like a cheerleader. But it didn’t work out for me. At first it hurt pretty bad. It’s a good thing I have some ‘ups’.”

Ups?

“Yeah, I jumped two inches off the ground, which is about my limit.”

— Jim Street

 

 

 

Lineup for today excludes Bradley

The starting lineup has been posted and (insert drum roll) Milton Bradley is not in it.

As expected, the Mariners will give Bradley the day off, but don’t read too much into it.

“The thing with Milton  right now is he feels great and we want to continhue that,” manager Don Wakamatsu said this morning. “We are really looking at as ‘is it a necessity to play him every day’?. Our number one goal is to make sure his legs are okay

“We took him out of the game yesterday because he was a little banged up with collision the other day at home plate. Right now, we have a schedule with him that we are comfortable with. He will play tomorrow, have an off-day, play in Texas, have a couple of dsays off,  play Saturday and at-bat or two on Sunday.

“All spring we have gone dlown this road where he said he has felt good. We feel pretty confident that he’s getting the number of at-ats he needs and he will be fine.”

With Bradley out of the picture today, the first time you will see a Cubs-Milton reunion will be June 22-23-24 at Safeco Field in an interleague series.

And here is the lineup:

1. Ichiro, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Casey Kotchman, 1B
4. Ken Griffey Jr. DH
5. Eric Byrnes, LF
6. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
7. Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B
8. Adam Moore, C
9. Jack Wilson, SS
LPH Ryan Rowland-Smith

— Jim Street

Pauley gone, but not forgotten

The 3 1/3 scoreless innings he tossed against the Reds yesterday got right-hander David Pauley a spot on in the starting rotation — for Triple-A Tacoma.

The only player remaining on “Survivor Island” was re-assigned to the Minor League complex today.

“I told him that we have a belief system in him,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I thought he did a tremendous job.”

Keep an eye on him. If anyone in the Mariners’ rotation stumbles out of the gate, the first call to the Minors might be for the right-hander.

Pauley signed a Minor League contract last December, has spent most of his career in the Minors, posting a 65-64 record and 3.98 ERA in 204 games since 2001. Sprinkled in were nine big-league appearances with the Red Sox in 2006 and ’08. He was 0-3 with a 9.53 ERA.

But he performed well for the Mariners this spring, going 1-0 with a 3.52 ERA in six outings.

A starter for most of his career, he will take a place in the Rainiers’ rotation when the regular season starts. Prior to that, though, Pauley will start WEdnesday’s Cactus League game against the Rangers in Surprise while ace right-hander Felix Hernandez makes his final spring tuneup in a Minor League game.

In today’s 3-1 loss to the Dodgers before a Cactus League-record crowd of 13,583 at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, the sporadic offense sputtered again.

The Mariners were held scoreless until the ninth, when Matt Tuiasosopo smacked a leadoff home run to left field. Jose Lopez singled, but Ryan Garko grounded into a double play — missing by a few inches of a single — and Corey Patterson struck out.

Right-hander Ian Snell had one of his best outings of the spring, holding the Dodgers to four hits and three runs over six innings with three strikeouts and no walks.

“I thought Snell was pretty good overall,” Wakamatsu said. “He gave up the home run (in the third inning) and retired 10 straight after that. He started challenging guys after he got hurt a little bit.”

Snell was pleased with the 88-pitch outing.

“Some pitches were up and I paid for it,” he said, “but (overall) I made good quality pitches. I was using my offspeed more than I have in the past. I worked really hard on the curveball and kept that down, and I pounded the guys in.”

As for the home run pitch to Andre Ethier, Snell said: “Just up over the plate. Stupid pitch.”

He has one more spring start remaining before his regular season debut, expected to be the third game of the four-game series against the Athletics in Oakland.

— Closer David Aardsma bounced back from a rocky outing against the Padres on Thursday, retiring three of the four batters he faced in the seventh inning.

“I thought he had better down angle and more life to his pitches,” Wakamatsu said.

Aardsma will pitch another inning in tomorrow’s game agains the Cubs, the first time he has gone back-to-back this spring.

— Catcher Adam Moore took a shot above his left ankle, compliments of a foul line drive off the bat of Mike Sweeney in the seventh inning. Moore, who singled and advanced to third on consecutive walks, was a few feet from third base and in foul territory when Sweeney drilled the line drive.

Moore shook it off and remained in the game.

 “Yeah, it got banged up a little bit,” Wakamatsu said. “he took it above the ankle on the shin. I thought he was quicker than that.”

— Sweeney had a terrific at-bat before finally flying out to deep left field. “I missed it by one-eighth of an inch,” he said.

— Jim Street

 

 

Catching up with some ex-Mariners

Spring Training ends a week from tomorrow, which got me to thinking – how are some of last year’s Mariners doing in their new homes?

So, I went to other MLB.com sites to find out.

Right-handed pitcher  Brandon Morrow, traded to the Blue Jays for reliever Brandon League, has had some injury issues with his right shoulder and been limited to two Grapefruit League starts and five innings, surrendering four runs. The best-case scenario: Morrow begins the regular season as the Jays’ No. 3 starter. The worst-case scenario: he starts the season on the 15-day disabled list.

The medical news on Russell Branyan is even worse.

The first baseman, who turned down a one-year guaranteed contract offer that included a second-year club option from the Mariners (insert a big “whew!” from the Z-man here), has yet to appear in a Cactus League game because of the herniated disc in his lower back that knocked him out of the lineup last September.

This morning, Branyan and the Indians’ athletic training staff finally felt good enough about the condition of Branyan’s back to allow him to take outdoor batting practice for the first time all spring. He also was set to take ground balls and do some running.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre, who will man the Red Sox’s hot corner, has displayed he same work ethic that made him the best defensive third-sacker in Mariners history and a two-time Gold Glove winner.

“He takes a million ground balls,” said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “I’ve never seen anyone take that many. And he takes them in on the grass and he has them hit so hard. He’s trying to work on his reaction and be as quick as he possibly can, and he’s one of the quickest third basemen I’ve seen.”

Jose Lopez might not know this, but Beltre committed 29 errors in 1999, his rookie season with the Dodgers, but worked so hard that he has not reached the 20-error mark since.

To answer the most important question about Beltre: No, he is not wearing a protective cup.

As for his hitting? Well, as of this morning he was batting .276 in 11 games with no home runs and two RBIs.

Utility player Bill Hall, sent to Boston for Casey Kotchman, went into today’s action with a .156 (6-for-38) batting average, one home run and five RBIs. He could be on the bubble as far as earning a spot on the Red Sox’ 25-man Opening Day roster.

Moving right along, Miguel Batista apparently has found a new home.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman all but announced on Friday that Batista is his long man out of the bullpen, even though the right-hander is not having a strong Spring Training.

As of today, Batista had given up six runs in 9 2/3 innings, striking out seven. 

None of the three players the Mariners traded to the Phillies for left-hander Cliff Lee will be on the NL champs’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Right-hander Phillippe Aumont, outfielder Tyson Gilles and right-hander JC Ramirez are in the Minor League camp.

And finally, right-hander Carlos Silva has landed a spot in the Cubs’ starting rotation, manager Lou Piniella announced on Friday.

Silva is 2-1 with a 5.73 ERA after four Cactus League appearances.

— Jim Street

 

A ‘grand’ morning chat with Junior

Sitting on top of the large trunk that accompanies him everywhere he goes, Ken Griffey Jr.  was talking about the walk-off grand slam that he hit yesterday against the Reds.

I asked him if ‘grand slam’ entered his mind when he walked to the plate.

“Hell, yeah,” he said.

Did you get a little over-anxious when the count went 3-and-0 and you got the green light?

“Hell, yeah,” he said.

Were the first three pitches you took for balls closer to being strikes than the first two pitches you swung at and missed?

“Hell, yeah,” he said.

How many career slams do you have?

“Fifteen.”

The classic Griffey grin returned and he said, “You know, I ended a game once with a walk-off inside-the-park homer.”

Indeed, one of his three career inside-the-park home runs gave the Reds an almost-instant-win against the Cardinals at Riverfront Stadium on August 20, 2001.

“It was hit into left-center field gap, closer to center field,” Griffey recalled. “Just as (Jim) Edmonds was bracing himself before hitting the wall, the ball hit his shoulder, bounced off the wall, hit the rubber warning track and kept rolling, and rolling.”

By the time the ball was retrieved and returned to the infield, Griffey was sliding across the plate with the game-winning run.

Being a Google fan, I checked out the facts about walk-off home runs and the one he hit against the Cards is still the most recent in the Major Leagues.

In fact, there have been only 15 inside-the-park walk-off home runs in the past 53 seasons, from Roberto Clemente on July 25, 1956, to Griffey’s in ’01. No one has hit more than one during that half-century-plus span.

The last American League player to do it was Tim Tuefel of the Twins on June 24, 1984.

Meanwhile, as a “reward” for ending yesterday’s game on such a high note, Junior is getting today off — that and the fact the Mariners are playing the Dodgers in Glendale this afternoon and the DH rule is not being used.

And now for the Mariners lineup:

1. Ichiro, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Casey Kotchman, 1B
4. Milton Bradley, LF
5. Jose Lopez, 3B
6. Adam Moore, C
7. Corey Patterson, CF
8. Jack Wilson, SS
9. Ian Snell, RHP

— Jim Street