July 2010

Smoak sent to Tacoma, Bradley to DL

The Mariners made some roster moves today, but it had nothing to do with the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

While several other Major League organizations were busy making trades, the Mariners sent rookie first baseman Justin Smoak to Triple-A Tacoma, placed outfielder Milton Bradley on the 15-day disabled list and recalled versatile Matt Tuiasosopo and relief pitcher Sean White from Tacoma.

Smoak’s demotion was the big news of the day.

The 23-year-old switch-hitter was the Mariners’ centerpiece in the six-player trade on July 9 that sent left-handed starter Cliff Lee to the Rangers.

Smoak batted .159 (10-for-63) with two home runs and five RBIs in 16 games with the Mariners. He is batting .198 (59-for-63) with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs overall during his rookie season.

He started the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City where he batted .300 with two home runs in 15 games.

Bradley, suffering from patellar tendonitis in his right knee, has not played since July 26. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Aug. 11.

In 72 games with the Mariners this season, Bradley is batting .205 with nine doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 29 RBI.

With Tui back and in the lineup at third base tonight, I am wondering if Jose Lopez’s days with the team are numbered. He has been a shadow of his former self on offense and it might be wise for the Mariners to trade him — anywhere.

With the Trade Deadline behind us (at least it will be 37 minutes from now) Lopez would have to clear waivers to be traded. I don’t see that being a problem.

— Jim Street

Remembering the Sweet Lou years

The news out of Chicago today that Sweet Lou Piniella would be retiring as the Cubs manager at the end of the season caused a lot of flashbacks at Safeco Field.

Of all the managers I have covered — 20 at last  count — in the past 40 years, Dick Williams (Athletics, 1971-73) and Lou (1993-98) rank at the top as 1 and 1A.

They got the most out of their players and accountability ranked first with both skippers. Play the game the right way or it was the highway, no questions asked.

I had a brief chat with Jay Buhner, who was in clubhouse manager Ted Walsh’s office on Tuesday afternoon during pre-game batting practice. Buhner talked about his 10 years with Lou.

“He was the greatest manager I ever played for, hands down. There was accountability and that’s the one thing I loved about him. He immediately, from the first day he stepped in here, completely turned the atmosphere, approach and mentality around. He changed it and it was well-needed.”

A no-nonsense kind of guy (just ask Rob Dibble), Piniella expected his players to loathe losing as much as he did. He had a good time winning.

“He made it a fun place to come every day,” Buhner said. “Anytime you are coming to a place day in and day out, even though it is a job, and you have fun you don’t think a bout the grind. He made it fun. He had a unique way, even when he was ticked off and was snapping, he had a way of loosening the team up. That was the beauty. He was good at judging character and knew which guys needed a kick in the butt and he wasn’t afraid to do that. He knew the guys that needed a pat on the butt and he wasn’t afraid to do that either. He turned the clubhouse over to a collective group of veterans to police it and he just worried about putting up the lineup and managing the game and he did a pretty damn good job doing it.”

Some of the most enjoyable road trips were those that stopped in New York. Lou was loved by Yankee fans and the love was reciprocated. The only thing better than playing the Yankees was beating them. Oh, he loved to do that.

The Mariners and Yankees had some great series in New York and Seattle during the 1990s — especially after the unforgetable 1995 AL Division Series.

From a reporter’s standpoint, Lou was a gem to cover. He had a plethora of stories about his playing days with the Yankees, many of them about the late George Steinbrenner. I could spend hours at a time listening to those stories and even though he told them numerous times to numerous people, the stories were always the same. Fun and funny is one way to describe him.

And his on the field antics were priceless, as you well know.

“The great thing about Lou was he didn’t hold a grudge,” Buhner said. “I mean, you could go toe-to-toe with him and the next day he would come in and give you a hug. That was legit. Now, he was a little tougher on pitchers and catchers. I don’t know if it holds true with the, but in my experiences with him, it was nothing but a pretty awesome experience.”

I had one of those experiences with him, and he was not exactly “Sweet Lou”.

The Mariners were struggling in 1998 and there were grumblings around town that he could be dismissed as the skipper. So I called team president Chuck Armstrong and he gave me a profound “no way” Lou would be canned. I wrote about it and the next day Lou came up to me and in an expletive-filled blast suggested that if I wanted to write about his job I should talk to him.”

A few hours later, after that night’s game in San Francisco, we had a brief meeting, hashed things out and both a friendship and working relationship picked up where it had been beforehand.

The man most responsible for bringing Lou to Seattle, then-GM Woody Woodward, was at Safeco and recalled the beginning.

“I brought him here because I knew he was a winner,” Woody said. ” And you know what? I think he proved me right. Hes always been a winner. As a player, a hitting instructor, a manager, its always been part of his nature to want to win. He came out here and made believers I think out of the northwest.”

“Lou and I had been good friends for years with the Yankees, and after being out here a while I told him, I said, ‘Lou, all we have to do is put a winner together. We have a good ownership group, and the northwest is going to respond. His comeback at that time was, ‘Are you sure? All the experts back east kept telling him baseball will never make it in the northwest.’ And how wrong were they, and are they? This place, you put a winner on the field, they’ll come out bigtime and they proved it. Thank goodness, that was maybe the one time Lou listened to me. He bought into it, and he was such a big part of taking a very good group of players and producing a winning team out here, no doubt about it.”

— Jim Street

Ichiro, Lee are All-Stars, but King Felix isn’t

A perfect “10”.

That’s one way to describe right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who was selected to the American League All-Star team for the 10th consecutive season. He joins Ken Griffey Jr. as the only players in franchise history to be named to 10 Midsummer Classics.

After leading his outfield colleagues throughout the fan-balloting process through this past Monday, Ichiro ended up finishing second to the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, who had an all-World June, batting .454.

The Mariners also will be represented at the All-Star Game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on July 13 by left-hander Cliff Lee — unless he gets traded before then.

Lee missed the first month of the season, but has been the best pitcher in the AL since his return. His five walks all season are beyond comprehension.

But not selected was right-hander Felix Hernandez, who is definitely deserving, but his 6-5 record obviously worked against him — but not as much as the lousy run support he has received.

Felix told me a couple of days ago that he was hopeful of making the team, but realized that his record was a strike against him.

Meanwhile, this is Lee’s second selection. He represented the Indians in 2008, his Cy Young Award season.

“I’m very proud of both Cliff and Ichiro,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I think they are both deserving and will do a tremendous job representing the Mariners and the American League.

“Both guys work very hard, every day, on preparing to be successful. It is great to see that recognized from the fans and their peers.

“At the same time, I’m disappointed for Felix. I think he’s pitched great, and if we’d given him a little better run support it might have been a different story. I know there are lots of deserving players, but I had hoped he would make it with Cliff and Ichi.”

— Jim Street

Kotchman at 1st tonight

The lineup for tonight’s game includes first baseman Casey Kotchman, the first time he has started a game since June 23.

Ichiro is back in right field after spending last night’s game as the designated hitter and Michael Saunders moved up a notch, going from ninth to eighth for the second game of the three-game series against the Tigers.

Russell Branyan, who brought a seven-game hitting streak with him from the Indians, has extended it to 11 games, the longest of his career. He is not in tonight’s lineup.

— Jim Street

Soccer (ball) in the air

The Mariners have some unusual ways of working out on the field before batting practice, chasing frisbees and nerf footballs.

But the activity of choice today is soccer.

On a beautiful Friday afternoon at Comerica Park, the Wilsons — Josh and Jack — Ryan Langerhans, Brian Sweeney and Ryan Rowland-Smith are getting their kicks in under the supervision of “performance specialist” Allen Wirtala.

I’m not quite sure how this helps field a grounder and snag a line drive, but they seem to having a good time.

In other tidbits to get the holiday weekend going, there is an American Mensa convention going on in nearby Dearborn and some of the attendees are staying at the same hotel as me. I asked one of them if he knew when the Mariners could be trading either Cliff Lee, Jose Lopez or both.

He looked at me like I was crazy.

It does seem rather odd to me that some of the smartest people in America could have a convention anywhere in the country — and choose Detroit?

It’s time to head down to the clubhouse to check up on Erik Bedard’s status, among other things.

Lineups to come.

And here it is:

1. Ichiro, DH
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Russell Branyan, 1B
4. Milton Brantley, RF
5. Jose Lopez, 3B
6. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
7. Jack Wilson, SS
8. Rob Johnson, C
9. Michael Saunders, LF
RHP Doug Fister

— Jim Street